Saturday, December 31, 2011

I want my joy back in 2012

When I started this blog a little more than a year ago, I did so with several goals, one of which is reflected in the second half of the title: Seeking joy in change. In the past week, I feel I’ve lost that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 ending nearly as painfully as it began

I was reminded this week what a tremendously disappointing, disheartening and generally sad year this has been, and I suppose it’s only fitting that what started in disappointment should end that way, too.

That’s not to disregard the abundant blessings throughout 2011 — the encouragement and support of family, friends, former colleagues and new professional acquaintances online, to say the least — was beyond anything I would have hoped for or imagined.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas wish

A message to my family, near and far,
friends, colleagues and former co-workers

The past 12 months have been tough, in many ways far tougher than I would have imagined. Yet, through it all, there have been some very good, joy-filled moments that have lifted me up in the times I have struggled most with despair.

That is the spirit of Christmas, as I mentioned in my post a week ago. The spirit of Christmas comes in a savior, Jesus Christ, who made such a great sacrifice for one like me who, in spite of the good I try to achieve, ultimately is undeserving of His grace, His love and the sacrifices he made to offer each one of us redemption.

It is in that spirit which I write today, for so many of you have blessed me in ways I do not deserve.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The dawn of the dread

Is sale hope, doom for Sun-Times Media?

The last time my former employer was sold, it was cause for hope, even as it rankled the rank-and-file union members. They were the ones who bowed to James Tyree’s pressure to make a number of key contract concessions to ensure Tyree’s investment group would close on the purchase of the former Sun-Times News Group.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just a touch of Chrismas

The young man manning the red kettle outside the Jewel on Elgin’s West Side was ringing a bell in each hand. For every person entering or exiting the store, he flashed a big smile and offered a very warm “merry Christmas.”

I do not know his name, in fact had never seen him before, but his smile seemed warm and genuine as I walked out. I had been running a couple of errands and had stopped to pick up a bottle of water. It cost me my last dollar and some change.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I was wrong

They say it takes a big man to admit a mistake, but over the course of my life and my career, I’ve never felt particularly big when owning up to an error. Certainly I’ve felt responsible enough to do so, and a heartfelt apology is a good thing. But it does little to erase the mistake.

Owning up to a mistake is a necessary step, particularly when the error reflects badly on someone. It should be part of a process not only of acknowledging the wrong, but in establishing or re-establishing those steps needed to ensure it is not repeated, toward restoring credibility.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seeing possibilities again

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An apartment in the reddish-pink stucco house at 606 W. Cedar St., Rawlins, Wyo., was the first home my wife, Lisa, and I shared as husband and wife, the first place that we, as a couple, called home.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sun-Times Media spills more blood

Tally hits 16

This will be a short post.

Crain's reported earlier this week that Sun-Times Media had laid off three more employees in Chicago. I learned that same day another employee had been let go in Tinley Park.

Today, the Aurora office was hit, another friend who had been a loyal, hardworking employee for years was let go. I have no idea yet if there were others.

Update: I just learned there were two people let go in Aurora today, My sympathies to both of you. 

Update 2, 4:53 p.m.: The swathe grows. I just got word at least one sports reporter and four designers were among the casualties, bringing to six the number of people let go this afternoon. All are editorial employees.

Update, 9:49 p.m.: I have not been able to confirm the comment added to this post that four people, including two copy editors, were let go in Joliet. If I can verify this, I will post another update.

Update, 12:16 a.m. Dec. 9: I have it from a reliable source that the bottom line was five people, not six who were cut in Aurora on Thursday. I spent a chunk of my afternoon and later this evening trying to track down the sixth name to no avail. I finally ran into a source who had the information. Five people's lives were shattered in Aurora on Thursday, not six. Nonetheless, people were hurt.

Update, 9:47 p.m. Dec. 9: It seems that in all, Sun-Times Media this week laid off at least 16 staffers, including:
  • Chicago Sun-Times: three (reported Monday by Crain's), and a photographer was cut in Tinley Park;
  • Aurora: five people a copy editor, a sports writer, three  designers;
  • Joliet: two copy editors, two advertising;
  • Less specific: There were sports positions cut in Waukegan, Pioneer Press and one in Tinley Park. I am still trying to pin down numbers on these, but it would be at least three people.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pain, potential and paywall at Sun-Times Media

Several developments this week were mixed signals for me about my former employer, Sun-Times Media.

The first was that the company had cut three more employees in the Chicago office, according to a Crain’s Chicago Business story posted Monday, Dec. 5. My count stands at four — Tinley Park lost one person as well.

