My favorite place in the world is the Sports Illustrated library.
I’m not exaggerating. My favorite place isn’t Rome, it isn’t Paris, it isn’t New York or Los Angeles or San Diego or even my own house. No, it’s the moderately sized room in the Sports Illustrated offices.
Why? Because the place is golden. For a guy who loves sports and loves Sports Illustrated, it’s a world of absolute heaven. There are magazines upon magazines upon magazines; thousands and thousands of files filled with clips of myriad athletes through the decades. Wanna know all there is to grasp on, say, J.R. Richard, or Clint Hurdle, or Norm Nixon, or Ray Guy, or … anyone? The library is the place. It’s my place.
My favorite place.
Here’s the thing: As great as the room is (and it’s friggin’ awesome), what really takes it to a new level is Joy Birdsong, the chief librarian. Joy has been at the magazine for two decades. She’s one of the most unique people I’ve ever met—filled with life, filled with energy, sharp, crisp, informed, hilarious. You never know what you’re gonna learn from Joy. It could be about Whitney Houston, it could be about Derek Jeter. Often, it’s about parenting and life. I’ve never really told her this, but Joy is one of the coolest, classiest people I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t think to put her on my Closest Friends In the World list, yet she’d be right near the top of my Favorite Friends in the World list. It’s funny how these things work.
I digress. Today, Time Inc. slashed some 500 jobs. Part of the carnage involved the SI Library, which is being shut down. Part of the carnage is Joy Birdsong.
And I am devastated.
I’m not mad at anyone in particular. I love the people at Sports Illustrated. I left the magazine a decade ago and still consider many there to be my editorial family members. That said, I am exasperated by what’s going on in journalism and, in particular, the stock obsession that has helped rot our business.
As a product, Sports Illustrated remains tremendously profitable. Is it as profitable as it was a decade ago? No—but find me a publication that can make the claim. Still, it earns lots and lots of money. This, however, isn’t enough. Because, at the start of every year, predictions are made about the stock’s performance. And, if the actuality falls short of the guess work, the magazine (and company) is deemed a financial failure. Then panic sets in. Then it’s determined, in order to keep stock holders happy, money must be saved. And more money. And more money.
So people lose jobs. Real people. Like Joy Birdsong.
During the Super Bowl, there were a whole bunch of commercial paeans to what makes America great. Hard work. Dedication. Pride. Togetherness. Blather, blather, blather. It all sounds good, especially coupled by an American flag and a talking horse of some kind. Truth be told, though, we’ve sorta lost our way. Business-wise, we’re a nation all about figures, and growth, and slimming down and cutting costs. We forget about the people who hold it all together; who have kids and families and lives that need to be supported. They become data, not flesh—and when times get tough, we willingly discard them like bags of trash.
This breaks my heart.
PS: One day after the Time Inc. cuts, CVS announced it would stop selling cigarettes. There is no profit advantage to CVS doing this. Cigarettes are HUGE money. But someone decided the store could no longer justify peddling cancer sticks. It took decency. And guts.