Blood on the Wires

A survivor's harrowing account of a dot-com massacre

| May/June 2001

Sixties flower children wore fringe and had free sex at outdoor concerts. Eighties operators bought junk bonds and fantasized about Madonna. And I daresay that the poster children for the '00s, at least those who labored during the early part of the decade, will look back and whisper that they worked for a dot-com where the layoff hammer hit.

As of a few months ago, I was such a poster child.

Oh, sure, my co-workers and I—telecommuters spread around the country—had heard the rumors.

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After a hiring binge that lasted nearly a year, our company,, a business-news Web site, suddenly told us things had changed. They were having difficulty raising a second round of capital, they said. What comes next? Downsizing—we knew that from the stories we'd written about everybody else out there trying to ride the New Economy wave, then getting a concussion from hitting their head on the surfboard.

Over the course of several months, as the new economy faltered, working for a troubled Internet company that wrote news about troubled Internet companies had begun to feel like standing between two mirrors, creating the image of a most uncomfortable infinity. Lost stock options, broken contracts, shops closed down—we wrote about it, we read about it. But somehow, I and my sea of telecommuting co-workers across the country fell into a silly sort of denial, like the reckless teenager who careens around wet corners and assumes he'll arrive home unscathed. We should have had our hands on the wheel.

It started the day a reporter on the West Coast was let go. Just one, we thought. Not bad. So we got cavalier. A colleague and I made a bet—she contended that if a bigger ax really fell, a layer of editors would get it; I predicted a mix of reporters and editors. There was a dinner riding on it. For some strange reason we felt shielded, safe; we trusted the company to get rid of a few of the nonproducers and leave the rest to do their jobs. Made sense, right?

But on the following Monday, such theories went straight into the shredder.

9 a.m.: Everything's normal. I'm drinking coffee and working on a story for an 11 a.m. deadline.

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