Friday, December 2, 2011

1 year later, ready to work

Today is the day: One year ago today, on Dec. 2, 2010, Sun-Times Media said goodbye to just one more in a long string of employees the company laid off over the past four years in an effort to stave off its own extinction.

Only time will tell if the company’s strategy ultimately will succeed. I doubt it, but I would certainly be glad to be wrong — I have friends there still.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011's been a turkey, but ...

Still thankful, despite job status
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A year ago, I was thanking God that I had escaped yet another brutal round of layoffs as Sun-Times Media continued the draconian downsizing which I ultimately believe will prove fatal — if not to the entire company, then at least to its neglected suburban holdings.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Torn between strategies

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It seems like just yesterday the week began. Yet here it is, after 10 on a Saturday night, the week’s end. In another couple of hours, Sunday will arrive, a new week will dawn.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pondering passing seasons

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The chill in the air deepened as Tuesday passed from middle age to the twilight of its short, dull life.

Over the course of a miserable, wet day that alternated from rain to drizzle to just damp and chilly, a multihued carpet of leaves grew thick and slick on the sidewalks and streets, likewise smothering cars, rooftops and lawns.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A tea party sans rhetoric

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It was a tea party, quiet and quaint, as a tea party should be. There were no angry adults decrying government and taxes, no political signs and no counter-demonstrators shouting their own angry retorts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Milestone and memories

I had started this week intending to post this particular entry to my blog early on Wednesday morning to mark an unwelcome milestone. I forgot that one seldom passes such markers without reflection, nor without some level of surprise and likely with some level of wistful regret.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Confessions from prison

Back when I did time in Rawlins
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It had been less than two years since I had graduated from college with a journalism degree, and already I was in trouble.

I was about to take a seat in the empty bleachers of the recreation building of the Wyoming State Penitentiary. Nervously, I wondered about the road that had brought me to this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is this Sun-Times' final year?

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Early last week, I heard of two more former Sun-Times Media colleagues losing their jobs. A third contacted me about it on Saturday.

Yes, we’re into the year’s fourth quarter — cuts always seem to happen toward the end of one quarter or the beginning of the next. I’m not saying that is really true, but in the round after round of layoffs that company saw over the past 10 years, one of the common threads of comments was, “I knew this was going to happen —

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The other side of the desk

This laid-off newsman gets cameo, blog link in national story
I’m not particularly shy.

That shouldn’t really surprise anyone who reads this blog — it’s been said I can talk the ears off a mule, and my writing style, I think, reflects that. In a nutshell, I’m more apt to write long than short, just as I’m more inclined to greet someone with a “Howdy-howdy” than a simple, “Hi."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Underemployed, not a doormat

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Being unemployed or underemployed is tough from a whole lot of perspectives, not the least of which is the beating you give yourself.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve struggled sometimes with feelings that I’ve failed my wife, failed my children, failed myself and failed my career.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Down but not out

When I was laid off in December, I was devastated — I felt a combination of hurt and betrayal that a company I had worked for loyally for 16 years had dropped me, with little more than a short “thanks but we don’t need you anymore” and a couple of boxes into which I could unceremoniously cast my belongings.

The loss of daily contact with my friends and colleagues — who for five days a week had been my social circle — hurt like hell as well. But the greatest pain was the sense that I had failed my wife, my kids, myself, and a career I’ve loved since I began a little more than 27 years ago.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Open letter to President Obama

And to all other state and national elected officials

Howdy all,

That’s probably not the proper address to those who lead these United States, but believe me when I say I mean no disrespect by it.

If you’re wondering why, exactly, I am writing this, it’s essentially because I am a guy who just got let go from one job I’d had for just a couple of months, and had my hours cut by three-fifths on another. I was just getting to the point where I could afford to pay the mortgage again when those cuts came along. I was laid off the first time last December.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Let go at 52: The Sequel

Second time around is no easier

I heard a joke some time ago, and at this moment, after learning a new life lesson Tuesday, it reminds me that I really, really wish I had two friends named Marge and Tina.

Life lessons can be good; some are hard. Tuesday’s was especially hard: Getting let go a second time is no easier than the first time, and it actually might be worse.

Aside from wanting to cry myself, my inner humorist desperately wanted to have two equally heartbroken friends nearby, if only so I could say, “Don’t cry for me, Marge and Tina.”

If you’re not familiar with Evita, you won’t get the joke, but it’s a pretty fair groaner.

