In my humble opinion . . .

I’ve been getting some great advice in recent weeks from a career coach who’s quite familiar with the difficulties journalists face in marketing their talents beyond the newsroom.

(Disclaimer: The services I’m receiving are in conjunction with “Standing Up for Journalists,” a pilot program at the Poynter Institute. Next month, I’ll be one of 16 displaced journalists invited for a week-long career retraining workshop.)

We come from a deferential newsroom culture in which teamwork is paramount, flouting individual accomplishments is frowned upon and a certain kind of conformity is expected. This was the case long before the newspaper industry began tanking a couple of years ago, and is even more pronounced now.

But this isn’t necessarily the best environment from which to spring into a post-newsroom career. Especially in a tight job market and a rough economy that won’t be recovering anytime soon. Poynter’s longtime newsroom recruiting blogger, who also took a buyout recently, sums up the prospects for our growing ranks:

“My best advice is to consider how your hobbies might become profitable, learn skills outside of straight newspaper journalism and become more entrepreneurial. A freelancer told me just today that she is both the best boss and the worst boss she has ever had. But at least she won’t get fired.”

Speaking to college students, Mark Briggs asserts there’s never been a better time to be in journalism, but a serious upgrade in digital skills is necessary.

Getting more multimedia training will be one of my objectives when I head to Poynter, but there’s so much more to career transition than learning how to use new tools, and how to think about the journalism you can do with them. Completely overhauling the way I’ve thought about what I’ve done has already been invaluable.

In assigning me to seriously assess my skills profile, my advisor said, “I want you look at yourself and say, ‘Wow!’ . . . I want to get that humility training out of you.’ ”

Initially this was a bit much for me to absorb, given that I’m not inclined to talk myself up in the least. Actually, I’m rather incompetent at it. But pushing me to the abyss of self-reflection is precisely what I need. I came up with five core skills and several more “sub-skills” that she wants me to fold into a revamped résumé.

“What is it that you want to package to say about yourself?”

The idea is to to think and talk this way because that’s what prospective employers will want to know, without boastfulness on my part. It sounds simple enough.

But before I can do that, I have to grow out of the confines of 25 years of thinking of myself as an accessory, as a helper, as a mere staff-level do-whatever-I’m-asked docile worker bee. I’ve prided myself on my adaptability, but it doesn’t always explain what I’ve done. (Earlier this week, I wrote about the struggle to begin even nominal self-expression as a blogger.)

Many coaches I interviewed as a sportswriter chalk up their success to breaking down athletes (their outsized egos, mainly) in order to build them up as team players.

I’m experiencing nearly the opposite approach, and while it’s refreshing, it’s also going to take some time to get used to. My continuing assignment: “Do your best job writing about you.”

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble . . .

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2 thoughts on “In my humble opinion . . .

  1. I know it sounds crazy to suggest this is a good time to be in journalism, but another story I told these college students was the situation for J-employment when I first entered the market in 1991. The country was in a terrible recession and newspapers weren’t hiring so I cobbled together a living waiting tables, remodeling houses and answering phones at a local paper. Since this was before the Internet came along, I didn’t have the option of starting my own blogs and self-publishing or taking advantage of other opportunities that have come with the digital age.

    Good luck with your transition.

    – Mark Briggs

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  2. Thanks, Mark. You got into the business when my former paper last had newsroom layoffs. I started when the AJC merged two separate newsrooms. There really weren’t any other good options for doing journalism unless you got into radio and TV. And those were pretty limited as well. I also held down several part-time jobs as late as the early ’90s.

    So yes, young journalists today have so many more ways to get established. The key is seeing whether many of these new experiments will enable them to earn a living wage and stay in the profession. It was a lot easier to take a vow of poverty in the ’80s than now.

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