Hopeful, but daunting prospects for the post-newspaper tribe

The American Journalism Review spoke with a number displaced journalists in a fascinating piece just published entitled “Is There Life After Newspapers?” and discovered that many of them are relatively pleased and fully engaged in new careers and lives. Even as they shake their heads at what’s happening to the newspaper industry they left behind.

From a crime reporter-turned-yoga instructor:

“I have to say, overwhelmingly and surprisingly, I don’t miss it . . . I’m very happy at what I’m doing.”

And from an investigative reporter and editor laid off in his ’60s:

“My health has never been better. My blood pressure is down 25 points. I exercise.”

Of course the flip side is a frightening one — the prospect of losing health coverage, or being unable to afford a COBRA extension, and a dismal job market and economy that shows few signs of improving for months. A young laid-off journalist could say only that “I guess it was the wrong time to get into the newspaper industry.”

An outplacement company executive interviewed by AJR naturally suggested that journalists are well-suited for jobs involving writing, but they also tend to be “internally focused” and could become even more isolated without an office to inhabit. Stay in touch with fellow members of your tribe, and expand your professional circle. Even more importantly, don’t sit around and wait for the light bulb of inspiration to switch on. You’ve got to make it happen:

“Challenger advises out-of-work newspaper people to ‘get a fast start. Don’t think about it too long. A lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to do next instead of getting started. They’re waiting for an epiphany about what to do next.’ “

Former New York Times entertainment reporter Sharon Waxman is diving into the murky waters of entrepreneurial journalism — perhaps the best career bet for displaced journalists to stay in the profession — by starting a Hollywood industry-oriented Web site. (Yes, I know, but it’s the example of what she’s attempting, rather than the nature of the content, that’s important to keep in mind here.) It helps that she’s managed to get her hands on some rare loose venture capital change, but admits that the success of her project is far from guaranteed:

“The allure of being your own boss and making a difference has inspired many journalists-turned-entrepreneurs to launch Web sites and leave behind the relative safety of writing articles and publishing books.

“The failure rate is very high. Journalists are often woefully unprepared for the challenges of raising money, managing a business and building a reliable staff. I asked Waxman pointedly why she is jumping into the deep end of journalism.

” ‘Why am I doing this?’ ” she answered with a laugh. ” ‘I see an opportunity. If I don’t do it, someone else will. It’s a challenge to create a vehicle where professional journalists can thrive at a time when professional journalism is imperiled.’ “

There are plenty other examples of what post-newspaper journalists are doing that are quite a bit more stable than that, and some interesting stats about us, in the AJR story. So go read the whole thing.

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4 thoughts on “Hopeful, but daunting prospects for the post-newspaper tribe

  1. And the funny thing, Wendy, is that many of these ex-journalists are now embracing the tools they refused to while working for news organizations.

    Grr.

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  2. Very good point. But I can tell you many of the resisters are now accepting the inevitable, in the absence of any other good alternative methods to continue practicing their profession.

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  3. This is a great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m really enjoying it.

    I left journalism about five years ago when I saw the writing clearly on the wall, and now I’m doing media communications (public relations) for a university.

    I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alive as I did when I was a daily reporter, but I also don’t think I’ve ever felt so stressed and beat up on a day-to-day basis.

    Your headline was spot-on: It’s definitely hopeful but daunting for the post-newspaper tribe. We get so comfortable in the chaos of the daily grind, feeding the beast, that we don’t know quite what to do with ourselves at first when we’re out of the mix.

    But for those who truly thrive on telling stories, finding other writing-related jobs, even in PR, doesn’t mean “selling out” or “going to the dark side.” If you love telling stories, you’ll continue to tell stories and enjoy it no matter what type of gig you have.

    It’s not the same as being the first to wheel up to the curb at a crime scene and hop out and start interviewing cops like you’re entitled to special treatment because you’re press and you’re the first to arrive. But at the end of the day, it still leaves a sense of satisfaction to be doing some form of writing and being true to your own voice in all that you put down on the page…regardless of whether it’s a printed page or a computer screen.

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  4. I appreciate the kudos and your thoughts Corey. It’s great to hear from people a bit farther down the road in this endeavor than what I and many other journalists are now starting to experience.

    The storytelling comments are especially helpful since so many of us have focused so much of our careers around this type of work, and we wonder how it will change in the future. Whether we stay in journalism or not.

    While there’s certainly very understandable anxiety out there, it’s premature to be fearful.

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