Friday, September 23, 2011

License fails to address issue

Part 2: Misdirected anger

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When journalists start talking about licensing and credentials, at the surface, the discussion focuses on preserving and enforcing professional standards, such as those espoused in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The thinking is that a formal rite of passage of some kind will ensure that those standards will be held firmly and thereby raise the quality of our craft.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Licensing would kill journalism

Part I: Government can’t oversee the watchdog

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The words shocked and alarmed are too strong to describe my reaction to a discussion thread begun among the Society of Professional Journalists group on the professional networking site, LinkedIn. But certainly I was annoyed and more than a little concerned that, once again, someone within the profession was advocating that journalists be licensed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The story interview that … wasn’t

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A friend had asked if I would mind being interviewed by a reporter who was trying to put together a story about people who are unemployed or underemployed.

I have filled slots in both categories, of course. I was laid off nine months ago, although in June I left the unemployment rolls after I accumulated quite a handful of part-time/freelance positions. I’m a part-time reporter for a small news website in my hometown, and I’m a freelance copy editor for two different regions west of Chicago. Finally, I’m doing some consulting work focused on press releases and basic social media marketing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11, JFK: Etched in memory

A U.S. flag flies over New York Harbor.
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It’s difficult to write about journalism or adventures in under-employment this weekend, as the nation turns its eyes and collective memory to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks

Many if not most Americans will spend today remembering where they were, what they were doing, when the attacks began.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Will Daily Herald paywall work?

Expect other Chicago-area newspapers to follow suit
The Daily Herald in Arlington Heights is poised to launch its paywall on Wednesday, for the first time requiring online users to pay $20 a month for access to its website by nonsubscribers. Print subscribers would pay $1 a week if they so choose.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vision of future newsroom bleak

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Imagine a newsroom, my friend said, where there are just a few editors, and maybe just a reporter and a photographer — you know, just in case something happens.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Feeling squirrelly after attack

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I’d known from the start of the week that Wednesday was going to be a challenge. I was not particularly dreading it — in fact, I was looking forward to seeing how well I would handle it.
But some things you just don’t see coming.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My last, finest summer vacation

Seeing parallels between then and now

The Mississippi River is seen at Winona, Minn.
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The spring of 1982 began in earnest with commencement ceremonies in a hot, crowded gymnasium at what then was known as St. Mary’s College of Winona, Minn., which some years later would follow an apparent trend and declare itself a university.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can peeves really be pets?

Some things that can serve to annoy copy editors

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A former copy editor colleague of mine recently started a Facebook thread bemoaning some of his pet peeves of misused words in the English language. I joined in the thread — we share some of the same irritants.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Good news amid Sun-Times’ bad

New opportunities, more Sun-Times layoffs

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As much as everyone’s complained about all the thunderstorms this summer, I’ve enjoyed them — the sound of rain and thunder, the brilliant flash of lightning. It helps me sleep better.

But professionally speaking, I’ve been going through a dry spell of late, even though there have been some good things mixed in with that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Time out to mark a milestone

Happy 50th anniversary, Guy and Pat Schreck

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I’ve dedicated this blog to writing about some tough times of late, but also, I think, trying to maintain a degree of optimism about the future of this profession I’ve called my vocation for nearly 28 years.

Today I take a break to celebrate, albeit from a distance — 1,203 miles, to be as precise as Google maps can be. I am in Elgin, Ill., and Lisa, the woman I married, has driven all those miles with our five children to be with her parents, Guy and Pat Schreck, on this very special day, Aug. 5, 2011.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Regrown roots at heart of debate

Citizen journalism plan draws emotional response

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Less than a month ago, I began following a discussion thread on a professional networking site in which journalists were responding to the Huffington Post’s announcement of plans to resume its OffTheBus Citizen Journalism Project, to recruit volunteers to cover the 2012 elections.

These “citizen journalists” would offer a fresh, nontraditional look at the election season.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Path of least resistance

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I do not think I am being cynical when I say that people, generally, are like electricity – we follow the path of least resistance.
This can be an amazing trait, because in many respects it helps us function more efficiently. We follow the rules or expectations laid out before us by law or societal perceptions of right and wrong behavior.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fear and loathing in journalism

Bitterness, anger, hope: Passion marks fork in road

Few debate that print journalism is at a crossroads: One
path is along the traditional road of newspapers, the other
lies with new media technology, the Internet. And change,
particularly radical change, is painful.
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I started writing this in response to a thread on a LinkedIn discussion board in which Dan, a young journalist who has embraced his role in new media, was taking some heat over his views in defense of his employer and in defense of new media in general. When I realized I had written 1,400 words, I stopped, posted my response here, and left @Dan a link.

@Dan, these are probably the toughest times for journalists since the early 1980s, and you are on the “other side” of the aisle from many traditional journalists.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sun-Times to cut 400

Will media company fall as The Rocky did? 

When I received the email alert Tuesday afternoon from Crain’s Chicago Business, the headline I saw, “Sun-Times newspapers will roll off rival Tribune presses,” caught me by surprise, although it should not have.

