It was a sharp blow to our journalistic solar plexus, one that left us gasping for our collective breath.

It was a sharp blow to our journalistic solar plexus, one that left us gasping for our collective breath.

The Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings newsrooms were told Thursday that nine full-time and two part-time employees were being laid off that day. Four newsroom positions and five advertising department slots were axed.

That included two MT newsies — both bright, capable folks — with whom many of us in the newsroom had worked alongside for many years. City reporter Meg Landers was who I turned to for my daily pun fix, Assistant City Editor Scott Smith for witty comments about the world at large.

These were good friends with keen senses of humor who made my tiny sphere of operations an enjoyable place to be. More like family, really.

Poleaxed is how one co-worker described our feelings of loss on Thursday.

Yet layoffs really weren't a complete surprise. After all, we had been watching other newspapers, from New York to San Francisco, announce layoffs. A hundred people there, a dozen here.

And there was the occasional paper that folded, dead as yesterday's news.

But it was always them, not us. We were hoping the market forces that dictate such action wouldn't bother with our little corner of the world.

Now we've been bothered. Big time.

Our first reaction was sincere sadness for those laid off to the point it almost hurt. Red-rimmed eyes were the norm Thursday.

Our second reaction? Honestly? Guilty gladness we weren't the ones getting the ax.

But it made us empathize with other professions — the timber industry comes to mind — where layoffs have been commonplace in recent years.

MT Editor Bob Hunter spoke for all of us when he said it was "a tough day." Both he and Publisher Grady Singletary looked like they had lost family members when they delivered the painful news.

It was gut-wrenching for everyone.

Those laid off received severance packages and a continuation of health-care coverage for up to two months. That leaves 185 of us still standing at the Southern Oregon Media Group, which includes the MT, Tidings and The Nickel.

The layoffs were part of companywide staff reductions by Ottaway Newspapers Inc., based in Campbell Hall, N.Y. Our ultimate parent company is News Corp.

There is no one to blame for the layoffs. Simply put, the current economic downturn coupled with growing competition for the advertising buck is putting the squeeze on newspapers. We knew something had to give.

Still, we were hoping not us, not yet.

Understanding the reasoning behind it doesn't make it any easier to lose a co-worker.

As one approaching journalistic geezerdom, having worked on more than a dozen papers from Anchorage to the Bay Area, I'm not willing to give up on newspapers.

Cut me and I'll bleed ink, some of which I originally absorbed as a printer's devil beginning in 1966 for the weekly Illinois Valley News in Cave Junction while still in high school.

The love of newspapers didn't fall far from the family tree, albeit skipped a few generations. My maternal great-great-grandfather, James Gordon, wrote for Boston newspapers in the early 1800s after crossing the pond from Scotland.

I like to read newspapers, to hear them crinkle as I pore over an article. I like the smell and the feel of paper.

Yet I also know the world is changing, that all of us are sitting under a sword of Damocles. It matters not what your position is in the pecking order.

Picture one of those asteroids hurtling swiftly earthward from far outer space. You never know when one with your name on it will take you out of the lineup.

Until then, those of us still in the newspaper trenches will continue digging for news, searching for interesting stories and filling the pages.

Meg and Scott would expect nothing less.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.