Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Tough night at the office

Leaving the XL Center around 11:30 p.m. last night I was greeted by a blast of Arctic air as I walked across the street to the Church Street Garage. That, however, was not the coldest slap in the face I had to deal with this week.

Late Monday afternoon I was finishing up a story and blog on Naugatuck receiver Bryan Coney deciding to accept a preferred walk-on spot on the UConn football team when my phone rang. On the other line was Rich Elliott, the UConn women's beat writer for the Connecticut Post for the last 14 seasons. "What have you got?" was the greeting we developed over the years when one of us would call. After a second or two of silence he cut right to the heart of the matter - as is his custom - and said "I got laid off." Even typing those words sends a chill through my body that has nothing to do with the weather.

Layoffs are nothing new in the newspaper business. I have seen former coworkers who headed off to other publications deal with the sudden loss of work. I was in the office a few feet away when the Register's science editor was let go and sat in emotionally-charged meetings after more layoffs were announced. Heck, in between my two stints working at the New Haven Register I was the sports editor for a chain a weekly papers including three that folded right under my nose back in the early 1990s. Still, this news really shook me up.

When you cover a beat like UConn you get to know the fellow beat writers as more than just competitors and fellow journalists. In some cases they become close friends. That is certainly the case with Rich and I. The world we live in is one few fully understand. The nights of leaving an arena at 1 in the morning and driving home in the middle of a blinding snowstorm, the 80-90 hour weeks, the day off that becomes something other than that when a top high school player opts to pick that time to commit to play for Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma all come with the territory. When you cover a high school beat you may run into a competitor at a game or even two in a week if the stars align but when you have an assignment like documenting the dominance of the UConn women's basketball team, you will have stretches when you are together 24 out of 28 days. You often are on the same flights, in the same hotels, have breakfast, lunch and dinner with each other in locations as varied at Palo Alto, California and South Bend, Indiana and all points in between. I did a quick count yesterday and estimated that Rich and I covered games in about 25 different states as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 10 seasons both of us were on the beat.

Last night UConn made the heartwarming step of leaving a regular spot on press row for Rich directly to my left even though his paper made the head-scratching decision to no longer cover the UConn men's and women's basketball programs. However, Rich's former paper took it a step further. Just 24 hours after finishing up his work at the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York, Rich was summoned to a meeting at his paper where he was let go as was UConn men's basketball beat writer William Paxton.

If a paper wants to focus their manpower elsewhere and become more of a locally-based sports section, they have that right although it is a curious decision. We live in a time where web clicks rule the day so it should be noted that when you go onto the Register's website and hit the link for most read sports stories yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week, next month invariably at least seven of the top eight stories have to do with UConn and I would envision the same in true at the Post. But it is not my place to tell another media outlet how to go their job. However, to get a beat like UConn men's or women's basketball, you have to pay your dues, prove yourself worthy to break news. Rich and Bill got those beats because they earned them with their talent and hard work and now two of the most gifted journalists at that paper are unemployed. It is stunning to me that they didn't use this shift in philosophy to make a bigger push covering high school sports or the local college scene. Rich and Bill are experienced covering high school and college events that have nothing to do with UConn but that opportunity was lost.

The Post is not the first paper to take this step. When I started covering UConn it wasn't unusual to have reporters from a dozen papers at the games. If my math is correct, five were in attendance last night and just three will be at the next game at SMU on Sunday.

The seat next to me, other than a bag of cookies (Rich was well known for his love of cookies, brownies, pretty much anything that can make one's sugar levels go through the roof) and sign reading "For One of the Good Guys" was left vacant during Wednesday night's UConn/Tulsa game. I texted him the photo and he responded with "That Is Awesome!!"

I kept waiting for him to come in and sit down next to me, grumbling about the traffic or bone-chilling temperatures and would have given anything for that to happen. However, he was at home with his wife and two boys and to say his absence was felt by his fellow journalists would be an understatement of incredible proportions. Often times all we could do is look at each other and shake our heads in disbelief that one of the state's three largest papers took a step nobody thought would ever come.

He is not the first person to lose his job without a moment's notice in this or any other business. The holidays are a prime time for layoffs to be implemented in order to increase a company's financial bottom line. The only problem is that many of those layoff victims don't work in a business where you are given an outlet to vent like the one I am presented with.

I feel for Rich and Bill, their families and their uncertain futures. I feel for myself and how much I will miss hanging out with a person who when I wasn't trying to beat out for stories, became one of my closest friends and somebody who was there for me when I dealt with the sudden death of my sister shortly before the start of the 2010 NCAA tournament or tragic passing of Register columnist Dave Solomon 16 1/2 months later. We gravitated towards the same hangouts after our work was done, both take the success or failure of our fantasy football teams a little too seriously, enjoy many of the same TV shows and movies. I will miss getting first-hand reports of how his son's flag football team, which he helps to coach, is faring and so many other things. However, mostly I feel for the UConn sports fans who couldn't even find a mention of last night's game against Tulsa on the website of the Connecticut Post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, Jim. Rich was one of the best.

11:42 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Jim. I appreciate reading your column and blog.

11:47 AM 
Blogger MikeMC said...

The Post made a huge mistake by letting Rich go and down sizing UCONN basketball. Their coverage was among the best and I predict that their circulation will suffer.

8:10 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfully article about a great guy! His son's flag football team ROCKS!!! Everyone loves "Coach Rusty"

10:17 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks , Jim, for the info. I did not know. Rich is a great person. I'm nobody but an avid UConn follower, but Rich was ever gracious, accessible, and responsive to my tweets. Rich is an intelligent, caring person always supportive of Geno and his players. He'll probably get a better job, and end up laughing about it. My Twitter handle is @Chevaski.

12:30 AM 
Anonymous Fykester said...

Great tribute, Jim. So it goes in our business, unfortunately. Keep on keepin' on.

12:16 AM 

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