This is a memo sent to Wire Service Guild members in the Southwest Division by WSG chapter president Jay Lewis of Dallas. It was sent shortly after it was disclosed on Aug. 9, 1984 (my birthday) that UPI was in serious financial trouble and might go under:
TO: Guild members FROM: Jay B. Lewis WSG Chapter president Dallas
I've been getting a lot of calls lately, and I seem to be getting the same questions, so I thought I might just lay it all out for everyone to take or leave at his own discretion.
The facts of the company's future, what there are of them, you are all getting through UPI and WSG releases. There's nothing more unsettling than uncertainty, but you can deal with it. Either you control the situation, or the situation controls you.
What we know is, either the company will fold or we will have to take salary cuts and live on reduced means for awhile. Either scenario calls for the same actions.
So what do we do? We keep the faith. We must make conscious efforts to keep morale high. That means ...
--Keep you sense of humor, and your sense of the absurd. Take it on yourselves to prop up those who aren't as strong as you. I learned that on forced marches, which were easier to make when I was carrying the pack of someone who was faltering. I don't know why that works, but it does.
--Keep up appearances. The story on the street is that UPI is on the verge, so it's important to present visible evidence that people here are on top of things. This is a time for fresh haircuts, shined shoes, starched shirts, waxed cars, etc. If people hear that UPI is just a shell, but see that UPI person is standing straighter than anyone else in the room, they'll go with what they see. You'll feel better, too.
--Do the best possible work you can. Let word get around that UPI on its worst day can outperform and outclass the AP on its best. Especially in dealing with clients and the public, take pains to sound confident and cheerful.
--Suffer in silence. Don't take your frustrations out on co-workers. It contributes to an overall sense of decay. There are ways of dealing with your fears, which we'll cover below.
--Don't give up the ship. Hedging your bets by looking for another job undermines our chances of survival. If the clients see a blizzard of UPI resumes crossing their desks, their confidence in the company will be eroded. Hold on as long as your nerves permit.
If we do all this, and the company still folds, we're in better shape for our efforts. Word will have gotten around that UPI people are the sort you can depend on when the chips are down. In this business, a job applicant with some starch in him is at a premium.
Now, for that queasy feeling ...
Philosophers and psychologists from Gilbert Riles to R.D. Laing have found the worst wear and tear on the nervous system comes from uncertainty. I've found that too, and this isn't the worst rough spot I've ever had to face.
The best way to handle it is to bring the phantom into focus, and form a clear picture of what would happen in the worst case, and walk your way through it. Whether the company folds, or you just face a pay cut, the drill is the same. Here's what it will be like:
--You be behind on your bills. That's nothing to worry about. Since the Reagan Recession, half the people in the country are behind on their bills. All you have to do is call up the creditors, tell them what's going on, and arranged reduced payments. In most cases they'll understand. The real Nazis will report you to the credit bureau. If that happens, all it means is that when the dust settles and you're ready to incur more debts, you'll have to explain what happened when you apply. I know all of this from experience.
--You'll be short of money. Almost overnight, you'll develop survival skills that will cut your expenses without a serious drop in your standard of living. You'll start cooking gourmet to stretch the groceries, like the Chinese who can feed a family of 10 on half a chicken and a double handful of vegetables; you'll start hitting the recycle stores for clothes and tailoring them yourselves; you'll buy used appliances for a tenth what they'd cost you on Sears' revolving charge. The list is endless. All you have to do is find sources.
--You may tend toward asceticism in your lifestyle, and a spell of that now and then is good for you. I always filled in lean spells with hits of scholarship. It's a good time to fill in gaps in your education, get in shape, learn a foreign language, read up on economics, history, politics, law, and all the things you missed in J-school. It looks really good on your resume.
--You may have to find another job. Just remember, you did that when you came here.
In short, keep a stiff upper lip, even when the lower one is quivering. It's going to be fine. This will be a story you can tell your grandchildren . . . and mightily bored they'll be.