The Phantom Editor

MVWJ was not really a bad job at all. In fact, it was a really good a job in a field where I’d trained (journalism). But let it serve as a cautionary tale of how NOT to run a company or treat your employees. I had been job hunting for months. I interviewed for a writer job at an online news site. The future editor interviewed me over the phone from his remote office. I interviewed again at their local office with him (still on the phone at his office as he almost never came to the office in my city) and guy I would be replacing. The job had great benefits and salary. Most of the employees were young and fun to talk to. I would be writing stories for the news service and would be trained to produce programs for the website, usually panel discussions and interviews.

I  trained for a week with my predecessor. He was a bit of a geek, but funny and easy to get along with. The editor who hired me was another story. He had been pleasant and humorous on the phone, but from the day I started, I heard dire warnings about his ‘difficult’ nature and fights with management. “Watch out for Mr L!” “Oh, Mr L is your boss…good luck, you need it!” He was reputed to be even worse in person, but I only had to deal with him over the phone. So I was warned, but not worried. I’m not easily bothered by cranky editor types and not thin skinned about criticism of my work. It’s part of the job. However, the warnings began to make sense very quickly. The Editor was like one of those abusive men who acts really sweet until you get married. As soon as I was hired, he no longer felt the need for any social niceties. Even that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker in a high-stress environment, but he was really rude and insulting, way beyond what was necessary.

If I asked a question about the job, he would insult and berate me, then he’d tell me in the next second not to worry, that I would receive his support through the three month probation. It was rather disorienting. I knew I was a good journalist and got the hang of the routine, even the editor’s ‘difficult’ behaviour. To be fair, he did compliment work that was good, and I thought things were fine, no further problems. I took it all with a grain of salt because, as I said, he was mostly a voice on the phone like Charlie’s Angels. But I felt like my job was in peril every moment because I never knew if/when he’d call me up and berate me. I should point out he was like this with everyone, so I didn’t take it personally and after a few weeks, I didn’t have that feeling of peril.

However, some strange things did happen. Employees were fired from various departments after only working there for brief periods and everyone would be totally surprised and talk about it over lunch. One morning about six weeks after I started working, I was called into HR. The editor was on the speaker phone. He informed me that I was being let go because, as he said, I hadn’t gotten the hang of it. I was stunned, because there had not been any indication. No one had complained or talked to me, there had been no warning at all and it had only been a month. I told him that but he insisted I wasn’t doing a good job. He convinced that I wasn’t going to pull it off, despite the fact that he had not once stepped foot in the office since I’d been there and I’d never even met him. I reminded the editor that he had been impressed by my experience and the writing samples I had supplied with my resume. His response was that, “It just isn’t working out.” Everything he said contradicted everything he’d said in the interview: that I would be trained and that I would get three months probation. I pointed that out to him but his response was good bye and good luck.

I simply went to my office, got my stuff and left without even saying goodbye to anyone. I cried on the way home. I dreaded having to tell my boyfriend, who had been so proud when I got that job. They did save me the trouble. When I got home, he told me he already knew. He had called the office to say hello and the receptionist told that I’d been let go. I am highly critical of my own work and would have admitted if I did a shitty job or had any trouble ‘getting it’ as The Editor so eloquently put it. I tortured myself, wondering how I could have screwed up a great opportunity that I had needed so badly. About a year later, I was at a party and met some former employees. I learned from them that my experience was typical. The editor was notorious for firing people on the spur of the moment and they were surprised I’d even lasted a month. In fact, no one who worked there at the time was still employed only a year later (most were on contract, I should point out). They never hired anyone to replace me. The company ended up in financial trouble and nearly everyone was laid off. It was later bought by another company. The editor continued to work at the new company. Of course, I never got to meet him.

Comments (18)

AdamFebruary 2nd, 2011 at 11:41 am


AndrewFebruary 2nd, 2011 at 5:49 pm

This story pisses me off. At least it sounds like you handled it as well as you could. Did everything work out for you?

BillyFebruary 2nd, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Company ran into financial trouble and you were downsized, welcome to the economy. YAWN!

SaffyFebruary 2nd, 2011 at 9:02 pm

OP here. Yes, it worked out for me, I am no longer in journalism and am very happy! I should point out that the downsizing and layoffs happened AFTER I was fired. The company had been in trouble for some time. I found this out from former employees, who seem to be pretty numerous around here. Most of them were pretty nice, actually and have all gone on to better things.

KandyjoFebruary 3rd, 2011 at 11:03 am

Good thing Billy is here to let us know what’s boring. YAWN!

Anyway, I worked as a journalist for many years, and for some reason, the environment is ripe for mismanagement and generally douchebaggery. I’ve seen many fail. Couple that with print going the way of the dodo bird, and it’s no wonder all of these companies end up circling the drain.

