WASHINGTON — Amid the barrage of bad news about their company, employees of United Press International threw a party Friday to bolster what Managing Editor Ronald Cohen called "surprisingly good" morale.
Between bites of ham sandwiches and cheese and sips of beer and wine, several members of the staff noted that the party at UPI world headquarters in downtown Washington was "a strange wake."
Neither Sad Nor Happy
Indeed, it was not a sad affair. In fact, the party, financed with $169 collected among employees, was neither sad nor happy. Instead, it was much like the future of the wire service itself--uncertain.
"There have been the beginnings of so many ends," said Jon Frandsen, a night editor whose parents met as UPI employees in the 1950s. "We don't know how to view this."
Some in the newsroom noted that a number of UPI workers have been spending time on the telephone with prospective employers. But most agreed that it's hard to look for a job when a current employer has a chance to survive.
And there was much speculation about whether paychecks would be made good and whether a possible bankruptcy filing would mean that employees would have to give up perquisites and settle for even less pay than they got under previous "give-back" agreements between UPI and the Wire Service Guild.
Time to Reminisce
For many, it was a time to recall years at UPI, working at a place that was near death and near life, time to remember a previous paycheck that banks would not cash.
"It's the same thing we've heard before," said Lori Santos, a night editor and three-year employee. "Nothing is cut and dried. It's another roller-coaster ride."
Some said that long-term limbo dulls the pain of bad news.
"It's like when you fill a body full of bullets," said chief photographer Larry Rubenstein. "One more bullet doesn't matter."
UPI for years has been described as the "financially ailing wire service," and, when the news began circulating Thursday night that it was considering filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, most were not surprised.
Nevertheless, like a sudden deterioration of an ill relative, the development hurt.
Shaky Faith in Survival
Everyone has his own way of dealing with the pain. Some, like reporter Matthew Quinn, a nine-year veteran, maintain a shaky faith that UPI will survive. "I think this is probably it," he said. "However, we still hope. I'm crossing my fingers."
Others, like Managing Editor Cohen, throw themselves into their work with a fury.
Cohen, a 25-year employee, talked passionately about spending hours reading UPI's series on Vietnam, which begins this weekend, asserting that he would "match it with anybody's anywhere."
Throughout the day, the news gatherers were cast as news subjects, as reporters and television photographers trooped through the eighth-floor newsroom.
No one failed to note a sign at the back of the room. "Surrender, hell," it said. One employee likened it to the day's events, saying: "I don't know what it means."