The first thing thought that came to my mind as I read the story was the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, long affectionately called The Rocky by its readers. I lived out West for 11 years, and I had read the Rocky Mountain News from time to time. Some of the folks I worked with for four years in Cheyenne, Wyo., went on to better jobs at The Rocky.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fessin’ up: Addressing mistakes

Mistakes are not acceptable when they are avoidable.

This was a lesson I had pounded in to me repeatedly when I was news editor in the early 1990s at one of Wyoming’s then two capital city newspapers.

I worked there in a pressure cooker environment – I enjoyed the work thoroughly, despite the intensity and workload. There was very little time to stop to think through the course of the 90 mph night. We rushed through everything. I starting using the term “spray-and-pray editing” to describe our work.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rumor fed a flash mob of fear

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As journalists, perhaps we should have known better. In all things it's verify, then verify again, and finally, verify.

In many work places, people gather around the water cooler to learn what’s “on the grapevine” about things happening in the company. Over the years, the rumors and gossip came in varied flavors.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Motivation's at heart of gossip

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The first four words leading up to a familiar name were all I needed to hear to know that this banter I overheard the other night, while friendly and good-natured, was gossip.

“Did you hear about …?” My stomach knotted up just a bit. When I heard the name, I clenched my teeth slightly.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sinking feeling for Sun-Times

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It’s difficult to express the range of emotions I’ve experienced and continue to feel surrounding my former employer since I was laid off seven months ago. Largely, they centered on grief, which in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spelled out as five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sight improves; wait continues

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I’d been sitting at my laptop for something like 30 minutes on Friday when I noticed something odd about my vision.

I had not removed my regular glasses and replaced them with the cheap reading glasses I’d bought at Walgreens months ago after the vision in my one good eye began to deteriorate.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blood spills at Sun-Times Media

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Instruments of death continue to let blood at Sun-Times Media, whose newsrooms are thinning as much from staff cuts as they are from the flight of those able to move on before their jobs are cut.

Those who leave rarely are replaced.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Depression: Painful part of fight

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I last wrote about working through change and how I’m learning new lessons about time and patience.

Change is messy and can be painful. One result of that pain can be depression, a curse I think almost everyone faces from time to time, especially during loss or struggle. But for those who become discouraged during a prolonged effort or who are prone to focus on their own shortcomings, it can last a lifetime.

So it has been with me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New lessons on time, patience

It is amazing the things you learn when change happens.

When I was laid off in December, I could recall only a few times in my life where I had felt hurt more badly. Some involved deaths, others betrayal, still others, rejection.

But change does happen, and when in January I started working as a reporter for, after having spent 20 years as an editor, I had to relearn the reporter’s frustrations – particularly, those related to phone calls. There is waiting for someone to call back, enduring those who do not, playing phone tag with still others who are in and out while you also are out and about.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can't turn a blind eye to this

If you have ever heard the expression, “turn a blind eye to …,” then perhaps you are familiar with its meaning, which several online dictionaries define as deliberately disobeying or ignoring unpopular orders.

The idiom has its roots in a rather humorous incident, if the United Kingdom-based website The Phrase Finder is correct. It attributes the expression to Admiral Horatio Nelson, the British Navy legend who was blind in one eye.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More work, still underemployed

What a difference a weekend and a couple of Gmail filters can make.

The last week marked the second of my transition off the government’s unemployment rolls after taking a contract job as copy editor with, a network of hyper-local news websites in smaller communities around the nation. It’s been described as AOL’s attempt to return local news to smaller communities (see Patch’s About Us page).

This is a wonderful opportunity, although I remain woefully underemployed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

“The times they are a-changin’ ”

It’s not news – Bob Dylan wrote in the early 1960s that “The times they are a changin’.”

I got my start in community journalism in late 1983, the same year the woman who I would marry about nine months later first smiled at me and stole my heart from across a typesetting machine in the newsroom of a small newspaper, the Rawlins Daily Times in south-central Wyoming.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Up another rung reaching for the sun

It’s been a busy, busy week, and it’s been one that’s tiring as well – not because of sleepless nights wondering about the next job.

Mostly, it’s been because I’ve been working yet another job, albeit still on a part-time basis. But the busy-ness feels good.

In addition to working up to 15 hours a week as a digital journalist – a reporter, mainly – for Elgin’s hyperlocal website,, this week I began copy editing again for 12 sites in the northwest suburbs.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hoping for light at end of tunnel

There have been some recent developments I find encouraging after nearly six months on the unemployment, although I’ve had one part-time digital reporting job at since January.

