Dear Readers for Jan. 8, 2009

If you choose “news” as your profession, you will hear the mantra early in your career. You’ll hear it, and embrace it, even before some wiseguy sends you to the bowels of the press room to look for “paper stretchers” (there are no such things) or someone in the composing rooms tells you “get your elbow off my row of commas.”

It’s the nature of the job, the seasoned will tell you. “There’s no such thing as ‘bad’ news.”

News is news. We report, research, thrive on the breaking story, on getting the information out, on telling the story. It’s not ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It’s news. And, please, don’t kill the messenger.

But Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson said it, and Blount Today editor Lance Coleman reported it, and, the news folks at Blount Today -- all of us pretty well seasoned -- agreed and felt the weight of his words:

“It’s a bad news day.”

Alcoa, Inc., a global company with 97,000 employees, is cutting 13,500 jobs globally, with 450 of those to come from the plants in the Blount County town that bears its name.

In other words, here.

By the end of March, 450 jobs will be gone, and the South Plant will go silent.

Even as we rushed to get the story written, to make the phone calls and get the “news” on our website, the normal bustle and excitement of something happening that warranted a Breaking News Alert dulled. Discreet phone calls to friends, or friends of friends, who work for Alcoa began being made in hushed tones.

“He’s okay,” came one report. “But his cousin will probably be let go.”

And so it was all over the county as another bad economic blow hit. And this one seemed beyond optimism. Not because we can’t see beyond it or have no hope. It’s the human aspect that’s weighing us down.

Fathers, mothers, uncles and grandfathers are going to be told to go home. Recent grads glad to have “something steady” and long-timers who have stood at a line or in a division for longer than they’ve been married will hear that their jobs are no more.

It’s hard not to hurt for them. And it’s hard not to wonder how their struggles, their economic woes will affect my store, my non-profit, my restaurant, gas station, bank.

The worst part is that in communities like Blount, towns like Alcoa and Maryville, news of large lay-offs and plants going silent aren’t just economic blows to the community. They are psychological blows as well. We feel it, whether it is our name on the pink slip or not.

Hidden in the bad news was a glimmer of hope, a “not forever” clause that indicates Alcoa, Inc., will watch and wait, with the intention to start again and rehire when things get better, when the demand increases, when the economy improves.

It doesn’t sound like an empty promise. And for the optimistic among us, we still believe this is going to get better, that there are solutions out there, and people smart enough to find and implement them.

But in the meantime, there are 450 of our friends who will be hurting and searching and trying to make the best of what this bad news day has dealt them.

I haven’t been in Blount County all that long, but I’ve been here long enough to know that there will be hands, prayers and ideas offered in help. “Our thoughts are with you” may not sound like much, but it’s something, especially when you really mean it.

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