Media Layoff Mad Libs

10,000 ways to bid farewell to a (colleague; great reporter; car pool organizer)

FROM: The Executive Editor

TO: All

As you may have heard (in the newsroom; at Caribou Coffee; on somebody’s blog), John P. Zenger will be leaving his role as (chief investigative reporter; TV critic; ombudsman) at this newspaper.

John came to us (four years ago; in 1981; last month) from (the Bugle; the London School of Economics; a think tank in Phoenix). He arrived here with a reputation as (a sociopath; a member of the team of twenty-seven reporters that won a 1991 Polk award for the Bugle series on alternate street parking; a friend of the former executive editor).

John’s contributions to this paper have not gone without notice. He’s a (deft writer; diligent copy editor; pain in the neck), a man who is passionate about (the First Amendment; gerunds; the Bass Ale at Costello’s Taproom) and a newsroom leader who has (become obsessed with Google maps; not generated a single sexual harassment complaint; inspired legions of young reporters to consider teaching American Studies out at the junior college).

Through it all, he’s been (the conscience of the newsroom; a hulking, angry presence; the keeper of the NCAA “March Madness” basketball brackets).

Some of the more senior folks will remember it was J.P. who (did the last-minute rewrite of our nine-part “Saving the Wetlands” series; sucker-punched the sports editor at the “Christmas in July” bash back in ‘87; insisted that we could not use the term “aging” in copy because, as he said, we’re all aging).

In my seventeen months as leader of this newsroom, I have often sought John’s (counsel; immediate dismissal; season football tickets that he mysteriously acquired while writing game sidebars). During our recent conversations with HR and legal counsel, he expressed the belief that this is the right time for him to (cut a deal that will not lead to a life of abject penury; get the hell out of Dodge; spend some time with his family and his beloved Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mencken).

John has what all the truly great newspaper folk possess - (low self esteem; deep-seated class resentments; a cluster of unfinished screenplays), and a passionate desire to (stay out of the line of fire; crib good stories from colleagues; have the Salisbury steak at the Royal three times a week). Many’s the time I’ve strolled through the newsroom on the way to a meeting with the marketing department and heard John (sobbing quietly; screaming at his accountant; talking about the time he had a beer with Mike Royko).

I know all of us will miss J.P.’s (friendship; stash of Maker’s Mark; ability to curse without repeating himself for up to five minutes at a time). His journalistic instincts have (been inspirational; led us to nothing but trouble; annoyed the heck out of our new Chief Innovation Officer). And that sense of humor. Perhaps the less said about (the former deputy editorial page editor; the fire in the bathroom; the summer of 1999) the better. You had to be there.

As John’s departure reminds us, these are trying times for our industry. But I believe the future of our business holds great promise. Our redesign has (been a hit with focus groups; made us an industry laughingstock; been put on hold) and I believe our best days (lie ahead of us; were during Clinton’s first term; are largely mythological).

So it is with (mixed emotions; ill-disguised glee; a disturbing sense that I have now written about seventy-five of these tortured memos) that we bid farewell to our colleague. Moving forward, it is possible the number of voluntary buyout applications may be limited by (pure malice; Sarbanes-Oxley; the guy in the Crocs on 7). Only then will we know if the Involuntary Severance Program (“Opportunity 2009”) will be extended.

As for J.P, he’ll be leaving us (Friday; at the end of the month; at 4:15 p.m.). Please do not share your Kastle Key with him after noon today. But do join me in wishing him all the best in his exciting new future.

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Steve Daley is a former reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune.