Four years ago, when I was purloined from the only job I ever wanted — as a sportswriter on a major metropolitan daily newspaper — to join the ranks of my news organization’s growing web site, I wasn’t ready for such a transition.
It was quite a departure from what I had done for nearly 20 years. And a hell of an ego adjustment. But in four years as a web editor and producer, I thrived in my second career. I also surprised myself by embracing digital media to a degree I couldn’t have imagined during the years of fat newspaper profits and unlimited news holes and travel budgets.
Those days, of course, are gone, and I am one of the thousands of journalists in 2008 alone displaced from major news organizations. I accepted a voluntary buyout offer that began yesterday, on Sept. 1. Labor Day, ironically enough, was the first day that I was not working for a newspaper company in 25 years. So I worked to unveil this blog that has been on my mind for months to launch.
As this very difficult year continued for newspaper companies, I still remained bullish on the possibilities for journalism on the Web. That’s because I began to envision myself taking advantage of them. Two leading Web journalism advocates — David Cohn and Amy Gahran — engaged in a provocative conversation not long ago that delved into the need for mainstream journalists to scuttle sentimentality and adapt to changes in their profession (that passage runs from the 1:57 mark to 4:30 of this video, but the whole thing is worth watching):
In a subsequent blog post, Gahran further encouraged journalists to consider putting their skills to use outside a traditional newsroom:
” . . . it might even be a good idea to trade in the label “journalist” for the more inclusive “person with journalism skills” — a group that includes many talented, passionate amateurs as well as professionals from other fields. That kind of humility offers considerable flexibility and room to grow.”
I admit these ideas came to mind quite often as I pondered the buyout offer. As much as I agonized over leaving a place where I loved working so much, and saying goodbye to so many terrific colleagues and special people, I decided that there might not be a better time to reinvent my career. Again. The realities of the newspaper industry are obvious enough, but more than anything I want to explore new approaches to doing the news on the Web.
OK, sounds great. Nice idealism there. But where to start? Especially for a mid-career journalist. Here are a few ideas from someone who’s been there.
“None of these gigs involve working full-time for a big media company. What was it exactly that you wanted out of journalism? To work for a big company, or to be a journalist?”
And what about obtaining some more digital skills? At the start of this year, I vowed to complete each of the 10 items on this list. Right now I can put check marks next to six of them with the debut of this blog.
Some professional imperatives will take time to adopt. The idea of journalists offering themselves up as their own personal brands doesn’t come to me naturally. Neither does blogging. Yet the phrase “entrepreneurial journalism” really is a fancy way of talking about freelancing. And blogging is a more liberating, insightful way of writing than what I did for many years for print newspapers.
Those two activities are forming the foundation for where I want to go from here. But I don’t know what to expect from this transition any more than I did the last one. To me, it’s exciting to explore new, more compelling ways of doing the news. To some of my friends still working in the mainstream media, it seems like a risky leap of faith.
And it is, to some degree. But I think of it simply as the belief (not altogether blind) that this third career will be my best one yet.