How to Get Laid Off

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 25 2011 12:00 PM

How to Get Laid Off

How are my soon-to-be-former Slate colleagues handling their departures? I've resigned with some degree of disgrace twice -- in 2008 and again in 2010. (It's now written into my contract that I can only be sacked in even-numbered years.) This has given me a well-placed, depressing vantage point to analyze what does and doesn't work when your employer decides that you should explore new and exciting opportunities. These are my tips, and my diagnoses of the moves so far.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

1) Exploit the nerves of your fellow hacks. One reason that every reporter with a Twitter account is weighing in on the lay-offs -- mostly on Jack Shafer's lay-off -- is that it makes them feel their own mortality. (Journalists have huge egos, which is why Shafer's departure is getting the most coverage, and why I am writing this under a logo of my name and a circus tent.) "If Jack Shafer can get laid off, rest of us media hacks better shine up resume," tweeted David Carr last night. Alyssa Rosenberg rightly identifies an "idea in the age of new media that if you write a column or a blog under your own name, or if your brand is honed to a particular fineness, that you can never really be fired." She writes a blog called "Alyssa," so you know where she's coming from.

Advertisement

I resigned from the Washington Post last year after bitchy e-mails I'd sent on a listserv were leaked, revealing that I mean-mouthed political and media figures as I climbed the greasy pole. Lucky for me, the population of reporters who never say mean things about people is smaller than a George Pataki 2012 house party. In l'affaire Tim/Jack/Juliet/June, there are older reporters who wonder if they'll be vulnerable as the recession digs in, and younger reporters who look at Juliet and get just as panicky. My advice: Exploit this! Take them up on drink offers, bond with them, and possibly interview with them.

2) Grace is a virtue. The people who're leaving Slate aren't jerks, so they don't have to apologize for mean e-mails. I am/was a jerk, so I did, accepting the gracious offer of Big Journalism editors to do it on a conservative media-watch site. When reporters tried to goad me into criticizing my employers, I passed: "Nobody owes anybody a job," I would say. True then, true now! You don't want to end up like Cenk Uygur, getting so angry that you don't have an MSNBC show anymore that you record a YouTube video detailing meetings with your old bosses. Hacks are sympathetic, but not that sympathetic -- nobody owes you anything.

So far, Tim, Jack, Juliet and June are singing Slate's praises as they promote their next assignments. Juliet's even promoting her colleagues' work. Nicely done. After putting in good work at a place and building up its readership and rep, it's not actually in your interest to talk it down. Leave that up to your fans on Twitter, who will graciously say things like "X was the best thing about the magazine!" and "I'll never read the magazine without X!" (Thanks for all of that, by the way.) You won't agree with them publically -- and that makes you look even more gracious.

3) Laugh so you don't cry. Jack's AdWeek exit interview is hilarious. "[O]ne of the things I’ve always prided myself in," he says, "in these first 59 years of my life, is being a controlled drinker. I think now is the time to throw off the training wheels, and see if maybe in the last decade and a half of my life, I can be an accomplished, functional alcoholic. And that’s starting tonight." He says this to a reporter! Is he crazy? No. There's a window in which you can say anything, so deep is the public sympathy. If you're laughing off your crisis, you're clearly still in command of things.

The week after I resigned, I made sure to sprinkle some gallows humor in with the e-mail-answering and job-hunting. I had a line to trot out for minor inconveniences: "This is the worst thing that's happened to me all week." The joke, of course, was that the worst thing that had happened to me all week was leaving my job in a highly public, embarassing, and deserved way. Get it? The people leaving Slate can probably come up with better lines.

These are the basics. Hopefully, everyone will bounce back so fast that I don't have to draft an advanced syllabus.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal. 

Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014

Cops Briefly Detain Django Unchained Actress Because They Thought She Was a Prostitute

Minimalist Cocktail Posters Make Mixing Drinks a Cinch

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.

Books

Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets

Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.

Books

You Had to Be There

What we can learn from things that used to be funny.

Legendary Critic Greil Marcus Measures and Maps Rock History Through 10 Unlikely Songs

Catfish Creator Nev Schulman’s Book Is Just Like Him: Self-Deluded and Completely Infectious

Behold
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?