I have been particularly grateful for that one as it allowed me to work again with Mike Bailey, a great newsman and former managing editor of The Courier-News in Elgin, Ill., my hometown. I grew up reading The Courier, The Chicago Tribune, and for a while, the Chicago Daily News, which my Dad subscribed to until it folded in March 1978, nearly a year after I’d graduated high school.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who’s got your back?

One of the things I read over and over again about finding work is that most people who land jobs do so because they network – they target a job and maneuver through the cyberworld to make contact with someone in that company to get an inside line on the position.

That’s all and well, but in many ways it seems so manipulative: See something you want, find a person who can help you get it, introduce yourself (or find someone to introduce you) so you can cultivate that relationship and ultimately get what you want.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Another rapture come and gone (and I feel fine)

There were no trumpet blasts, no sound of galloping horsemen, no cries of dismay one would expect if folks had up and disappeared at a moment’s notice on Saturday morning.

So 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Jerusalem time – Saturday, May 21, passed without event in Elgin, Ill. I can’t help but think that there were plenty of snickers – and of course there was plenty of evidence of that in Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Encouragement in tragic memory

Sometimes, over the years, you lose track of people. We all do it, some more so than others: Folks we once were close to vanish into our pasts, separated first by distance, later by time.

Then, suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, their memory erupts fresh into your mind again, and you pause to regret losing touch, to rue the loss of that fellowship and friendship that once seemed so close.

Perhaps, as has been the case with me in recent years, the regret at losing contact is a result of middle age, when some of us look back at what could have been but wasn’t and wonder if the decisions so confidently made so many years ago were indeed the right ones.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Trios of tragedy: Waiting for the final shoe to fall

There’s a saying in newsrooms that bad things come in threes.

Some insist the expression pertains only to celebrities, but many journalists will share anecdotes of trios of bad news events that share nothing in common except that the observer has linked them into a string of three because of one subjective element – “bad” news.

But let’s face it – one man’s trash is another’s treasure is a principle that can be applied to news. In point of fact, Osama bin Laden’s death certainly was greeted as good news in the United States.  But I am fairly certain he was not too fond of the idea at the time. After all, if dying a martyr is such a great and honored aspiration in Islam, why did he choose to use his wife as a shield before he was shot down? Seriously.

Regardless, this week, I am left wondering, when will the third hammer strike in the lives of my friends and family.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God has a sense of humor

I have always been convinced God has a sense of humor.

I say that without any thought about diminishing His holiness, His greatness, His unchanging character or goodness.

I sometimes fear the reaction when I talk or write about my faith. I am not a perfect man and do not want to pass myself off that way. But I like to share when I have a good moment with Him, and this one had me laughing pretty good over the weekend.

The Bible says He created us in His image, which means He gave me a sense of humor – usually quirky and frequently in the form of awful puns – but a sense of humor nonetheless. So if He gave that to me, He must have a sense of humor himself (either that, or theologically I am treading on thin ice).

Sometimes, I think, He must be getting a good laugh from my antics, not to mention the harmless silliness in which we all engage from time to time, some more frequently than others do.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Frustration, impatience and a silly lizard

Sometimes, no matter how optimistic and patient you are, you hit points of frustration that can test your strongest convictions.

For many people, it seems to be milestones. When I was younger, they were things I looked forward to and rushed toward: to be 13 and a teenager, 16 and a driver, 18 and drink my first legal beer or wine (times – and laws – have changed), 21 and hard liquor. After that, age-wise for me anyway, it’s been rather uneventful. Oh, there was 40 – I remember that birthday well only because I awoke that day and, realizing I had hit the end of another decade, thought, “Wow, I never thought I’d make it this long.”

But I remember watching with some great amusement years ago during my first newspaper job when a co-worker who had about five years or so on me approached his 30th birthday. I apparently trailed him just enough to not quite grasp the whole “Don’t trust anyone older than 30” thing that was so popular in the 1960s and early '70s.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Needling in threads: Discussion board threats surprise

One of the stronger suggestions I’ve encountered over the past several years while looking for new employment opportunities is that you have to set up a profile – essentially an online resume – on the professional networking site LinkedIn, and then you work to build as many connections, or a network of associates, as you can to help you find a job.

Initially, I was skeptical. It seemed to me to be less than genuine and more like a manipulative and self-serving activity than anything else.

However, I was looking for greener pastures back then (that was before I was laid off – now I’m simply looking for green pastures) and thought I could enter into this realm and try to give back more than I took out.

Despite my misgivings, there were no hands to shake or babies to kiss, and I thought I could step into the world of professional networking without feeling like a politician out to press as much flesh as he can on the campaign trail.

