This is the end, my only friend, the end.

Okay, so, breathe.

Twenty-eight hours ago I was huddled against the wall of the bathroom, knees to my chest, fingers racing to trace out the words. Morse code, like.  Dot-dot-dash. Mayday, mayday, this ship is going down.  “They laid me off today,” I texted, a thousand times I texted, and it still just sounds so wrong.

No wronger, though, than this:

“This isn’t personal.”


This is the personal story of a girl who waited.

I was 18 years old and I fell into writing, and I freelanced, and I waited for them to notice. Then they started paying me to write concert reviews, and I waited for them to notice I could do more. Every year, they’d give me a little more work, and a little more hope, and I lusted after the job at night, when the sun faded and my confidence came out to play.

In 2009, I finally got it. Then I lost it, in a round of cuts that sent three of us packing. They gave me a job downstairs from the newsroom, at the weekly papers; shoved off the ledge, I had a soft place to land. I grieved for what was, though. For the dream that had died, or at least gone a little blue.

Almost exactly one year later, the job came up: city reporter. I’ve never been a city reporter, and I can’t say I knew what to do. “You need to apply for this,” they said, and so I did. They named a time for me to come in for the interview.

I woke up that morning racked by violent sneezes, eyes gushing sick liquid. Goddamnit, not today. I popped a handful of Tylenol Nighttime Colds to keep the symptoms at bay. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to be noticed.

Ninety minutes later, I’m shaking hands with my editors, and notice I can’t feel the weight of their squeeze. Then they ask me: so, what can you bring to the Winnipeg Free Press? “Uhhh,” I say, looking up to the sky, and my brain is a fog and the words all fade away. “Uhhhh… I’m really sorry, I had to take some cold medicine, and I uhhh… oh man…”

My mind screamed at my eyelids to stay the fuck open.

Then it was done, and I shuffled out, went home, and collapsed into bed.

“How did it go?”

“Bad,” I said, and I covered my face with a pillow. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

One week later, I was back in the newsroom to visit a friend, when Paul Samyn asked me to follow into his office. I sat down and waited for him to start, and arranged my face to survive the decision he would state: when the bad news breaks, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.

“Well,” he said. “You’re coming back upstairs.”

I was crying before he finished the sentence.


Six days before the sky fell, we met on the third floor, in the big empty room that says “human resources,” as if you could mine us and gold would fall out. Lord knows they’ve been trying. The big room’s been empty for as long as I know, save for the offices in the corner and a shelf of dated Hollywood DVDs against the wall.

This is where the publisher gives us the bad news, once a quarter; he calls them Town Halls, but the town is dying. Even though there’s only 30 of us at this meeting, the second-last of several, we all take the middle and end-row seats. Everyone wants distance between themselves, and the bar graphs.

Today: same old story, worse than the last, but we’re numb to it now. Revenues are down, and there’s no reason to think they won’t keep diving through the gulf. Web traffic is great. Apps are taking off. Northern distribution routes have been axed. Anything that doesn’t make money, could be axed. Wait, work, pray.

My friend raised his hand and asked the only question anyone really cared about. “Will there be any more layoffs?”

We’re always looking at options, the publisher said. But there are no specific plans to cut more departments at this time.

I exhaled, tapped my phone back to Twitter and walked back to my desk.

“How bad was the Bob thing?” they asked.

Not bad, I replied, just the same old story. A little bit worse than the last.


Was this a lie? I don’t know. I don’t know how decisions are made, in offices. I don’t know how fast the balance sheets move, and bean counters point at departments and draw a line across their throats. Tsssttttt. You’re dead.

“It’s not personal,” she said, the Human Resources lady.

It’s never personal to the ones who aren’t personally affected. I stared at the ceiling. I stared at the wall. I stared at the Jets something or other, framed in a big frame and God I can’t see it now, what is it, what is it and is it worth holding onto. Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.

I told them I thought they were committing suicide.

“It’s not personal,” she repeated, as if a suicide is ever about the people left behind.

More on this later. Another time. When thoughts skew straight and ideas come around, I have nothing but time on my hands.


I live-Tweeted my layoff from the bathroom corner, with my legs pulled up to my chest and my blood still running hot.

Then I left my phone on my desk, picked up my cookie-tin banjo that is a Lorne Collie original, because it’s the best memory I have of this beautiful and draining and sad and fading job, and I marched to the store and bought a new iPhone.

When I came back online, I saw how beautiful people are. And I knew I would survive.


More on this later, on the media and all that jazz. But first, let me say this:

Those of us cut yesterday, we all deserved better. We deserved better than to be blindsided and cut loose without warning. We deserved a chance to offer up ideas, to make suggestions and volunteer to find a way to make it work. At the very least, to prepare. This has happened in other situations, I hear. Even in 2009 we had discussions about job-sharing and other ways to try and stop the cuts. We all knew they were coming, when they did.

“Same old story. A little bit worst than the last.”

