Feeling fortunate in times of trouble

A Wall Street investment banker laid off and already in a substantial period of transition into what she hopes will be a new career in non-profits is welcoming the change as an opportunity to shift gears, refreshed. She writes in The New York Times on Sunday:

“The process has not been linear, but after months of being jobless, I am focused on keeping up a discipline day by day: extending my network of contacts, investigating organizations and jobs online, carefully tracking my appointments, following up on leads and meeting recruiters who specialize in this field.

“My outplacement counselor says that finding a job is a numbers game and that it will take time, as I am not a traditional candidate for many nonprofit jobs. The job won’t find me, and I have to make the case for how I could make a contribution. Renewed by rest, my confidence bolstered by the generosity of people I meet, I feel energized, eager to start a new career, and open to possibility.”

I recognize how fortunate she and those of us who’ve taken generous newspaper buyouts are as the economy nosedives further into what already may be a recession. In the same Sunday Times business section is a harrowing account of newly laid-off workers at a General Motors SUV assembly plant in a small Wisconsin town. The whole plant, now employing the remaining 1,200 of a workforce that once was 5,000, is to be shut down.

Smashing prosperity, this was, with no inkling that it could all be gone in a flash, as fuel prices skyrocketed and heavy, gas-guzzling vehicles were rendered virtually worthless. GM executives and workers alike expressed shock. They didn’t see any of this coming.

This is heartbreaking stuff, to see so many folks suffering at the shortsightedness of a major company (and its workers) who thought the good times would never end. The same mindset prevailed in the banking and home mortgage industries, triggering a potential calamity that has already plunged the global economy into chaos and . . . well, you know the rest.

Yes, I am fortunate, as I write this in an early stage of a lengthy buyout period, preparing for a journalism retraining workshop and working with a career coach for some one-on-one help in marketing my future.

Right now the short-term future, at least, doesn’t look so promising for many, many people thrown out of work, voluntarily or otherwise. In my former industry, the picture is getting bleaker.

Newspaper circulation declines haven’t just dropped: they’re on the verge of cratering, and are getting worse. My former paper had the biggest decrease in daily circulation among the top 25 American papers. On Sundays, not so much.

The august New York Times, which is still able to do the kind of national and international journalism that metro dailies are abandoning, last week announced a 51 percent drop in third quarter earnings.

Newspaper job cuts this year have thrust into five figures, at nearly 13,000 and counting. Add to that an estimated 40 percent of the newsroom staff at the Newark Star-Ledger, or about 150 more journalists before the end of the year. Happy Holidays.

But again, please keep all this in perspective. Since mid-September, nearly 20,000 tech workers have gotten the boot, with very few buyouts. And thousands more likely will lose their jobs as 2008 comes to a close. The high-profile CEO of one Silicon Valley startup pens a gut-wrenching memo to his peers on the best way to do layoffs humanely. And he let go of just eight people.

As bad as matters are for newspapers — and 2009 may be even gloomier — they could be a whole lot worse for journalists. A whole lot.

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