The thread unravels

I think I’m getting my last NPR paycheck this week, ending the buyout from the place I left in late January. I’ll miss the money, of course, but I’ll really miss that last tenuous connection to the network — and particularly to the people I worked with there.

So why did I leave? It was because I had come to the end of a road. I had been a supervising editor there for five years, an extraordinarily long time in a demanding job that pulled me further away from the things I loved as time went along. By the end of my tenure, there was almost no editing and a whole lot of supervising — I had 13 direct reports (when I joined NPR five years earlier, I had four). Most of my time was spent handling the administrative work generated by so many staffers — scheduling and payroll work in particular — and attending the five daily editorial meetings that were deemed necessary. Throw in the occasional project and it was not unusual for me to have eight or more meetings in a day. Over that, I tried to actually oversee the website’s breaking news and homepage operations during the day, which was supposed to be the core of my job. By the end, that was working out about as well as you might guess.

You can only do that for so long, of course. I thought my supervisor had it even worse, so I didn’t aspire to move up the chain, and a complete lack of turnover along with staff cuts made moving down the chain almost impossible. I didn’t see a lot of parallel options, either. So when a companywide buyout offer came along, I felt I had two options: Take it or quite possibly leave NPR feet first. It wasn’t a hard choice.

But the staff? I miss those people, even the ones who drove me a little crazy at times. In a world where some newsrooms can’t be distinguished from insurance agencies any more, NPR is filled with quirky, creative, wildly talented journalists who love what they do. They’re mostly veterans, they’re in a strong union and there are few shrinking violets — which made managing them a challenge at times — but there often was joy in just watching them work. So many of them are the very best in the world at what they do.

Thus, getting this last check is a little sad. But I’m building a new work experience — one filled with possibilities and chances for growth in new directions. Not too many people at this point in their careers get that opportunity. That means this mild sadness I feel is more than leavened by gratitude. And almost every time I flip on the radio (when I’m not listening to my wife’s station) or pop up a certain website, I’ll be reminded of the five years I got to spend at NPR.


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