Ex-LA Times Writer Mark Heisler: Paper’s Awfully Good at Dumping People

The basketball writer, laid off in the most recent round, reflects on his 32-year career at the embattled publication

Mark Heisler, the former Los Angeles Times basketball writer, reflected on the glory days of the paper's sports section (and the paper's new efficiency) in a piece he set to Romenesko.

Heisler was laid off last week in part of a new round of layoffs.

Also Read: L.A. Times Cuts Veteran Writers Tim Rutten, Mark Heisler, Jerry Crowe

"The staff I joined in 1979 was good, bordering on mind-blowing which we achieved for a few brief and shining moments around the 1984 Olympics," he wrote.

Heisler then listed the laundry list of well-known and lauded writers the paper had in the 1980s, starting with the inimitable Jim Murray.

Included are a variety of fun tidbits — the competitive nature of each writer, the comparison of raises, the jobs many of them went on to and how he himself found out.

Heisler was in New Jersey on vacation, much better than his friend, and former Tribune sports editor, Dan McGrath,  who was "marched out of the building by an escort."

Yet if the way he found out was tolerable, his return to the building was not. His identification card no longer worked and his health insurance was already shut off. After five days.

Heisler said he is not bitter because he only had one season left in him anyways. Yet, he still ends with a barb at his former shop, one that is all too revealing:

"All that notwithstanding, I’m sitting in my car, behind the closed gate, marveling at the company’s efficiency, thinking, ‘If only we were as good at newspapering as we are at dumping people….'"

Here is the full story:

By Mark Heisler

I’ve got to get out of this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do….

And, at the rate it’s going, it might be.

I mean to tell you, in 32 years in the Los Angeles Times sports department, I saw it all.

The staff I joined in 1979 was good, bordering on mind-blowing which we achieved for a few brief and shining moments around the 1984 Olympics, with the incomparable Jim Murray and rising hotshots Scott Ostler, Mike Littwin, Richard Hoffer and Alan Greenberg.

Gordon Edes was a kid hockey writer. Tom Friend was in the San Diego bureau, pining to be called up. Marooned in the Orange County bureau were Gene Wojciechowski, Chris Dufresne, Mike Penner, Tim Kawakami, Tim Brown and Lisa Dillman. A cult figure from the East Coast named George Kiseda, served out his final years in the biz on the desk after a career of tilting at the establishment, writing dazzling, off-the-wall headlines, often pulling angles out of stories the writers neglected to put in.

You want to talk about camaraderie…. There was none, or at least none of the usual kind. We were all unabashed hotshots, who thought we were the best. We lived to compete with each there. Littwin, the strongest-minded of us, got us all to disclose our merit raises each year, which the bosses hated. Of course, Littwin always got the biggest merit raise so whatever the rest of us got felt like peanuts.

Mike went on to bigger things in Baltimore and Denver, we stopped comparing raises and everyone was happier for it.

Of course, we had to break in the even younger hotshots, but nothing could hold down Rick Reilly, who was as hot as hotshots got.

When he joined us, all we had for him to do was write sidebars because the major beats like the Dodgers and Raiders were taken. This posed a new challenge for the grownup beat guys, not getting smoked by the kid who’s there to do a story out of the visiting team’s dressing room, but who nonetheless, arrives, talking smack, like, “Move over and let the big dog eat.”

Thirty-two years later….

I got the bad news last Wednesday in Ocean City, N.J., on vacation.

Not that I had any problem with that, after years of rolling my eyes when jocks moaned about the way they were told they were history, as if that meant anything, compared to the fact they were history.

These days, worse things can happen to you. My friend, Dan McGrath, the former Tribune sports editor, was told in person–then frog-marched out of the building by an escort, presumably to keep him from getting to his computer, downloading the next day’s budget and selling it to the Sun-Times.

So, getting told over the phone was OK with me!

Five days later, I went downtown to turn in my company ID, laptop, Blackberry and American Express card.
Unfortunately, my ID card no longer opened gate in the parking structure. They had already turned it off, along with my access to the Trib’s virtual network, my email account and, of course, health insurance.

I should point out that, believe it or not, I’m not angry about this. At 67, I was only going to work one more season and they just gave me the whole thing off, with pay, through April.

All that notwithstanding, I’m sitting in my car, behind the closed gate, marveling at the company’s efficiency, thinking, ‘If only we were as good at newspapering as we are at dumping people….”