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Hardest and saddest day of my career

The only thing remarkable about the two photos you see here is that they're both in focus. And I use an autofocus, so that's not saying much.

One ran on the cover of our Wauwatosa paper and one ran as the lead photo on the sports section of the same paper. The photos were made on Friday, May 15, 2009, shortly after the start of a 6:30 p.m. soccer game in Wauwatosa and at the end of the longest and saddest day of my 18-year career.

The economy is in the tank, newsrooms across the country have been laying people off and couple of months ago we at CNI were told to expect layoffs during 2009, and most of us were bracing ourselves, but nothing could ever prepare us for that was to happen.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on the day these photos were made, it was announced at a company meeting that we at CNI would be laying off 19 newsroom employees effective immediately the same day. What followed was heart breaking for all involved and will stay with me for the rest of my life to one extent or another.

I've had bad days during my career as a photojournalist and in 2001 was laid off myself, but nothing has ever come, and I hope never does, close to That Friday. As the announcement was being made, the resident newsroom wise-cracking tough guy - that's me, by the way - was the first to get emotional.

What followed was a numbing couple hours of goodbyes, helping co-workers clean out desks, and, yes, lots of hugs and tears. I'm an emotional guy - both good and bad - but that day took the cake. From young cubs I'd taken under my wing to vets older then me, it seemed the whole newsroom was crying at once - and we probably were. By the way, the sleeves on a leather jacket really don't work as an improvised tissue very well.

As the dust was settling that day, those of us still with jobs still had eight newspapers to put out for May 21 and we tried the best we could to bury what we were going through and attempt to concentrate on the job at hand.

By noon That Friday I had a new job description. I was to be, and am, responsible for all photographic coverage for our Web sites and papers south of I-94. My co-worker C.T. Kruger is responsible for everything north of I-94.

One of the first things I did That Friday that I did while not on autopilot was to request that in addition to my new job description that I remain the primary photographer responsible for sports coverage for our papers and Web sites. I volunteered for extra work because I believe in the people I cover. You, the prep athletes. If we at CNI don't cover, you who will?

Preps is all the sports we cover and as I have been accused of I'm self absorbed and think I'm good at that I do and will do a better job at it then anyone. We're changing at CNI, but if I have anything to say about it - and to a small extent I do - photographic sports coverage of high school athletics will continue to be a priority for us. We plan to update our Web sites within 24 hours of a sporting event that we cover photographically, so look at the web first before the paper comes out on Thursdays.

As I've been thinking of this column I've thought of all the really great former co-workers I wanted to mention here by name, but on reflection on this rainy Wednesday afternoon I don't think I will as much as I want to.

Most were behind-the-scenes folks why rarely had a byline. Great folks who led from the front-fighting for all of us at CNI, really patient people who helped old dogs learn new tricks, technology wizards who always made the best of what they had, and young cubs with more talent then I'll ever have. You folks know who you are. I respect and love you all.

I don't know for sure how long I was at the office That Friday, I think it was six hours, but I'm not sure. Through all the events of That Friday, the only thing I really wanted to do was cover the Wauwatosa East vs. Wauwatosa West girls soccer game I was scheduled to cover that day.

I couldn't make a difference the way I wanted to in the office that day, but I did know that I could make a difference on the sidelines with a camera covering a soccer game.

See ya on the sidelines,

Peter

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