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Home > Publications > Quill > Jobless and on the prowl


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Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Jobless and on the prowl

By L.A. Chung

Newspapers have been the be-all and end-all for me. They were when I was a kid reading the paper, front page to comics, spread out on the floor every day. They were in 1980, when I started working, full of excitement, in a bucolic suburban bureau at the Hartford Courant.

And they were still, 27 years later, when I walked out of the San Jose Mercury News in early March, newly RIF’d — an ex-columnist, ex-editor and ex-reporter.

My fellow layoff casualties consoled each other outside the building, exit-interview packets in hand, stuffed with COBRA information, state unemployment office numbers and final-paycheck dates. At least it was an end to the unsettling dread that had permeated the newsroom after the reduction in force was announced in February and the deadline approached just a few weeks later.

Not that it’s over, by any means. The dread in the newsrooms is still palpable these days, as circulation and advertising figures continue to plummet, and waves of buyouts and layoffs ripple across the country. Colleagues inside the building voice concern and dismay. I’m hoping they won’t join me, but I know so many who are looking elsewhere, inside and, more frequently, outside newspapers with heavy heart.

As someone who came into newspapers with a commitment to tell stories about our communities that were not being told, I can’t help being troubled by newspapers’ alarming shrinkage, and the exit of talented journalists of color. I got my start through the Summer Program for Minority Journalists and believe that a more diverse newsroom results in more complete coverage. The slow gains over many years feel like they are being wiped away overnight. The painful period of searching for a business model comes with real casualties.

As I’ve embarked on job-hunting, friends have approached me, urging me to seek a job in the nonprofit sector, as they look at the bleakness of our industry and weakness in the economy. It’s going to be a rough few years, they caution. And nope, I’m not the multimedia “It” girl that news employers might be seeking. I’m your basic Journosaurus. One with a few videos under her belt and some pretty decent skills, but a Journosaurus all the same.

My trips to EDD, also known as the employment development department in state bureaucracy-speak, are not grim in the least, but they are sobering reminders of what the nation faces in a recession, whether white collar and professional, blue collar or unskilled labor. I’ve watched counselors walk others through the basics of logging on and registering onto its jobs site with some effort. I’ve learned patience and forbearance, and I am grateful for the skills I have and can build on.

So, at least I can make myself useful. I do have some thoughts to offer about job-hunting as journalists are cast on the roiling seas of change. Why not share with those who want to change gears, or who fear a reduction in force is in their future? While it’s not, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” it’s not gloomy out here. Even if you’re an ex-journalist.

I’ve appropriated some advice from Michele Chandler, a colleague who departed in our second wave of layoffs eight months before mine and is busy working again.

The following might be Job-Hunting 101 for many. But for those of us who have stayed happy in the places we’ve been for a long time, perhaps this will help:

Get professional tips tuning up your resume; a lot has changed in recent years. Build two or three new ones, if you want to expand into new fields.

Get thee to a career center. Higher-ups may have negotiated a cushier exit with career consultant services. The rest of us have career and job centers, but they offer a lot if you take a close look. Some have drop-in counselors and workshops that can get you jump-started.

Leverage the skills you have; tweak them if necessary with classes, at low cost or free at the above-mentioned career centers. Maybe you’ve used Excel, Word or Power Point on an ad-hoc basis but never really learned it. Now is a good time.

Actively seek training opportunities for new skills. One of my former colleagues just embarked on a multimedia training program through federal job training money.

Join or revitalize your participation in organizations that allow you to meet people and network.

Journalists’ conferences are finding their multimedia and Web-focused training sessions booking up quickly. At the Asian American Journalists Association’s 2007 national convention, all the hands-on sessions filled fast. Even a tutorial on how to build your own Web site with Flash that would have bored most high schoolers had veteran journalists doubled- and tripled-up around a computer.

Journalists of all stripes are a hardy sort. I have no doubt that journalists of color will survive and thrive in new enterprises, and thrive in newspapers even if the paper disappears. There will be opportunities.

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