Monday, November 16, 2009

A Voice That Mattered: Andrea Lewis, 1957-2009

Today brought terrible news: My friend Andrea Lewis, radio host of Berkeley-based KPFA, died of an apparent heart attack over the weekend. She was just 52.
We met two years ago when we were lucky enough to be awarded 10-month John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University. Andrea always arrived early on campus, commuting from her home in San Francisco. We'd chat most mornings before class, inevitably diving into matters too deep for a few hurried minutes. Soon we began meeting for leisurely lunches at our favorite cafe where we soaked up the the rays and talked for hours.
Andrea wore her heart on her sleeve. She cared passionately about everything: her lifelong work in alternative media, her friends, her family, singing, camping, writing, her beloved Bay area.
She never held back when it came to controversy, her husky radio voice cutting to the heart of an issue. Leave it to Andrea to name the elephant in the room. She spoke the truth, come hell or high water -- and I loved her for it.
Sometimes she worried about what the future held for a single woman in her 50s who had devoted her career to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia -- for next to no money. But ultimately, her work mattered more.
When the Seattle P-I closed in March and I lost my job, she was one of the first to call. An hour after we talked, her email popped up in my inbox: "This is the real March Madness!" she declared with her special blend of compassion and outrage-- and I had to laugh, despite it all.
Losing Andrea leaves a huge hole in so many lives. And it's more than personal. The world has lost a journalist who gave everything she had.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seven months later: What's happened to Seattle P-I Journalists

In March, Hearst closed the 146-year-old Post-Intelligencer newspaper and dumped 140 of us onto the street in the depths of the recession.

Instead of filing stories, we filed for unemployment. Instead of interviewing politicians, we took classes in How to Interview for a Job. Instead of rushing to cover the next story, we became the story.

Almost 25,000 print journalists have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. Reporters who kept an eye on those with power and money. Who showed up at school board meetings and city council hearings. Who filed public disclosure requests and wrote stories about uncomfortable truths. Losing our jobs -- and for many us our careers -- isn’t just personal. The public is losing too.

Here’s what I found by surveying my former P-I colleagues recently. Seventy-one of the 140 who lost their jobs responded:

·      23 have new fulltime jobs for an employer, half working in journalism and the rest in corporate or nonprofit communications, business, etc.

·      3 are working part-time for an employer and 6 started their own businesses

·      18 are freelancing (blogs, photography) or working on journalism start-ups (Post-Globe, InvestigateWest) and collecting unemployment

·      14 are in school, including 10 who are also on unemployment. Studies include education, web design, marketing, paralegal, art

·       4 said a combination of unemployment/jobhunting/parenting while two retired and one has a journalism fellowship

These statistics do not include the 18 or so former P-I staff working at the online Seattle P-I.

Overall trends?

·      Economic hard times: Only one-third have found new fulltime jobs and most are earning far less than they did at the P-I. Five people said their new jobs have higher salaries while 5 said they’re earning about the same. The vast majority, whether working or not, are struggling to pay the mortgage, afford health care and stay afloat economically.

“Unemployment is immensely difficult…I feel like my experience and education was a waste of time and I feel betrayed by investing myself in a field that didn't give a damn.” (Christine Okeson, former P-I copy editor)

·      Say goodbye to paid journalism: Only 15 percent have found fulltime paid work in journalism. Another 25 percent are blogging, freelancing or working on journalism start-ups like Post-Globe or InvestigateWest for little or no money.

“I didn't realize how difficult it would be adjust to the solitude and isolation of working alone instead of in the newsroom. Nor did I expect that fulltime job prospects would be this grim.” (John Marshall, former P-I book critic)

“Freelancing is busy but may not be financially sustainable…I'm stunned and offended by the number of major businesses (wait -- including the online PI) who expect professionals to write for free…There are very few opportunities to do the sort of important work that the old P-I invested in, because it is expensive and unsexy. The point that it is important to society has become irrelevant. And I am no dinosaur - I am Twittering, Facebooking, and Flip video-ing along with the rest of the world.” (former P-I reporter)

·      Say hello to public relations, business, marketing or self-employment: Half of those who found new fulltime jobs are no longer in journalism. Most are doing communications for non-profits or corporations. Another group has started businesses – photography, communications consulting, etc.

“The job I found with Boeing is the best I've ever had, and I had a great job with the PI.” (James Wallace, former P-I aerospace reporter)

·      Just a job? Half of those who are employed say their job satisfaction is worse than the P-I while a third say it’s about the same. The rest are happier – most of them in non-journalism jobs.

All told, I'd rather be a newspaper reporter than anything else.” (Mike Lewis, former P-I Under The Needle columnist)

·      New horizons: For a handful of people, losing their jobs was an opportunity to pursue their dreams – from returning to school to launching businesses to switching careers. Others mentioned finding a better work/life balance without the stress of daily deadlines.

“Life is very exciting, draining, scary. But it is freeing. I love learning, doing art. I feel I have received a huge gift from the universe. Knowing that financially we would be all right in a few years, would be great.” (Elana Winsberg, former P-I online designer)

·      Grieving the loss of the P-I:  Most said they miss the P-I newsroom with its special mix of collegiality and sense of mission. They miss the daily miracle of putting out a newspaper that served our community and made a difference.

I really miss the camaraderie and familial atmosphere of a newsroom. In a nutshell, I'm in the real world now, and I don't like it.” (former P-I sports copy editor)

“I see so many gaps in news reporting these days that P-I reporters and editors would have been filling were we still around. The paper was far from perfect, but it made a difference.” (Lisa Stiffler, former P-I environmental reporter)