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.


One of the people I called that night was the man whose efforts convinced me in 1994 to quit my job as news editor for a paper in Cheyenne, Wyo., to become night editor of my hometown newspaper in Elgin, Ill. And one of the people who called me on Dec. 2 -- she was already at the point of tears when I picked up the phone -- was one of the reporters I worked with for years at The Courier-News in Elgin.

Mike Bailey, who was The Courier's managing editor for many years and who had, in fact, been laid off once each by two of the companies that had owned that publication, was one of the people I called that night. He's a newsman for whom I have had the most profound respect over the years. He's also the only person I talked to that night who was clearly able to say with absolute accuracy and conviction, "Ted, I know exactly how you must feel."

Gloria Carr, now Gloria Casas, had worked at The Courier as a reporter over the years and had been a real pal to me. We talked a lot when we had time and became quick friends. One thing I particularly cherished was watching her grow from a reporter who at first struggled to write stories to someone who learned to compose her words to paint poignant verbal pictures that tugged at the heartstrings of our readers.

I highlight these two individuals not only because of my respect for them, but also for the encouragement and compassion they expressed at that tough time, as well as their desire to help.

During the week leading up to Christmas, I agreed to work as a freelance (part-time) writer for Gloria, who left The Courier-News last year to become editor of a "hyper local" news website in Huntley, Patch.com.

And this week, for the second time in my life, Mike Bailey hired me, this time on a part-time basis, to report for a similarly hyper local online venture in Elgin, BocaJump.com.

These are not the employment opportunities I had envisioned -- the income from them will only serve to supplement, not replace, my unemployment benefits.  But they are very positive, exciting  opportunities, and I relish them for what they represent in terms of the people with whom I'll be working, in terms of my past and in terms of the future of this profession.

When I started in this career, I worked for seven years as a reporter and photographer who loved to write stories and to capture news on film. But back then, as I looked toward my future in journalism with my wife on one arm and the first of five children on the other, I came to realize that editors generally make better money than reporters, and so I moved in that direction. And for the next 20 years, even as I enjoyed learning to hone my skills as an editor, I looked back with regret because I largely had sacrificed opportunities to write when I chose the editing path.

I will regain some of that now as I return to reporting.

So I spent part of Friday trying to get a hold of one source for a story I am to write for Gloria, and part of the afternoon receiving training for the Elgin position.

In both ventures, I will be writing news stories, thereby continuing to polish and hone my skills as a journalist. But there is an interesting twist here that excites me professionally, and perhaps even amuses me at the irony these new situations represent.

First, I will truly be a digital journalist, writing solely for Internet publications. This comes a little more than three years after I made a fundamental career change when I became Web editor for The Courier. I was seeking new challenges, new skills, but I also believed then, and continue to believe, that the Internet eventually would replace the printed newspaper. I thought this would position me to continue my career well into the future.

Of course, three years later, after getting excited about great, visionary plans to position Sun-Times Media to succeed in a digital world, I was laid off.

Now I am poised to continue that career, learning even more cutting-edge skills as I go.

Yes, I will continue to work hard looking for a full-time job. But I am fairly certain that I'm going to have a bit more fun than I had counted on as I conduct that search.

A short sidebar

In an amusing turn, today, Saturday, Jan. 8, marks my 52nd birthday, so it was no surprise that a few birthday cards began filtering in via snail mail this week. One stood out in what I would call an "awkward" sort of way.

"We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the success of our company. Best Wishes for a  Wonderful Birthday!" the card reads. It closes with a scribbled "Have A Great Day!" and the signature of an executive I'd met a handful of times and always found kind and personable.

I'll be the first to say here, "No harm, no foul."

But I can't help remembering some years back, during another time when the economy was sour and the higher-ups were looking for ways to cut. One victim of the times were what many in the company have come to call the fabled "Christmas meat cards" -- $10 or $20 gift certificates for meat products at a local grocer. Someone sent out an anonymous "Merry Christmas" e-mail at the time that said something like, "Money's scarce, times are hard, here's your flippin' Christmas card."

And as I look at this birthday card, I can't help but wonder that there's gotta be a heckuva punchline in this somewhere.

Until next time ...