Excerpt: 'The Scarecrow'

I hit the disconnect button but kept the headset on. This would hopefully discourage anybody in the newsroom from approaching me. I had no doubt that Larry Bernard would start telling other reporters that I had been involuntarily separated and they would come to commiserate. I had to concentrate on finishing a short on the arrest of a suspect in a murder for hire plot uncovered by the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division. Then I could disappear from the newsroom and head to the bar to toast the end of my career in daily journalism. Because that's what it was going to be. There was no newspaper out there in the market for an over-40 cop shop reporter. Not when they had an endless supply of cheap labor – baby reporters like Angela Cook minted fresh every year at USC and Medill and Columbia, and willing to work for next to nothing. Like the newspaper industry itself, my time was over.

My phone buzzed in my ear and I was about to guess it would be my ex-wife, having already heard the news in the Washington bureau, but the caller ID said VELVET COFFIN. I had to admit I was shocked. I knew Larry could not have gotten the word out that fast. Against my better judgment I took the call. As expected, the caller was Don Goodwin, self-appointed watchdog and chronicler of the inner workings of the L.A. Times.

"I just heard," he said.

"When?"

"Just now."

"How? I just found out myself less than five minutes ago."

"Come on, Jack, you know I can't reveal. But I've got the place wired. You just walked out of Kramer's office. You made the thirty list."

The thirty list was a reference to those who had been lost over the years in the downsizing of the paper. Goodwin himself was on the list. He had worked at the Times and was on the fast track as an editor until a change of ownership brought a change in financial philosophy. When he objected to doing more with less he was cut down at the knees and ended up taking one of the first buyouts offered. That was back when they offered substantial payments to those who would voluntarily leave the company – before the media company that owned the Times filed for bankruptcy protection. Goodwin took his payout and set up shop with a web site and a blog that covered everything that moved inside the Times. He called it www.thevelvetcoffin.com as a grim reminder of what the paper used to be; a place so pleasurable at which to work that you would easily slip in and stay till you died. With the constant changes of ownership and management, the layoffs, and the ever-dwindling staff and budget sizes, the place was now becoming more of a pine box. And Goodwin was there to chronicle every step and misstep of its fall.

His blog was updated almost daily and was avidly and secretly read by everybody in the newsroom. I wasn't sure much of the world beyond the thick bombproof walls of the Times even cared. The Times was going the way of all journalism and that wasn't news. Even the New York By God Times was feeling the pinch caused by the shift of society to the internet for news and advertising. The stuff Goodwin wrote about and was calling me about amounted to little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

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