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 BocaJump.com 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.

I credit growing up with three newspapers in my home, along with natural talents in writing and photography, as among the reasons I decided to pursue journalism as a career. Probably playing greater roles were my youthful idealism (I’m still an idealist but have, over time, developed a knack for pragmatism, which I like to attribute to the wisdom I’ve found in recognizing my own foolishness in life, as well as the follies of others) and my reaction to the Watergate years. I’ve always been intrigued when light comes into dark places.

But getting laid off in December forced me to re-evaluate what I’ve often described as my vocation in life.

Journalism, I have always believed, is a calling to shine that light into dark places, to tell others stories about their communities and the people who live in them – stories that serve to inspire, cause reflection or even to serve as warnings to others.

The past decade has been hard on newspapers, in part because of economic changes and in part due to the slowness of an institutional behemoth to adjust to the rapid evolution of digital media. Ultimately, many others besides myself lost their jobs.

In the first weeks after my layoff, I actually had several phone interviews. Ultimately, however, either the pay was too low or the jobs would have required a move that appeared to be unwise. We bought our home in 2004, when the housing market was still riding high.

So as I shifted my job-search tactics, I decided to expand my horizons by looking outside the news industry, seemingly to little avail at this point. Public relations and communications jobs that demand a background or degree in journalism are out there. But they want experience that is lacking in someone who has worked as a newsman most of his adult life. Further, there were skills they wanted that I should have. In the journalism jobs I've worked, there has been little call to master Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint, and so I felt little urgency to seek out those skills. Like many others who have thus erred, I never imagined not working as a journalist.

At one point, just several weeks ago, I desperately e-mailed my resume to a local government agency looking for a groundskeeper. Early in my career, I’d held three part-time jobs – one on the weekends at a 7-Eleven, one shoveling snow in the winter, and the third caring for people’s yards in warm-weather months. Surely, I thought, the latter two would translate to the skills needed for this position. The pay was very close to what I had been earning, as well. But by some technological fluke, about two days later – and after the job posting had expired – I received a notification from gmail that my message had failed to go through.

In early March, I applied for career retraining through the Workforce Investment Act. I was told to expect contact from a caseworker in five weeks. After six, I asked what had happened. They took my name, email address and number and said someone would contact me soon – apparently, someone had mistyped something while inputting my application. Also, to be fair, the folks working in the unemployment field are grappling with more cases today than ever. After another six weeks, I asked again. My information again was taken, but nothing. Then I responded to a tweet by the agency with a tweet expressing my frustration.

Last week, I received an email, this week, a phone call. Next week, there is an orientation session.

But there have been other encouraging developments as well. Next week, I start part-time work as a copy editor for Patch.com, a network of hyperlocal websites serving communities across the United States. One of Patch’s regional editors had recommended me some time ago. Patch sent me an editing test on which I exceeded their expectations.

This week, I received a phone call from one of Patch’s recruiters in New York. Nothing firm on that yet, but that they even called me out of the blue about a position I believe I could handle well was, to say the least, very encouraging.

Finally, there have been you who have been reading and following this blog, which I started as much to work through the pain and hurt of being laid off, as well as to share and, I hope, encourage others going through the same thing.

I have no basis for comparison, but since I started, this blog has accumulated nearly 4,400 page views – mostly from around the United States – but also from around the world. Watching your numbers grow since mid-December has always been a source of encouragement, as well as one that sometimes puzzles me.

My first couple of blog posts brought in hundreds of readers – 869 visited my blog in December alone, when I posted only a few entries in the last two weeks of the month.

The numbers slipped quite a bit in January – I actually had anticipated that – it is similar to a dip we’d see as the holidays drew to a close, and folks returned to work, and children headed back to school. But I’ve watched your numbers grow each month ever since. May’s numbers, at the time of this post, just surpassed those of December.

My amazement continues to grow when I look at the metrics for my blog – after the United States, my largest groups of followers have hailed from (in order) Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Russia. But I’ve also had readers in Hungary, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Netherlands Antilles, Australia, Denmark, Nigeria, Singapore, Algeria, the Philippines and many others.

So things at the moment are looking more hopeful than they have in a while, and for your part in that, dear readers, I thank you.

Until next time …