birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Put to Bed

I had only been back at the LA Times for a little more than a year when the phone call came. As a technology reporter for the business section of a major American newspaper, the market for a guy like me in the late 1990s was white hot. The tech industry was really coming into its own, dot-com companies were going public on little more than a press release and a good domain name, and the smart newspaper reporters were seeing the writing on the wall for the soon-to-crater newspaper industry, crippled by vital classified advertising being siphoned away.

The guy on the other end of the line was a source that I spoke to somewhat frequently, an "industry analyst" who worked up in Silicon Valley for a firm that sold market research, information on trends in the technology world. It was a steady company that had been around for decades, known as a conservative shop, not prone to wildly enthusiastic proclamations but more cool-headed prognostications. He buttered me up, told me how much they needed a guy like me, and offered me a job. After a flight up to see the cool digs, the requisite back-and-forth on compensation and benefits, and a glance at the job description, I was ready to leave behind more than a decade in journalism.

The way I saw it, if I ever wanted to be something other than a newspaper reporter, the time was never going to be better. And, frankly, I was right. A few months after I started the new gig, the dot-com crash began. My company began layoffs, but, somehow I had the right combination of skills, personality and luck to hang on. A couple of years later, my newspaper buddies were calling me up, asking how they could follow me, as an unrelenting wave of layoffs devastated that industry.

They used to call the LA Times the "velvet coffin" because it was such a cushy place to be and people ended up there until they died. When the layoffs began, a lot of people felt trapped, having been there for years, they were now unsure of where they could go.

Eventually, that's how my job in market research became. I was being paid more than I ever thought I would make, because as a journalist I was used to deprivation. The company treated me well, even letting me leave the Bay Area to work remotely from Minneapolis, which meant I was making a Bay Area salary while paying Midwest prices. And my colleagues were genuinely nice to work with.

But the work was deadened the soul and I missed the vibrancy of a newsroom, which has no equal in that regard. This was a corporate job, and although I never said or did anything that I didn't believe, I also never said or did anything that could give me much pride. The job became my velvet coffin, and eventually, they put me to bed, with a nice parting gift to ease their conscience. Severance packages are given to those being fired, but their main purpose is to deliver a message to those left behind. "It's okay," it says, "We'll take care of you."

What Have I Gotten Myself Into