Rich Jackson worked as Senior Executive Editor of the Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana until his job was eliminated, and he became homeless.
Story by Rich Jackson
I finished cleaning out my desk at work and packed up the last box from the apartment at the newspaper, drove 10 minutes and checked into the Motel 6.
Officially, I was homeless.
The word sadly does a poor job of describing a condition. For instance, I have a little savings but I need to stretch that as much as possible. Friends and complete strangers have helped me add to that savings. I can apply for unemployment to stretch money a little longer.
But I am homeless, fitting one of four categories, mine being transitional homeless.
The newspaper company had encouraged me to apply for the executive editor position in Bloomington, Indiana. I had done two previous stints in the state and a tumultuous situation in the newsroom needed a calm, steady editor who knew how to do good work under duress.
I struggled financially at my last newspaper so the folks who ran this one offered me a chance to stay in an apartment in the building where the owner once lived, and where visiting family members could stay. The place was decked out in the finest of the “Man Men” era, deep shag carpet and fake gold everywhere. I was grateful.
Then I went to work.
I’ve never had a problem working hard, particularly because I love being a newspaper editor. The three loves of my life are my daughter, my mother and being a newspaper editor. When I’m hard at work in the newsroom, I feel as warm as in a cocoon.
Without looking up, I started working everyday and two to three days of the week, I worked from getting up until going to bed.
But I was having fun and we were doing good work. People would say, “I love the changes you’re making at the newspaper,” and “My husband and I love your thoughtful columns,” and “You’re a fat idiot.” OK, not all praise.
I know we like to think that our economy at its best is as strong as a bull. But sometimes the bull tramples smaller things.
Living in the apartment helped aspects of the business. I was always there to keep an eye on the place, someone working remotely could ask me to restart her computer and if there was breaking news, I had a 50-feet commute.
Initially, I hadn’t planned to stay in the apartment no more than three or four months, but the move had cost me far more than I received so it wasn’t until the turn of 2020 that I was able to save money.
Cool, I could begin thinking about finding a place in Bloomington, generally considered one of the best small towns in the United States.
Then the virus.
I have worked through local tragedy and helped lead a 90-person newsroom through 9/11, where we worked 20 hours a day for I don’t remember how long. My longest shift was 26 hours. I once worked two 16-hour days in a row at age 50. I still worked 12-13 hour days two to three days a week.
But I’ve never seen the news needs of COVID-19. There was simply no way of keeping up and it was all-consuming.
I gathered my news staff and told them the goal was to help the community through this historic time; how do we cope, what can we do, how do we support each other while at the same time telling the hard news of how many were dying, where were failures to prepare, and just what the hell is next.
During a furlough week in April, I began in earnest to find an apartment and had some leads. It was my second week off in two years, the other being some days to go see my kid in Pennsylvania. I figured during another furlough in May, I’d make the move.
Then the call came.
A regional editor was going to come visit me the next day at noon. I sent out frantic texts to colleagues, but no one could give me an answer. That’s when I knew I was going to be laid off.
The regional editor has been a friend for years and remains so. He said my last day would be May 1 and I had to be out of the apartment by noon that day. What’s with the noon thing? Just to add to the drama?
I knew we like to think that our economy at its best is as strong as a bull. But sometimes the bull tramples smaller things. I’ve written about the brittle nature of the economy.
And so, on May 1, sitting with a cheap pizza and a plastic cup of wine in Motel 6, I started www.thehomelesseditor.com.