Thursday, December 4, 2014

We refugees from journalism

During a round of introductions at a meeting yesterday, I described myself as "recovering from a 33-year in journalism." In retrospect, I think a better description might be as a refugee from a 33-year career in journalism.

Like residents uprooted from their homes by war or famine, I have been uprooted from the career I chose, enjoyed and thrived in (at least to some degree). Like war refugees, I find myself somewhere else, a place I'd never been before, unable to return to the place — the career — I had known for so long. Like any refugee, I cherish the memories of the good times and try to put aside the pain of the final days of my former life. Despite their longing, refugees have to put the past behind them and channel their energies toward new and different goals, never looking back at what might have been.

Across America, there are many thousands of refugees like me, journalists who worked hard, held responsible positions and enjoyed the adrenaline rush of breaking news and time-absorbing investigations. In the past 10 years, great newspapers have become hollow shells, their newsrooms depopulated as if by a neutron bomb (remember that proposal — it was in the news?) that killed off the workers and left the walls and desks and files behind. During that time, the gradual transition away from printed classified ads and print advertising in general became a waterfall as the advertising revenue base collapsed. At the same time, consumers became so inundated with information that the news in print seemed redundant. Readership and circulation fell.

Publishers, many in a panic, slashed newsroom jobs to compensate for the loss of ad revenue. Eliminating news coverage just turned off the remaining loyal readers who still liked to sit down with a print newspaper and absorb the variety of information included. In some cases, even those newsroom cuts were not enough, and daily newspapers dropped back to semi-weekly publication status or closed their doors entirely.

Thousands of us refugees are among the unemployed and under-employed. Many of us are in our fifth, sixth or seventh decade, when getting hired in a new job is about as likely as getting pregnant. The skills learned in a lifetime in a newsroom are not easily transferable to the few jobs that are in demand in a still-struggling economic environment.

But like a war refugee, I'm not going to harp on "the good old days" that will never come again. We refugees make the best of what we can find.

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