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.

For the past month, I dreaded this day, just as some part of me has dreaded the second day of each month for the last 12 — each serving as another milestone marking what I sometimes feel is my failure, particularly my inability to be a productive member of my family.

But a wonderful thing happened early Thursday — at 12:50 a.m. to be precise.

I received an email from a former colleague. Dennis always liked to pass himself off as a bear, but he really always has had a heart of gold. Dennis wrote that he had recommended me to an editor he knew at a media company in the area and suggested I apply for the position.

When I received Dennis’ email, I was in the middle of editing a thesis — one of the many kinds of work I have taken up and for which I am grateful. So I finished the morning’s work on that and came back to the email.

I’ll not name the media company — I certainly don’t believe that would be appropriate. The folks there need to get to know me and I them before anything moves forward or stops. That is the nature of beginning a relationship, building trust.

So this afternoon, I will sit down to be interviewed for a job exactly one year, almost to the minute, that Sun-Time Media told me thanks and goodby.

The timing of Dennis’ email was good. The past year has been rough, albeit I count my blessings despite that. I learned the hard way the same lesson many baby boomers are learning in these trying times: Corporate America no longer values loyalty, nor is a history of faithful service and hard work by an experienced, dedicated person who loves his craft of any significant worth.

When the economy goes south, the dollar comes first.

But I do want to get back to work, preferably in the industry whose fight to avoid extinction has cost my family and me so dearly, particularly over the past year. Journalism is in many respects always has been a hard life. The hours are lousy for family — many editors work night shifts — I’ve been working  nights for nearly all of my career. In some respects, it’s worse for reporters. They sometimes face the prospect of covering a late-night budget meeting, for example, only to have to be somewhere for an interview at 8 the following morning. In the case of a major news event, the reporter could end up working far more hours than he or she should.

The pay should be better than it is, especially for a profession that generally demands a college degree. Still, journalism continues to attract smart, talented idealists who hunger for truth, who love to tell a good story, whether in words, pictures or video, and it draws people who want truth to win, even though they know it often is obfuscated by those who manipulate facts, people, public offices.

I am not sure I can explain why many of us stay with the profession — except perhaps for passion. That passion comes in many shapes and forms. For some, it is based in idealism; for others, it might be the sheer joy of expressing themselves in their craft — carving a story from the written word or telling a tale visually. Still others endeavor to make all the elements of the story work together so that they sparkle on the printed or online page. For editors, I think that passion encompasses all those elements and more — writing a succinct headline, catching the extra letter in a misspelling or finding the grammatical faux pas. Then there’s always the adrenaline rush of editing a hastily written breaking news story and squeezing it into the paper minutes before deadline.

This is my craft, this is the calling I’ve had throughout my adult life. That’s not to say I have not grown weary of it from time to time — watching round after round of layoffs and experiencing the resulting, nonstop increase in workload takes its toll over the years. But I’m ready to come back. And I thank God that journalism is something I can have so much fun doing.