Broken Careers: Journalists will move forward – in their own little worlds! Part 5 of 5-part series

Posted By Spring Eselgroth

By Warren Watson

(Last in a five-part series)

In 2007 to 2009, the recession forced 8 million Americans out of work.  I was one of those, laid off at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Roughly 2 million of that total are still out of work.  Millions more are underemployed and most making less than they did before the bubble burst in this lingering hurt.  Some have retired prematurely.

Both of my sons, who have bachelor’s degrees, came of age during the recession.  Neither has been able to find a career job. Neither has benefits of any kind.   I worry for them.

I was out of work for four months, expending my savings and accruing more debt while collecting $390 a week in unemployment, the equivalent of $20,000 a year.

I finally found work but had to move clear across the country to stay afloat.

And I was one of the lucky ones.   I managed to glue together a broken career once again.  I make 70 percent of the wage I made 10 years ago.  And still work in the field I love.

Those entering journalism today have a whole new set of expectations.  They are not planning on any big money, nor the old staples of benefits.

Shane Snow, a Columbia graduate, is chief creative officer of Contently, a website.  He writes about media and technology for Wired and Fast Company, among other outlets.

Snow argues that there has been a permanent shift away from jobs in journalism: “Where newspapers and magazines once provided stable, salaried jobs for reporters, writers and editors, they now largely shun fixed costs for an employment model that relies on an increasing percentage of freelancers.”

Snow adds that about a third of journalists are already independent, and that number if only going to increase.

As the traditional business of newspaper-style journalism changes – and spits out career-minded people replaced by freelancers, there are a few things at stake.

First is the quality of a journalism product that has fewer eyes watching for mistakes, accuracy and meaning.

That’s a concern of Steve Fagan, who retired as editor of the McAllen Monitor in Texas in 2013.  Fagan, who writes a blog called The Ancient Newspaper Editor, was a newspaper gypsy and worked for a half-dozen organizations, including the Cincinnati Post and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

“Quality has grown at least marginally worse in recent years as hard-pressed newspapers across the country have cut staff,” he writes. “Newspapers have fewer sets of eyes going over copy before the presses start.”

Fagan points out that book publishers spend days and weeks making sure copy is accurate.  Newspapers spend mere minutes – and it’s getting worse.

Secondly, the decline of the American newspaper poses a threat to civic engagement.  For years, newspapers were the glue to informing citizens of their choices in our democracy.   The newspaper was the forum for ideas pro and con

I think of Lowry Allen, the former Houston Chronicle copy editor who has lost his confidence in his own ability to practice journalism.

“I realize now that I made a big mistake in leaving the Houston Chronicle,” he lamented. “As hard as work was for me in 2009, my life got a lot harder being out of a job.  But I didn’t have the foresight to see that.”

But so many others with broken careers are doing just fine thank you.

Russ Kendall will keep crafting artisan pizza.   Gerry Boyle will keep writing.   John McIntyre will still work with words in his comfort zone at the Baltimore Sun.

And Julie Martin will keep on refining her writing and organizational skills in the pharmaceutical industry.  The Star News is now deep in her past.

“When I was laid off, I felt as though my hopes and dreams had been taken away from me, “ she said.  “I woke up one day and decided that no one could do that to me.

She added, “Life is good, although very different. I take nothing for granted now. I have spent a life in search of stories worth telling.  The stories are just different now.”


(Warren is SABEW executive director and a 40-year journalist.)

The series:

Part 1 –Broken Careers: Surviving in journalism in the Internet age

Part 2- Some in journalism weathered crisis and ultimately survived

Part 3 – They moved on from journalism to survive

Part 4 – How to avoid the frustration factory


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