Paul Samyn deserves better, so freshly installed as editor. I was excited about working for him. He is still one of the finest editors I have ever known, a bundle of big ideas and little battles and a fire for this game. He deserves far better than to be the last editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, though I fear that is what happens no matter how hard he fights to keep the thing alive. And he deserved far better than to have to pull the plug on so many of us, so soon.

For those who keep track of such things at home: these are not on him. It doesn’t work that way.

The Free Press deserves better than to be hacked apart until it has no blood left to bleed. One hundred forty-something years it’s been surviving, and now they’re tearing off its head. I’m not saying I could have been the saviour of that paper; I wasn’t, I’m not, I can’t, I’m not enough. Besides, it never fit me as easily as I had hoped. But the only thing that matters anymore is content; it’s the only thing of value. And content is what got cut yesterday.

It’s not about who we are, or what we do. It about the fact that these jobs are never coming back.

Same old story…


I woke up to the sound of freezing rain, wrapped my blankets around me and laughed until I fell asleep again.

My friend called to see if I was okay. “I’m great,” I said. “You’re covering the IKEA opening, and I’m not.”

Energy never ends. It only mutates, changes and transfers into something else. Stay tuned.

  • Steve Boyko

    Sorry to hear you were laid off… their loss for sure and ours too.

  • Janmarty

    You are an amazingly gifted writer and strong human being. You will prevail. Hang in there!

  • Twyla

    Sad to hear this M.  Bad news indeed.  For everyone.

  • Melissa Martin

     Oh I don’t know if I’m an undead. In some ways, I think I feel a little more alive.

  • Bernie

    Thanks for the heartfelt account. Chin up and keep writing.

  • Lara

    I wonder if I should even say this, but when Scott sat down and told me I was OK, I cried with relief. I didn’t know I cared that much. In the back of my mind, I’ve added to Scott’s words, “this time.” I hate what’s happened to our business. I yearn for the glory days of newspapers, when there was staff for every important story and extra to follow it up, when bright lights just cursed the fact they were stuck on the cops beat until one of the old guys died and gave up his contacts, when readers cared about their morning paper and we could help shine light in dark places, not struggle to stay alight ourselves.

    And if you want to write for the New Yorker, or Rolling Stone, or whatever, come up with a kick-ass idea and pitch it to them. I had a friend who wrote for them. You can do it.

  • cherenkov

    At the beginning of last year, the head of Canadian Operations for the company that I worked for flew to Winnipeg for a town hall meeting. “We can’t continue to meet our targets by laying off people. There is no more room for layoffs. We have to find other ways.” Six months later, after two profitable but below target quarters, I and many others were laid off. Apparently there was more room.

  • Melissa Martin

     Thanks lovely lady.

    The New Yorker has always been a dream. Now it gets to be again. Now a lot of things get to be again: I remind myself that I have so much left to do, and so many things I need to write. Now, on my own, without the inertia of it all, maybe I finally will do it all right.

  • Lara

    No freakin’ way you’ll do it all right! But you’ll do it better than alright.

    From what I saw, the New Yorker doesn’t want all right anyway.

    (I also miss newsroom characters. People are safe now. Sure, there are characters — but the safe ones.)

  • Gordon Arnold

    Beautifully crafted piece on a sad topic.  It shouldn’t have happened to you, or to any of the others. I’m a great fan of the New Yorker.  Go for it.  Would love to see your byline there.  In the meantime, remember that old Latin saying, attributed to a wide variety of people, including the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. ‘nil carborundum illegitimi’  In plain English, ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’  Good luck.

  • Ron Campbell

    Melissa, you’re a good poet, a good reporter and a hard worker, much better than some who weren’t laid off due to seniority. I’ll miss your writing and your clothes.

  • disappointed again by the Feep

    Melissa, what about getting together with some of our other local talent and perhaps the better citizen journalists and produce your own on-line newspaper?  There’s a lot that needs to be said for and about our city and province that will never be said now at the Freep.  You’re talented and we’d hate to see you move away to some backwater paper just to stay in the business.  You could start out with a weekly, but I bet in no time you’d have a daily up and running.  Think about it, this way the people of Winnipeg & Manitoba could once again see themselves and their values in written form again.  We haven’t had that luxury for quite awhile now.

  • James Jewell

    Was touched by your story….tweeted by JT…

    I felt your pain and can related on a deep level….

    Although our circumstances differ greatly….I too was on the receiving end of a cold, calculated blindside career ender…

    I’m sorry you had to experience that…..when it happened to me one of my co-workers lamented “It’s going to take you a long time to get that taste of shit out of your mouth.”

    He was right.

    People deserve better… be treated with respect and dignity is not too much to ask of an employer.

    You deserved better….

    After swallowing the bitter pill, you must take the challenge to find an optimistic road to travel on…..opportunity awaits for the eternal optimist.  Perceived set backs will be viewed in the future as “life changing moments.”

    Your passion is yours and can never be taken away by anyone…..

    Keep the faith….