Frankly, I was shocked when you said that a journalism gig had “great benefits and salary”. Too good to be true. Glad you’re doing much better now.

BillyFebruary 3rd, 2011 at 1:06 pm

The point of the comments are to post your opinion, impression, or connection to the story. People care as much about my opinion as they do about your journalism career 30 years ago.

MollySueFebruary 3rd, 2011 at 4:50 pm

If it’s any consolation, I thought it was probably one of the best written submissions I’ve read here. The situation wasn’t desperately exciting or jaw-dropping like some others, but nevertheless it was told clearly with a nice turn-of-phrase.

The story itself just goes to prove that private industry cannot always be relied on to cut out waste and people/companies do tend to find it easier to placate the troublemaker/bully than deal with them, no matter what the cost is. Of course the company was in financial trouble for ages, if the editor couldn’t be trusted to keep staff for even a month then what the hell was he doing with finances and advertisers?

SaffyFebruary 3rd, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Thanks molly…listen go figure? no one could figure it out, but I have seen this happen a lot in journalism. They’ll have a horrible producer etc whose underlings either run away screaming or are fired…but they stay or even get better jobs!
As for the benefits, it was a fairly goodsized multimedia company and the website was only part of it so everyone had the benefits and great salary (after 3 months). I think one of the reasons they firee people after a month is so they didn’t have to pay benefits.
And this wasn’t 30 years ago, but only about 6 years ago. I’m not making as much money as I would have with that job, but needless to say, there are a lot more benefits!

JChiefFebruary 4th, 2011 at 8:14 am

“He was a bit of a geek, but funny and easy to get along with.”

Because we geeks lack a sense of humor and are impossible to relate to.

OP – do you really want to open the can?

oiFebruary 4th, 2011 at 10:49 am

@ Jchief, I was not convinced that physics geeks are humorless t*** stereo type, e.g Sheldon in bigbang theory. I met one at the friend’s. The first question he asked me was do I have cholesterol?The friend had invited us for fondue. He managed to insult me and my host friend in a first sentence he spoke. Now I assumed he did not mean to and brushed it off but every time he spoke it was a blunder bigger than last one. He decided that it was a crime of epic proportion if the obviously jesty comments were tiny bit inaccurate. Now I am convinced Sheldon character not at all exaggeration.
I wish I could write a blog entry on him but unfortunately my friends read my blog and he easily could stumbled upon there.

oiFebruary 4th, 2011 at 10:52 am

oh and I am as skinny as they come so I thought he was being funny for a minute but rest of evening proved that he is unfamiliar with the concept of sarcasm or obvious exaggeration.

SaffyFebruary 4th, 2011 at 11:12 pm

well, i never said any of those things about geeks. You’re attributing things to me that I never said. Read into it what you will. Generally, geeks are not my thing but I don’t kill them and eat their livers.

JChiefFebruary 7th, 2011 at 9:53 am

“Generally, geeks are not my thing”

FFS – are we in high school?

I suppose the captain of the football team is more “your thing”. He’s so dreeeeeeamy.

winterFebruary 10th, 2011 at 1:05 pm

“And this wasn’t 30 years ago, but only about 6 years ago”

Pretty sure Billy was addressing Kandyjo, not you

SaffyFebruary 11th, 2011 at 7:14 am

probably….it’s hard to tell sometimes with comments.
JChief, as we say in journalism: “Fair comment and an opinion honestly held by the writer.”

KandyjoFebruary 11th, 2011 at 8:59 am

Interesting that my journalism career was 30 years ago. I’m 35. That would have been a hell of a feat.

Jade LynnFebruary 11th, 2011 at 11:11 am

Hey you got unemployment though right? Last laughs on them!

I actually worked at a similar environment with a boss who was always in another state and a jackass to boot that eventually fired me for not “getting it”. I’m doing much better now too at a bigger and better company that recently hired me full time from contractor status, which is what really matters at the end of the day. ;)

SaffyFebruary 11th, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I am sure there are plenty of dickwads out there. I think that when they tell you you’re ‘not getting it’ it’s just an allpurpose copout, because they can’t really think of anything. They just want to fire you. From what the ex-employees told me, this was typical for this guy. But the guy I replaced, the ‘geeky’ guy, worked there for like four years. So obviously HE got a chance to prove himself. Why, I have no idea. And the way I was fired was funny too. I was told to report to HR and thought it had something to do with my benefits or insurance. When I got there, the Phantom Editor was on the phone and the HR drone handed me a letter. How nice. When I called him the next morning to make sure I would be paid my remaining salary, he told me he’d had no idea and said he hoped I’d find something better. I now actually work on my own, from home and am ten times happier.

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