Sunday, August 5, 2012

Change comes again with new job, new name for this blog

It’s been a busy month since I last posted. Change, one of the immutable facts about the universe, has been happening, and I start this month again writing about change, and changing the name of this blog.


I am no longer a laid-off father of five looking for work, and I do not want to be defined forever by what befell me in December 2010, although losing my job at that time undoubtedly will continue to shape my future. It’s not the pain from the past that continues to be relevant, I think, but it is what we do with it, where we go from there.

When I entered the blogosphere two weeks after I was laid off, I had several intents. I wanted to keep up on my skills as a writer and editor. On that end, my Dad often has been the better editor, calling me from time to time with questions or to point out typos. That’s been a welcome boon. Over the years, I’ve had reporters tell me as they turned in stories “You don’t have to worry about editing it — I went through it myself already.” My response to them nearly always has been, “I am my own worst editor,” the implication being that we shared that trait.

That’s because when we write something, whether it’s a headline, a photo caption or a story, we know in our minds what we intended to write and therefore are more likely when we re-read our work to gloss over it and miss a typo. So Dad’s been a welcome guest editor who has helped me keep my presentation more polished.

Another purpose that I did not immediately recognize was cathartic, particularly at the outset, but intermittently as well. There were a lot of emotions and hurt to work through, and writing provided an outlet for that. As the months progressed, I found that writing about some industry trends, particularly as they relate to Chicago’s western suburbs, helped me to develop a greater understanding of what has happened over the past 15 years or so that has so devastated the newspaper industry and added to my own skepticism about its future. It also has helped me to understand and flesh out my own views of why digital media is where the industry’s future is.

Toward that end, everything I’ve done professionally over the past four to five years has been moving me in this direction: Three years as a Web content editor with Sun-Times Media’s suburban papers, then 19 months of part-time work with various online news websites.

Ultimately, early in July, my career advanced another step in that direction when, after so many discouraging months of looking for work, I accepted a position with Patch.com as the editor of its website in St. Charles, where I see a ton of potential and an opportunity to participate in what I have described for some time as Patch’s courageous experiment to return local news to communities that in recent decades largely have been abandoned or neglected by the newspaper industry.

It is an exciting opportunity that also represents change, and change can be painful.

The pain, however, does not make it bad. I am learning different approaches to using the skills I have, am learning new skills and trying to define structure from what amount to my new “Patch” eyes as chaos. I would point out that this is no different than the change one makes any time there is a career change, and after my first week in the saddle, I am confident I will adapt.

I also would describe the pain of this change as akin to that experienced after a return to exercise — the muscles ache, but it is a good ache that promises greater strength, perseverance, conditioning. In other words, this is a pain with promise.

And that is related to one of the other points I laid out when I began writing this blog. I wanted my posts to serve as an encouragement to other journalists who, like myself, had fallen victim to the industry’s woes. Sometimes I wrote about the gritty emotions I was sorting through, other times about an established industry’s inept attempts to adapt to pivotal changes in the presentation of news.

Through it all, this blog has been about change — starting with the change wrought on my life by a layoff, then by the changes I made in my attempts to find new work, and by examination of what has been happening in the industry.

Sometimes in my writing I expressed my own discouragement, even anger toward the industry’s leaders. But I have tried overall to balance that with an optimism about the future — not for the newspaper industry, but for the news industry. I’ve held for years that the Internet would mean a sea change, and that it would be painful, sometimes frightening and yet exciting as journalists learn new ways of gathering and relaying information, and telling stories on a medium that is so wonderfully versatile.

So today, Laid off at 51: Seeking joy in change becomes, simply, Seeking joy in change, reflecting the hope I have held onto for much of this process. It’s a hope borne of my faith in God, an optimism reflecting the exciting changes in the way news is being presented online instead of solely in print.

I cannot promise to blog as often as I did before — the demands of my new position are great right now, largely because I am still learning the skills, learning about the community of St. Charles. But I shall try to grab some time now and then to post here. I still have views about the industry’s future, insights to share and, I hope, encouragement for those in the midst of their own changes to find time for the joy God intends for us, even when we’re stretched to the extreme.