Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Former Gannett environmental reporter becomes "independent" by noon

I started out this morning as a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. I ended the work day as an "independent journalist."

At 8:45 I headed over to Marpan Recycling to work on a story about the state's goal of achieving 75 percent recycling by 2020. That was the goal spelled out earlier this year in a comprehensive state energy bill. And the goal is about three times as much as the state is recycling now.

At Marpan, they're recycling about two-thirds of the construction waste that comes in. Concrete, metal, cardboard and wood are the main products that are sold to recyclers along with mulch.

Marpan's Kim Williams said the state could boost recycling if people purchased more products from recycled materials to boost markets. Starting in January, all construction waste now going to Leon County's landfill will go through Marpan first for recycling.

Upon heading into the office shortly after 10, I was called into the office of Executive Editor Bob Gabordi. I knew what was coming, especially when I saw Managing Editor Africa Price there.

I was being laid off, Bob explained, and he asked if I had any questions. I could have responded more politely but frankly I was annoyed. My job had already been changed three times this year, and now I was being put out of work. But we shook hands, they offered to help me and I offered to help them in the future. There was a modest severance package.

Then I went home. I checked my e-mails. I returned a few phone calls. And I didn't know what to do next.

So I ate my lunch and went to work.

I went to the same state hearing that I had been planning on going to. But now I wasn't a Tallahassee Democrat reporter.

It was interesting to hear Ron Henricks of DEP explain that the state could reach about 50 percent recycling just by changing the way the process is counted. We could add 10 percent in construction waste that's not now counted, throw in another 11 percent for "waste-to-energy" which is burning to produce electricity, and perhaps another 4 percent by counting the use of landfill gas.

About 100 people attended, many of them from county recycling programs. Speakers chimed in with ideas about how the state could better educate residents to recycle or how it needs to create new markets for recyclable materials.

It seemed like news to me, but I was the only reporter there to cover it. And I wasn't even a newspaper reporter any more. Perhaps the other media were at the Environmental Regulation Commission meeting across town, where an important vote was scheduled on whether to adopt California's auto emissions standards. Or maybe they were not there either.

Earlier this year I would have covered the ERC instead. But my environmental reporting job got axed on Aug. 1 and I was reassigned to cover Leon County. Since recycling is inherently local, I figured I could at least cover the interesting concept of recycling 75 percent of our waste.

In this age of change, I feel certain there is a place for me to report on the important issues in Florida's Capital. Maybe I'll become a blogger, combined with some freelancing, combined with being on welfare. The reality hasn't really set in yet.

All I know is that today ended a lot differently than it started -- at least for me. And I think I'm OK with that.

40 comments:

Sooz said...

Good luck with everything. I am not really sure what else to say.

I hope everything works out for you.

Amanda Nalley said...

You will be missed Bruce. So sorry to see you go but I hope to see you and your reporting around town, if not the nation.

- Amanda Nalley

TruthBeTold said...

From coverage of the pollution of area springs to controversies over coal and biomass plants to water wars with Georgia and Alamba, you covered the North Florida map with your environmental stories. The Tallahassee Democrat -- with its 25 percent profits (2007, perhaps a bit off this year but still substantial ) has made a mistake in letting you go. Still, you will do well wherever you go. Best of luck to you.

Shirley said...

Sorry you became one of Gannett's Ten Percenters. There are equally talented reporters and editors across the nation feeling your pain.
I hope you either find another job in journalism that appreciates your dedication and talent or something completely different and fun pops up on your horizon.
I hope you will continue to blog your post Gannett experiences.

Bud Ward said...

Bruce: One of [too] many great reporters facing this fate. You're too decent a person -- and too good a reporter -- not to land on your feet. Hard as it is now, look at this as an opportunity. Keep up the good work, as your following extends well beyond just the state's borders.

Elizabeth said...

Bruce: So sorry to hear this. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you up in Alaska. You know they say that layoffs are often a blessing in disguise (for the person who gets hit, not the employer axing its talent pool) - I know you'll do well and maybe find some refreshing new opportunities.
EB

Jeff Burnside, Miami said...

