Those were the words of a reporter inside the NYT newsroom yesterday, echoing the emotions of a staff now motivated to perform out of fear that they might one day lose their jobs.
As they watched former star reporters like Sara Rimer, Christine Hauser and Eric Konigsberg prepare to leave the NYT involuntarily -- the victims of layoffs engineeered by their employer's failing fortunes -- they knew they could well be next.
"You can't rest on the fact that you once wrote a great story five years ago," one reporter told us. "Now it's all about what you did six months ago. Three. You're being evaluated constantly, and if you don't measure up, you're gone."
Sources suggested to us that those who got laid off yesterday weren't blindsided by their fate; the shock was felt more by their colleagues, who wondered whether another round of cuts might reach them. NYT newsroom managers put together an annual written review that assesses each employee's strengths and weaknesses, and several sources said those reports figured heavily in the decisions.
Others got laid off at least in part because they'd only recently arrived in the NYT newsroom. Reporters like Konigsberg and business staffer Kate Galbraith had gotten their jobs only in the last few years, and neither had yet done stories that cemented their reputations.
The decisions were, of course, driven by economics. The NYT managers had to consider the complex equation between salary and substance, and measure every employee's performance in a cost-benefit analysis.
It's a far cry from the NYT culture that once gave new hires the confidence that they had been given a job for life. In decades past, a reporter past his prime might be sent to cover New Jersey, or assigned to real estate -- and there they would linger until they were either old or bored enough to retire. Those days are over.
Reporters like Rimer (who joined the NYT in 1983, and has been based in Boston) and real-estate reporter Josh Barbanel (a 1981 arrival who once covered city and state politics) had each distinguished themselves earlier in their NYT careers; but in recent years, both had diminished numbers of bylines, fewer scoops and lower profiles. They knew -- as did their bosses -- that their salaries outweighed their value. When the time came to cut, their names surfaced immediately as possibilities.
So now, as reporters continue the daily task of putting out the paper they love, they have to consider a fate that once seemed unthinkable -- the possibility that their bosses might be weighing their work on a daily basis as a reason to let them go. Few at the NYT believe that this latest bloodbath will be the last.