Fired Sun reporters tell their stories

If you were fired, how would you say goodbye?

Telling Our Stories: The Days of The Baltimore Sun is written and produced by 32 Sun employees laid off in what some call the Baltimore Sun Massacre of 2009. Yet the site bids farewell graciously with humor and admiration.

Funded with a grant from the Foundation of the Writers Guild of America, East, the project asked fellows to “to tell a story arising out of their personal experiences during their time at The Baltimore Sun.”

The pieces submitted speak to the passion that The Sun’s employees had for their work, said Steve Auerweck, a 24-year-veteran of the newspaper who built the project’s website.

“Unfortunately it seems to be an elegy for a professional way of life that’s disappearing in many respects,” Auerweck said. “It’s great to see how many people loved what they did, but so much of that is changing or going away.”

Like the newspaper it pays homage to, the project features a front page where you’ll find some of its best work:

The stories behind the pictures, by Towson adjunct professor Monica Lopossay describes her experiences as a Sun photojournalist. “You want to know why people fall crazy in love with newspapering?” said Auerweck. “You read that for a picture of what your life can be like, good and bad, as a journalist.”

A sense of wonder, by Elizabeth Malby, profiles Sun photojournalist Jed Kirschbaum. There’s a powerful moment for students at 3:44 in the video when Kirschbaum discusses two cardinal rules of photojournalism: “One of them is that you never steal a photograph and the other is that you always try to leave people their dignity,” he said. “You have to feel like you’re giving a photograph. And if you feel like you’re giving a photograph, it’ll make it easier to approach strangers.”

Black homo blues, by Rashod D. Ollison, describes the feelings of frustration, isolation and invisibility he felt on the Sun features desk. “Why am I just realizing that others here … don’t see me at all?” he writes. “Before this place started falling apart, I, like so many brothers and sisters of color in the white man’s corporate world, was sucked into that toxic vortex known as The Delusion of Inclusion. Lord, silly me. I should have known better.”

The S on my chest stands for sun, by Doug Donovan, describes his experience diving “deep into the muck” as a City Hall reporter. “It’s an awesome responsibility to report on the powerful institutions of government,” he writes. “It’s even more awesome when your stories change the nature of those very institutions. That’s the power of the press, especially the big city daily newspaper. And no paper did it better than The Sun.”

“The site is essentially a small book,” Auerweck said, though there are no current plans to publish it as one. The site will be hosted permanently by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, said past guild president Bill Salganik.

The message that this site holds for students, Salganik said, is that newspaper work is important, and the work will continue.

“People considering this as a career, they should understand that the business is in flux and the terms are uncertain,” he said. “But what does come through this site is that the mission is important and unchanged, and that is finding out what’s going on and explaining it to people”

There are many other memoirs and essays here worth reading. Don’t miss the humorous columns on the site: Ray Frager’s piece on the sports desk’s bloopers and practical jokes and Auerweck’s work on classic newsroom humor, along with the reproductions of “The wall” and an archive of the newsroom’s best instant messages.

From the standpoint of a journalism historian, I enjoyed Phyllis Brill’s work on The Evening Sun, Franz Schneiderman’s explanation of his role as letters editor and Fay Lande’s description of her father’s work as a journalist and her mother’s reverence for literary figures.

And as a teacher, Deborah Lakowicz-Dramby’s reference to her high school journalism experience on The Wingspan, an annual entry in our High School Journalism Awards contest, caught my attention. So did Patrick Gutierrez’s description of his life as an adult journalism intern.

And as a fan of John McIntyre’s blog You don’t say, I’m also entertained by his work here: Worse than dating, Stay thin through fretting and How I got my job.

I’m planning to use the site in class and review it for Journalism & Mass Communication Educator (along with the book The mind of a journalist.) Stay tuned, I’ll post that link here on the blog.