Chris Rose: End of story

Published: Jun. 14, 2012 at 1:27 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2012 at 9:27 PM CDT
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It's a long-standing tradition in the newspaper business to signal the end of the story with a mysterious symbol: A dash, the number 30, then another dash.

Its true origins are unknown, shrouded in their own mystery, but its meaning is unambiguous: end of story.

Facebook users who work at the Times-Picayune gave New Orleans a journalism primer Tuesday, as dozens of employees who were fired entered "30" as their updated status.

In all, more than 200 employees were dismissed, 84 from the newsroom.

The scene there was described as beyond surreal, beyond belief – and so far beyond a breech of tact and courtesy as to constitute disrespect, audacity, even cruelty.

To describe it, employees conjured terminology we've come to expect from the scenes of mass shootings and terror attacks: "Carnage." "Massacre." "A bloodbath."

Journalists can be sublime hyperbolists, to be sure, but nothing that happened Tuesday necessitated prevarication.

Like livestock led to slaughter, employees were called one by one to their supervisors' offices for exchanges that often lasted only minutes.

As the day wore on, those who didn't make the cut – an astonishing one-third of the newspaper – slashed their hands across their throats to signal their fates to those awaiting their own.

Sobs accompanied the general din of the newsroom. Colleagues gathered in group hugs reminiscent of trademark Times-Pic photos of family members consoling one another at crime scenes.

"The layoff was a scheduled plague loosed upon a confined population," posted religion writer Bruce Nolan, in the tonic prose style that has defined his more-than-30 years.

Which, he was informed, is finished.

A different ignominy awaited beloved sports columnist Peter Finney, who discovered his ill fate in a story published on the paper's website before he had even met with his editor.

Then it turned out the story got the facts wrong.

It was, indeed, a day of infamy at the Times-Picayune, a once great and proud institution which descended into sudden, bumbling cannibalism this week; it's managers ordered to dismiss their loyal troops while the paper's owners, from Advance Publications in New York, monitored from a distance.

Mission accomplished.

How fitting it is that the mass termination goes into effect while the paper cuts back its daily production from seven to three days a week.

That would be September 30.