Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seven New Year's Resolutions for Journalists Adrift

I spent my 20s searching for a vocation. When I landed in journalism, I knew I'd found my calling.
But after two decades, my calling left me when my newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, closed last March.
I'm not alone. Thousands of journalists have lost our jobs in the last year. How we cope after the shock wears off falls into two general camps. 
Some walk away and don't look back, launching new businesses and careers or returning to school. Others refuse to abandon their first love, risking it all to stay in the field (moving across the country, working for free for journalism start-ups) or accepting other kinds of work while dreaming of the day they can return to their true vocation. A survey of former P-I journalists I did three months ago confirmed this.
I find myself somewhere in between. Practically, I have had to move on, translating my considerable writing/editing skills into communications work for a very good cause. Emotionally, I still struggle with what I/we have lost.
 I miss the newsroom almost daily -- that lively, eccentric mishmash of talented colleagues who made up the P-I. I always looked forward to that first hour of the day when I fired up my computer, answered readers' emails and felt the hum of the newsroom coming alive.
Looking back, I marvel at the miracle of cooperation and productivity that it took to put out a daily newspaper.
And I still grieve over the death of my feisty newspaper and the team of journalists who poured our hearts and souls into so many of the stories we covered.
As we begin a new year, here are my resolutions for journalists adrift:
1. Take care of yourself, whatever that means, from exercising to eating better: there have to be some benefits to being freed from daily newspaper deadlines.
2. Take care of your family: there's no shame in accepting a non-journalism job to pay your mortgage and put food on the table while you figure out what comes next. The days of snubbing journalists who go to the "other side" are over.
3. Don't be afraid to try something new: what do you have to lose? This is the time to experiment and find out how your journalism skills translate to other professions.
4. Find other outlets for your passions: Your new job may be just a job. But you are still a writer or a photographer or an artist at heart.
5. Believe in yourself: Unemployment erases self confidence faster than a blackboard brush. But journalists are incredibly skilled. We know how to cut to the chase, size up a complex issue and explain it in simple terms. That's a valuable asset in the real world.
6. Don't bail on journalism: Support a journalism start-up, subscribe to a newspaper, blog. It still matters.
7. Tell the world what's happening to us: This isn't just personal. Journalists are witnesses and watchdogs -- and essential to a healthy democracy. Believe it or not, a lot of people still don't have any idea that newspapers are melting down or what it means to the future.
(Photo: by Adam Tinworth)