  • Mworoniak

    Melissa, whether you intended it or not, this is a wonderfully, achingly eloquent critique of capitalism. It’s happening in too many workplaces and I feel like not enough people are calling it out. Thanks for writing this. All best.

  • Rlorch

    It sounds really trite but having been in the same spot myself I can honestly say that when one door closes, another opens nearby. Best of luck as you figure out what’s next.

  • Cathie Coward

    Wonderful writing Melissa , my heart breaks for you  -keep writing - things will happen for you !

  • Melissa Martin

     Great idea, thanks. All I can say right now is stay tuned. I’m trying to take a few days at least to unwind, refocus and enjoy my funemployment (thanks Steph Cutrona for the best word ever) but there are lots of ideas, opportunities and new partnerships on the horizon.

  • Melissa Martin

     Thank you so much. I remember reading about your situation in the Free Press, and have been following your blog. Truly, we both have so much more ahead.

  • DDueck

    The New Yorker is fine and good, but we Manitobans want great local writing too! I’m sorry for you personally and for the paper too. More and more, I feel, the good ol’ FP is becoming a page-through paper or ignore-altogether one; newspapers won’t return to bygone days, of course they won’t, but somehow there has to be a way to give readers what I think they still want, which is writing that is solid, curious, well-crafted, creative, penetrating, distinctive — not all at the same time, perhaps, but some combination of those adjectives that pulls in and engages. And that means people who write — well. I can’t help wondering what would happen if the FP took a big risk in this current publishing environment and actually gave More rather than Less — perhaps many would “tune in” again. At any rate, it would be interesting to hear some of your ideas.

  • Alan

    Excellent piece, Melissa. I’m also a recent casualty — I was the world guy at Postmedia News — and miss it more than I knew. There’s a place out there somewhere for us, a puzzle looking for our piece. Just wish I knew where to find it.

  • Donna

    You have an AMAZING gift.  There is a silver lining to this.  You are young, strong and amazing.  I don’t know you but I feel you will become something better and down the road you will look back at this and be thankful that you were forced to make a change. Look forward to reading your stuff in the future.  Hang in there girl : )

  • John S. Kendle

    Great piece. Hate that you had to write it.

  • Glynis Corkal

    This is an emotional post - full of the emotion that has happened to many of us at one time or another - I can so very much relate Melissa. You are a talented writer - you all deserved better. And you will move on.

  • Lynne at Jazz Winnipeg

    Melissa, I can’t speak for the entire Winnipeg music community but I’m going to anyway. This is truly awful news. You and Rob have done some exceptional work covering Winnipeg’s music scene and I wanted you to know how much we appreciated your thoughtful and intelligent work. I hope you get some consolation knowing that we all believe there are great things ahead for you.

  • Guest

    If you still work in a newsroom and are reading this, I implore you to find an alternative. Leave on your terms, not theirs. 

    There will be more cuts. 

  • Avatar Venus

    The same thing happened to me 3 years ago when I wrote for Metro.  It does take a long time to get the taste of shit out of your mouth. We all need to find a way to earn a living by writing but we won’t be writing for newspapers anymore.

  • Duncan McMonagle

    Good on you, Melissa, for demonstrating how to write a vivid and heartfelt blog post.

  • Les Perreaux

    Great post. Good luck, Melissa. 

  • Winterpeg

    A well-written piece. Very few publications (and none of them Canadian) have understood the importance of content: The Economist, The New Yorker and The New York Times come to mind. In Europe Le Monde and The Guardian are having some difficulties, but still care about content-first. 
    Perhaps you can become a contributor of the Community News Commons project? 

  • Bob Morgan

    Courage!!! They only win when you give up. You only lose when you don’t get up again. The tide has gone out but it will return. Your job is to be here when it returns.

  • Tonyjkava

    What a terrific writer. What a wonderful, powerful and impactive voice. This talent will - nay, must - endure. Hang in there.

  • Cam

    You’re writing is too good to be wasted on a daily newspaper. 

  • Tom

    Hang in there! it is not the end of the world, yeah it feels very bad when you loose your dream job, but free press is not the only newspaper in the country. 
    May be it is time to think about work for your self rather than someone!

  • Greg in Brandon

    It happens to the best of us…. and I do feel for you, but get up off the floor, and show them THEY are wrong, you are a survivor, and the “offices” will simply disappear as well (sooner than later), the key word in today’s economy is “ADAPT” and that, you will have to do, BUT REMEMBER THIS, you are NOT the looser, they are……. The white tower morons will get theirs when the stocks crash.

  • Tonsaker

    You said it….”Content is everything.” and my dear, you have that. Unfortunately, our local papers do not, nor do they seem to even try to do content. We want to stimulate this city to be something that it never has been before, and we seem to get less and less. Hope you are sticking around Winnipeg, because we really do NEED writers like you.  All the best.

  • Mustefa musse

    Simply extra ordinary story !!! What a moving occurrence in life !!! I am so touched!’

  • Sydney

    That’s terrible.  Ms Martin you’re one of the most interesting writers this paper had.  I hope I come across your writing again soon.

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