Sunday, August 31, 2008

Advice from an ex: Staffer No. 3

Staffer No. 3 left during the buyouts of 2006 and worked in several different roles at the Morning News.
1) It is traumatic to leave a job or career that felt like a dream job. You'll have to cope with that for a while; it's like going through a divorce or losing someone to death, especially if you've been in the business as long as I was. I spent months literally in a state of "what's next?" In my newspaper career I was privileged to cover some very big stories in several different countries. It was difficult to imagine going forth without the credentials, the backing of a big organization. But as we all know, that backing from the News was always conditional. It depended on whether you were in favor with the managers or not at any given time -- for whatever trivial reason.

2) Once you begin to smart a bit less from the pain of leaving, allow yourself to open your eyes. You'll see that being in journalism, as in any other career, makes you develop tunnel vision. Your scope of life is limited by the parameters and the guidelines set by the industry. It's also set by the inherent biases held by those in the industry. There is a lot more to do in the world than you might think. Who says that it's less honorable to make a living as a commercial writer or photographer, or as a graphics artist or a copy writer for an ad agency, than it is to be a journalist? Is it less honorable to be a business manager or to work in sales? Who says that? You? DMN managers? If you believe that, then by all means look for another journalism
job. It is great work – if you can still get it. Frankly, the folks I know who are doing less well, and who are still bitter since leaving the news are those who are still throwing these kinds of stones. I personally don't see the point in wallowing in it.

3) Don't be afraid to try something entirely new or to try some other kind of publishing career in books or magazines or the Internet. Layoffs across the publishing industry mean that more organizations are turning to freelancers for stories and other content. No, I'm not earning the kind of money I was earning while at the News, but I feel very strongly – and my peers agree – that I am much better at what I do since I left the News. That's because I don't have the inner editor insisting that this structure won't work for a newspaper story, that it's too long for the average reader, that it has to have a news-you-can-use factor, that busy moms won't like it, that first-person stories don't fly – or that it violates whatever the current fad happens to be.

4) Don't be afraid to be happy once you're out. I am happier now than I have ever been. I still read newspapers, I still love the ideals of journalism, and in my freelance career I adhere to the guidelines of being accurate, fair and as unbiased as possible. I still love a good story. But I can honestly say that I don't want a fulltime newspaper job anymore.

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