Three-plus years later and I mostly have great things to say about LinkedIn. Particularly since I was laid off in December, people on the site have been very kind and very encouraging. In fact, at least two individuals in my LinkedIn network, one of whom I do not know very well, sent me job leads soon after I was laid off. Each time left me teary-eyed with appreciation for the undeserved kindness they had shown.

More recently, however, I’ve encountered a few negatives, both in the last month as I began participating in discussion boards, which is one way to get to know and cultivate relationships with people within your field of interest.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Restored sight adds clarity to job search

Regaining something you've lost and taken for granted can be exhilarating, particularly when it returns in better condition than it was when it disappeared.

That is what happened last week when sight was restored in my left eye thanks to the skills of Dr. Brian Heffelfinger of Fox Valley Ophthalmology in Elgin. But the experience also renewed my hope as I search for a new job.

Seven years ago, I had a stroke in my left eye. The blood vessel that burst filled the inner eye with blood, which is opaque, meaning I no longer could see – well, I could see. If you have ever seen one of those winter pictures taken near Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park, in which the outlines of an elk or bison are just barely visible through a milk-like fog hovering over the geyser field, you'll have an idea of how little of my vision was left.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Newspapers continue painful evolution

It was no surprise. There was no “wow” factor. Not even enough to raise an eyebrow at what I read. In fact, had I read it two years ago I would not have been too surprised, either.

IbisWorld, the world’s largest independent publisher of U.S. industry research, issued a report in March listing newspapers among the nation's top 10 dying industries – industries whose decline will continue even as the economy makes a comeback.

As I read, however, there was a pang of sadness, as journalism – particularly newspapers – has marked the lion's share of my 27-year career in the field.

Newspaper readership has been in steady decline since after World War II. The industry tried many ways to combat it – the Newspapers In Education program provided newspapers to schools with hopes of attracting young readers who the industry hoped would become readers of tomorrow. Yet even as the industry pushed that program, it failed to fully consider the march of technology, despite taking advantage of that march for decades upon decades.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More lessons from Main Street

You can't write a blog post suggesting a radical approach to revitalizing an industry without expecting some flack, and yet several days after suggesting that the national Main Street Program's four-point approach to bringing new life to downtowns also might work well for the newspaper industry, I have yet to hear a single response.

Not even a “Ted, what were you thinking?”

That surprises me for several reasons, not the least being that my March 23 post (“Lessons for newspapers from Main Street”) was the third most-read of my blog posts, behind “When your best ain't good enough,” which actually was my second most-read post since I started this blog on Dec. 14 My first post, “First stunned, then pain and grief,” in which I chronicled my layoff, continues to be the best-read post I've ever had.

I am grateful to you who jump on to read my posts. “Laid off at 51: Seeking joy in change” has been far more successful than I would have expected just in terms of page views over the past three months or so.

But it can be difficult to gauge impact. Few people add their own comments to my individual posts, fewer still send e-mails with their thoughts. And I'm surprised that at least a few copy editors haven't written to point out the typos that occur from time to time (any editor worth his salt will admit that perhaps the biggest challenge is editing his own work because he knows what he was trying to write and therefore is likely to skate right past mistakes without recognizing them).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lessons for newspapers from Main Street

Over my years as a journalist, I've covered many events, both as a reporter and as an editor, that resonated within me, personally.

That was true again on Tuesday night as I covered a meeting at which the Downtown Neighborhood Association in Elgin, Ill., gathered with residents and business representatives to continue their look at ways of revitalizing the city's downtown, including battling the lingering perceptions some have about the area and how to combat them.

It occurs to me that what this group is trying to address has interesting parallels that newspaper industry leaders might pause to consider.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Will Tyree partners be true to his word?

I read sadly Wednesday night of the passing of James Tyree, the financier who rose to lead Mesirow Financial for nearly 20 years and the force who rallied a group of investors to buy the bankrupt Sun-Times newspapers with the intent of inventing a new business model for the ailing publications.

Whether Tyree's efforts come to fruition remains to be seen. My heart goes out to his family for their loss. And my thoughts and prayers are also with my former colleagues at Sun-Times Media, many of whom I am sure are pondering how the death of the 53-year-old leader of the investment group that saved their jobs will affect them.

By many accounts, both published and word of mouth, Tyree was more than a successful businessman.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In this case, no news is still bad news for newspapers

This week, what most of the journalist world already knew was coming, and what many print journalists dreaded, arrived with little fanfare although perhaps to some it sounds a lot like that other shoe everybody's always saying is going to fall.

More people in 2010 said they got their news online rather than from newspapers. And, also last year, more advertising dollars went to the Internet than to newspapers, a clear reminder that if the industry does not hurry and catch up on the new business model it should have started shaping 10 years ago, it will go the way of the dodo bird.