You rock, Bruce. What amazing commitment to journalism, despite your employer's lack of support. Society needs reporters like you.

Your colleague and friend in Miami,

Jeff Burnside

Melissa said...

Bruce: I don't know you, but I am a Gannett employee. My sympathies to you. Hope everything works out for you and all the other victims felled today and earlier this year - and, undoubtedly, in the future.

DASH said...

Cheers, Bruce! That was gorgeous. I did the same thing when a paper I worked for early on closed. Didn't know what else to do but keep on working. That was in 1992. Welcome to the freelance fold! It's a fun and challenging place. keep the faith, DebinChgo

Beth Parke said...

Terrible news! Bruce, you are a bright light for environmental journalism. I’m comforted to know, you have so much determination, knowledge and talent going for you I have no doubt that you will find new ways to bring critically important envirionmental news to people who want, need and deserve it! It will take time, but we must re-invent public service journalism it seems, at a time of enormous change. I’m sorry Gannett doesn’t seem to realize what (and who!) it’s losing with this move, but your colleagues in SEJ surely do! As Jeff put it, You Rock! (and ps Happy Birthday!) //Beth

Tom said...

I'm really sorry to read this, Bruce. My suspicion, however, is that you will simply find a new venue that values your experience and expertise far more.

Jeff Burnside said:

> Society needs reporters like you.

Damn right.

Christine said...

We crossed paths only this morning, Bruce. So sorry to hear the way the rest of your day went. Welcome to the world of freelancing. There's a future out there for you.

Recycle Cans 4 Charity said...

Bruce, I can't believe it! Truly, you have been (and ARE) covering the news WE WANT to read. Madison County cares about the meeting you attended today! You are an excellent reporter and will be sorely missed! God bless you, my friend!

Hope :) said...

Oh, Bruce, I hate to hear this. I'm thinking of you and hoping things will work out in short order. You're one of the Democrat's best -- they've lost someone with talent, and just as important, heart, today.

James said...

Good luck, Bruce. For what it's worth, there is an "afterlife."

Cheers,
Jim

Cathy said...

Hello from Boulder! So sorry to hear of this unexpected change in your life. But it will be fine. As they say, when a door closes, a window opens. I found that hard to believe when I got laid off (17 years ago!), but it's true. Sometimes it is the best thing that could happen to you. Just keep your eyes open to new and fun opportunities!

Cathy D

Seth said...

Bruce,
Having worked with you, I can attest to the talent, hustle and dedication you bring to your work. This is a typical short-sighted move by managers who haven't a clue. I will keep an eye out for you and hope that this will be something you can later look back on as a momentary pothole on your career and life path. Best of luck. Let me know if I can do anything.
Your friend and former colleague,
Seth Borenstein

Anonymous said...

Bruce.... I am TWD on your article yesterday... believe it or not, our paths have crossed and I am sad to see you not at the Democrat. I was not criticizing your reporting, only pointing out some facts that other bloggers mayt not have known... I do find it interesting about counting differently.... how many times have we seen that in state government.... minority spend rings a bell... anyway, continue to ask and report on the tough questions, dig and point out inconsistencies when officials make statements.... keep up the good work and great things will come your way...

Cynthia Barnett said...

Bruce, you are one of so many good journalists laid off in the past few years, but the only one I know who immediately went back to work and kept reporting the news. I am inspired by your action and I think it's going to lead to something positive, both for you and for those of us who've been following your environmental journalism in the Democrat for these years. I predict you'll be one of the trailblazers who figure out how we'll get our news in the future. I'll keep reading your work and know others, will too.

Andrew Neal Allanson said...

Good luck, Bruce. It seems like environmental reporters are a dying breed in Florida. I hope you can help blaze the trail for online reporting.

Cynthia Barnett said...

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Anonymous said...

Bruce, this is incredibly disappointing news and I'm glad to hear your voice will still be part of the state's environmental dialogue. You have played such an important role in getting information to Florida's citizens about their government and environment. Thank you for your commitment and insight.
--Julie Wraithmell

Phantom Birder said...

