From layoff to kick-off in seven days
I was riding bikes with my friends along the boardwalk of the Balboa Peninsula last week and tried to remember the last time I felt so excited about the future. Then I realized exactly when: it was nearly 25 years earlier, the week I moved into the dorms at San Diego State University. Everything and anything seemed possible then and now it does again.
Except then, I had a lot more hair.
After more than two decades as a full-time print journalist , I am beginning my own site – Greg In Hollywood. Of course, I would not be having such an amazing time had I not lost my job as a columnist and blogger a week ago! I don’t make light of it because in this economy, it sucks to lose a steady paying job. But there is something to all that stuff about one door closing and another opening.
To all of you who have been faithful readers of my old blog, Out In Hollywood, welcome to my new blog, Greg In Hollywood. It will be similar but somehow, I think it will be more provocative and hard-hitting now that I am a free agent.
I cannot believe all that has happened in the past seven days. Here is how things unfolded and how Greg In Hollywood was unexpectedly born:
THE LAYOFF: I learned of the plans to lay me off from the LA Daily News – on my own – two days before the Academy Awards. Apparently, I would have been shown the door that very day had I not been on an unpaid furlough. People who have written to me or to various blogs have expressed outrage that the paper sent me to the Oscars then let me go the next day. But the truth is, I made the decision to cover the Academy Awards anyway. I mean, I already had the tux! And how could I miss the opportunity to do just one more awards show with the lovely Sandra Barrera (pictured with me last Sunday). We had a terrific time, as always.
THE REACTION: In the past seven days, I have heard from basically everyone I have ever worked with in journalism over the past 20 years and from just about every friend I’ve ever had – and many I didn’t even know I had. There were so many heartfelt thoughts conveyed that I will never have to wonder if what I do each day touches people. Then there were the more than 200 Facebook messages, an unending stream of emails and phone calls from friends with the kind of supportive words that I think are usually reserved for your funeral. I’m so glad I didn’t have to die to hear them! Honestly, I’ve never experienced such an outpouring and I wish it for everyone just once in their life. Amazing. As my college friend Bill Greene said the other day: “It’s like “It’s a Wonderful Life” only you didn’t have to live it.” My validation levels are off-the-chart right now.
THE PLANNING: Conversations about continuing Out In Hollywood as an independent venture began the very day I learned of my layoff which greatly helped to mitigate the shock! As I wrapped up my old job, My close friends Danny Sullivan and Lorna Harris were immediately on board. Danny isn’t just my former LA Times colleague and one-time roommate (back in the early 90s), but he’s also one of the world’s foremost Internet experts in terms of search. He has been writing about search for nearly 15 years and is currently editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. Danny travels all around the world giving keynote speeches about this stuff – the stuff I know nothing about! Lorna, who is handling marketing efforts, used to work at the BBC World Service then came to America to marry Danny and headed up promotions at the old KEZY radio station. Lorna is currently editor of Boudicia, a social news site for women. I was in good hands and working with two people of great character who I trust fully and know have my best interests at heart.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER: There was no time to waste. I left the Daily News newsroom for a final time on Tuesday and with belongings from my desk still in the back seat of the car, I drove straight to Danny and Lorna’s home in Newport Beach. I stayed for several days in their guest house so we could work well into the night. The first step was getting someone to host the site. We called our friend, Ken Spreitzer over Tiger Technologies and he quickly took care of the domain name registration. Danny and Ken felt strongly that I should leave the Out In Hollywood brand behind and start anew. I was at first reluctant but by late Tuesday, it was clear that the new blog would be called Greg In Hollywood. (The old blog remains up at DailyNews.com with all the archives intact so it is still accessible to you there if you are feeling nostalgic.)
Wednesday: Danny sent a tweet out on Twitter that we are looking for a designer for a logo. The person who answered that tweet was Kate Cohen, an old friend, a supremely talented artist (her paintings are amazing!) and just a total original. We were ecstatic to have Kate on board. She had just launched the new online news site Seal Beach Daily and is a former graphic artist at the Orange County Register and writer for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Thursday, we had a “staff meeting” over lunch at the beach house and Kate said she was on board to design the site! I was just hoping for a logo to go with some kind of standard format so this was such a gift! But Kate’s eyes widened when I said I was hoping to launch the blog live the next day! She set me straight (if that is at all possible!). The soonest, soonest, would be Monday. But she could get a promo done by that night announcing Greg In Hollywood and teasing a few of the stories I’d been working on. Danny went into overdrive doing technical things that I will probably never understand but essentially make it easy for people to find the blog ion the Web.
THE FINAL PUSH: Kate’s web engineer husband, Val Cohen, joined our team and dedicated the weekend to building the site. Val has been designing and implementing publishing systems since the mid-1980s and also worked at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Orange County Register. He was a multimedia developer and technical director of a number of Internet properties including Hilton.com. He’s currently a software developer in corporate IT.
Kate and Val were total heroes in this, complete professionals with very high standards. They did their work from their home in Belmont Shore as Danny, Lorna and I continued our efforts in Newport. Phone calls and updates were constant early into Monday morning Thank God for modern technology! I had spent Saturday night and much of the Sunday writing content, putting together a Blogroll and most daunting for me, assembling Flickr galleries. Danny talked me through it and look forward to the galleries growing in the coming weeks and months.
I feel like my work – creating the content – was really the easiest part of this fast launch. Somehow, it was meant to be that this gifted group of people would step up and become this team with laser-beam focus and the experience to make it happen. We’re still tweaking and ironing out some glitches but wanted to go live as soon as humanly possible. At 1:45 a.m. on Monday, I watched as Danny did a final check to make sure all the links work etc. There were other things to check as well so it is 3:10 a.m., as I update this post and Danny is still exchanging emals with Kate. He likes to say that I’m a bit of an idiot savant when it comes to blogging since fully get the spirit of it, but I am completely clueless about the technical end. I got a good idea of what is involved tonight and that is why I’m in awe of what this team of friends was able to do so quickly.
I’ll be posting at my usual pace, doing interviews with people of interest, being a fly on the wall for you at various events and bringing you news with my take on it. So let’s get started all over again! Bookmark this page and send a link to all your friends!
UPDATE: For all of you high-tech folks, Danny Sullivan has detailed how the blog came to life at his Daggle site. Read Behind the Scenes of the Greg In Hollywood Launch.