That might not be a bad thing. Journalists will still be out there but will have to find other ways of plying their trade if their employers are not.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Age discrimination concerns, tough choices and the WIA

As part of my search, I am also having to come to grips with the possibility that the news industry may not have any room for a guy with my well-established skills but who may not be as tech-savvy -- or as cheap -- as the budding journalist right out of college.

Age discrimination is illegal but darned near impossible to prove in the job-search market. It's difficult to hide the practice in the workplace because people -- employees -- notice patterns, and sooner or later, someone will blow the whistle. No company wants to risk the financial liabilities associated with any kind of discrimination lawsuit.

But in the job market it can happen and no one is the wiser.

Job applicants send in resumes and cover letters, or fill out forms on a website, and all too frequently never hear anything back. Most, like me, assume their experience or qualifications just did not stack up against others among the myriad resumes employers find themselves sifting through in this economy. What many of us do not consider is that we may be giving ourselves away with a resume that show 27 years of experience, for example, or a college graduation date.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fears, failure and faith

Some days you're the pigeon, other days you're the statue.

The first time I heard this expression, I had to laugh – it's a humorous turn on the glass half-filled or glass half-empty analogy about optimism and skepticism. If you're a human being, chances are, you've had both kinds of days.

It's also reflective of the roller-coaster ride that can accompany stress, although unemployment has been, for the most part, far less stressful than I would have anticipated. Yes, there is that nagging question always hovering overhead – When will I ever find a new job? – but between unemployment and part-time work, there's enough to pay the mortgage and utilities, although some bills go unpaid. And of course that makes creditors unhappy.

My intent when I started writing this blog, at least initially, was to sift through and tap into some of the emotions I was feeling, to make sense of things and share them with the hope that perhaps someone going through something similar might realize he or she is not alone. I've strayed from that at times, but not by much, I think.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thoughts on a tough story to write

Generally speaking, I've never had difficulty writing a news story.

Usually, like many things, the hardest part is getting started. For journalists, that start is called the lead. To the layman, it's probably better known as the introduction – usually a couple of sentences, sometimes a couple of paragraphs.

And for me, hard news typically has written itself. I can't tell you why except perhaps to describe it as if gathering the information for a story is, for me, like focusing a camera on your subject. Once I've gathered the information, the image is clear and I write.

But feature stories – stories that are not necessarily news, but perhaps paint a portrait of an individual, a family or institution, or even an event – those are the ones I've struggled with most. They also tends to be the stories that are in many ways most rewarding.

Friday, February 25, 2011

When your best ain't good enough

Sometimes, your best just ain't good enough.

It's not that it isn't good. But somehow, somewhere, someone makes a decision that what you've been working on, the career you've made a life of, or perhaps, just perhaps, the revolution you've started is just too risky.

The latter is what appears to have happened this week to, a revolutionary website launched in August in the Washington, D.C., area that was to present "hyperlocal" news on a variety of Web-based platforms using television, the Internet and increasingly ubiquitous social media.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Newer media raise old questions on ethics

Social media is having a broad impact in so many ways, not the least of which is journalism, my specialty for many years.

What started with such Web innovations as Myspace and grew to include Facebook, Twitter and many more, essentially allow people to interact, often in real team, using Internet-based and frequently mobile technology.

There are many great things about social media. People can post messages to each other or for common consumption. The can promote their blogs or the stories they have written or the photos they have taken. They can market products and ideas. But social media also can be a goldmine of real-time reactions to breaking news.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Time flies, job search's urgency grows

It's hard to believe that it's been 2½ months since I was laid off. I was too busy with the blizzard during the first week of February to really notice Feb. 2, and by the 7th, my middle son's 19th birthday, my mind was again on other things. But starting about Tuesday, the 8th, I noticed the passage of time as I filled out my certification online for unemployment benefits.

It's been more than two months, and the realization dawned on me that that time has flown by so swiftly -- too swiftly. Roughly, I have about four months of unemployment left. And then what?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snowed under in so many ways

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining. Well, perhaps I am, actually, but as always, I realize that it could be far worse.

It's just that seeing 18 inches of snow on the ground here this week reminds me that I am feeling a little snowed under myself of late. It's kind of hard for me to understand -- I'd thought that once I'd been laid off, I was going to have far more time on my hands than I'd had since I was a kid in school.

I suppose part of it is the loss of a routine that normally helps keep one organized. That may or may not change in the coming weeks as I continue my search for a new job. And of course that search takes time, as well -- a lot more time than someone who's never been unemployed before would think.