Hi Bruce

I was sorry to hear that the Democrat let you go, their loss!

Good luck for the future, I am sure things will work out for you. If there is anything we can do just let us know.

cheers

Andy Wraithmell

Bruce Ritchie said...

Thanks everyone. I appreciate your kind words and support. Today's my birthday. I'm going for a bike ride now, probably on Tallahassee's Red Bug Trail. I'll be back in the work saddle on Thursday -- though there are a lot of loose ends to tie up at the Democrat.

Ellie said...

Hi Bruce,
I'm a magazine journalist in the New York area. This was really inspiring to me, and sums up everything the industry is going through:

"So I ate my lunch and went to work.

"I went to the same state hearing that I had been planning on going to. But now I wasn't a Tallahassee Democrat reporter."

Thanks for that and good luck! I'm glad you are going to continue journalism in a new form. My hope is that the industry will re-emerge, and people like you will be at the helm.

SVF said...

Bruce,

Keep up the terrific work. I hope to see you back on your feet and doing well despite the demise of our once great company.

-A fellow Gannett employee (at least as of 1pm)

Mary Shedden said...

Bruce:

What an inspiring response you had to a tragic situation. I know you've always had a passion for environmental journalism and I hope it carries you to great places on this next part of your journey.

Tom Yulsman said...

Bruce, I was so sad to hear this news. But somehow given your drive, I know you'll wind up on your feet. Let us know whether there is anything we can do at the CEJ to help out.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, thanks for all of the great articles on the environment over the years. I will miss your reporting on an issue that is very important to many of us.

Dave B.

Todd Hartman said...

Bruce, sorry to hear about this development. A colleague and I were both chatting about the Gannett slaughter when I saw Tom Yulsman's email with your blog link attached. Yet another blow for quality journalism.
- Todd Hartman (like you, a former Ted Scripps fellow)

JoSi Fain said...

Hope the Red Bugs were good to you on your BD, Bruce, what a fine day. You're my hometown journalistic hero, my favorite local Hiaasen. And remember: when one door closes...

Anonymous said...

Dear Bruce,
As you know, I was at the meeting you were covering. When you told me that you had just been laid off a few hours earlier in the day, I was dumbfounded.
I have known you since you were an intern working for our good friend Dave Newport writing for Florida Environments. In 1993, you were the reporter for the Gainesville Sun who wrote about me getting fired from my job working for Alachua County. You wrote great stories in 1993 and you write even better stories now. I am so sad to hear that you lost your job and were laid off. Going thru the experience of being laid off must be a huge personal blow. When I read the entries in this blog, I read that there are many people out there who are pulling for you. I know you are a very smart person. You are very talented and you are a very perceptive person. I believe that you will land on your feet. I am honored to know you. js

agahran said...

Bruce -- I just tried to e-mail to answer your questions, but your embarqmail address bounced.

Could you get a gmail address and then e-mail me from that? I've got some answers for you.

- Amy Gahran

TallyCast said...

Bruce - good things are coming your way. It was time to shed yourself of that dead tree media ball and chain. Hooray for the end of corporate journalism. I'm looking forward to more bloggy goodness from you and expecting you to be financially successful.

Best luck,
Dave

Brianala said...

Good luck! We definitely need independent journalists in this town. I'll be interested to see what you get up to in the months to come.

Anonymous said...

Mary here. I can say I know the feeling. It was good seeing you at the courthouse the other day, and if there's anything I can to please call me.

Mary

Audeamus said...

Of all the people they could have let go, they let go one of the best. Another dumb decision by Gannett and the TD.

Good luck and Godspeed.

maarmie said...

You are destined for greater things...

JenPB said...

Wow, Bruce, now THAT's a truly crappy way to end the year. Sorry to hear about the layoff. It's a helluva business to be in these days.

randie said...

Bruce! I sent you a note when I heard about the Democrat canning you but I don't know if you got it. The fact of the matter is that it is the Democrat's loss more than yours. Good for you starting the blog.