In the meantime, I am enamored of a part-time job as a digital journalist. Still, the hours vary from day to day and it is far too easy to become distracted by the absence of routine.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Signs of hope before the storm of the decade

Monday was an interesting day. It started with a call from Judy Burman, an adult program coordinator at Elgin Community College's Workforce Transitions Program. I had called her for assistance because, given the state of the newspaper industry, my prospects for re-employment there are not terribly encouraging, and I really want to explore all my options as I continue diligently searching for a new job. And when I initially left a message on her machine, I followed up by e-mailing her a copy of my resume.

At the same time, I'm continuing to work part-time as a digital journalist, and of course the story of the day in the Midwest is one of impending doom: A monster storm system is bearing down from the southwest, expected to hit northern Illinois about mid-afternoon Tuesday with gusty winds and snowfall rates at its peak of 2 to 3 inches an hour. From thence it is expected to blanket the northeastern states.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Addendum on the digital miscues of newspapers

A former colleague commented on my last posting about a blog post by Clay Shirky that I found enlightening. I still believe many in the industry simply failed to recognize we were on the verge of a sea change in terms of the Internet. Many journalists -- editors and reporters -- viewed the Internet as a threat -- who would want to buy newspapers if we were giving away the information online?

Yet at the same time, these journalists were delighted, sometimes amazed, at the versatility of what was becoming a technological tool as a part of their very jobs -- for address or phone number checking, for quickly getting map directions to a fire or shooting.

But Shirky adds a deeper perspective, looking inside the industry's ivory towers.

He points out that industry power brokers did see the train coming, as it were, and set up a variety of plans to address the issue. But each of these missteps failed.

Clay Shirky's perspective, posted in March 2009 and titled "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable," is well worth reading. Thanks mdominis for adding the link to your comment on my last post.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Questions inspire reflection, perspective

I recently met a young journalist whom I first became aware of via my Twitter account.

I was covering a League of Women Voters forum – my first experience at live-blogging as part of a new part-time gig writing for the hyper-local Elgin website,, when Jose came up to introduce himself.

His excitement at meeting a veteran journalist initially struck me as flattering – I have enjoyed my career and, like most everyone, I enjoy seeing someone express enthusiasm for what I do. But I also felt a little awkward. After being laid off in early December, part of me still felt somewhat like a child's cast-off toy a few days after Christmas: still fully functioning if perhaps a little rough for the wear.

Still, this budding journalist said he had “all kinds of questions I want to ask you,” so I gave him my e-mail address and waited until he had time in all his own busy-ness to write.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Digital journalist: Having fun again

It's been a busy week, much of it spent scurrying about, meeting municipal officials, attending a city press briefing and then live-blogging during a forum on Elgin's form of government. In between times, I ran about looking for -- and after the third stop, finding -- a digital voice recorder with a USB port, a couple of notebooks and a satchel to carry around a Netbook.

The digital recorder was it's own little adventure. Back in the day, reporters either relied solely on notes or used a clunky tape recorder that you were lucky if you could get it into a coat pocket. Later there were microcassette recorders, a smaller, slimmed-down version of the standard cassette recorder that still was large-ish but easier to carry around.

But the digital recorders today are far smaller and far more advanced -- the USB port gives me the option of downloading an interview into my computer, where I can edit it into sound bites to accompany stories online.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Time out for thanks: Back to (part-time) work

This journey into what for me has been the uncharted waters of unemployment has not been without its shares of heartache and disappointment, the most recent of which has been a case of the shingles I wrote about earlier this week.

But as I also pointed out earlier this week, there have been some very positive developments along the way as well, as well as one particularly amusing one (see the short sidebar at the end of this posting).

And of course one of the greatest blessings to come out of this has been the words of encouragement I have received from people of all walks of life and from all over the country. Some I have known in person, others I have come to know through their blogs or their tweets.

But today I am particularly reveling in the joys of friendships built over the years as a part of my career. Of the many phone calls I made or received after I was laid off by Sun-Times Media on Dec. 2, two stand out at the moment.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

All I want for Christmas is ...

I'll start first with my apologies for not updating my blog for the past two weeks, as well as for straying from my planned subject matter -- I had planned to write about dealing with shock, anger and blame. But a rough two weeks it has been.
Christmas was largely one blessing after another, despite getting laid off on Dec. 2.

For example, on the Sunday before Christmas, the church I attend held a potluck after the morning service, during which the pastor and another dear friend took me aside and presented me with several boxes and bags of assorted groceries, household supplies and some gift cards -- this after I had told them several times in the weeks prior that we were not yet in a crunch from the layoff and should be all right for Christmas. Still, they had gathered up contributions to bless us in this way, knowing that, because Sun-Times Media has been undergoing financial stress typical of the news industry in recent years, there had been no severance package when I was let go, although I was paid for the vacation time I had accrued for 2011.

But there were some stress factors in the week leading up to Christmas as well.