The big freeze settled fast over the journalism job market, and it feels like it will be some time before there’s a thaw. If you were getting itchy to make a move before Sept. 11, you’ll probably have to settle in for a long wait.
It’s important to keep in mind that these downturns are cyclical, almost predictable, and when the job market loosens up there are a couple of factors working
in your favor if you want to find a new position.
First, a lot of newsrooms still have unfilled vacancies left from more than a year ago when it seemed like there were three openings for every one qualified applicant. In particular, experienced assignment editors, copy editors and page designers are always in high demand.
Second, the events of Sept. 11 have driven a huge new appetite for news in print, broadcast and online. In the wake of buyouts, retirements and layoffs, news organizations are going to be challenged to keep up with the demand.
But for at least the short-term, you’re not going anywhere. So how do you find satisfaction if you’re restless, bored or fed up?
Here are some ideas:
Review your position. Grab a legal pad and really make yourself think about what it is you do every day. Be specific and detailed, and break down your responsibilities to their most basic elements. What are your hours? Your specific duties? What drew you to the job in the first place? What do you contribute to the paper? What do you like best about your job? What chafes you? Have you drifted away from what your job is supposed to be? Use this list not to dwell on the things you hate but to push the boundaries of the tasks you enjoy.
Change scenery. I’m a great believer in playing different positions to keep yourself fresh and interested. One of the good things about a job freeze is that there are likely unfilled positions in your newsroom. Put your hand up and see what happens. But push yourself out of your comfort zone and go for something completely different, a move from Features to a G.A. spot on the city desk or the copy desk, for example. Maybe Sports could use a hand covering preps for the spring season. And if you’re unsure, make a deal to try it for six months, then re-evaluate. Many people are afraid to move because they’re terrified of being stuck in a hated job forever – most editors will be glad to consider a “renewal clause.”
Or … don’t change scenery. If you have a good position but you’re in a rut, then do some housecleaning. If you cover schools, are you stuck in the meeting loop? Make a deal with your editor to tackle those profiles you say you always want to do. Clean your desk of all that junk you’ve been meaning to get to for months (years). Push yourself to develop new sources. Start fresh.
Indulge your interests. A copy editor I worked with was a movie buff, and he turned out a great weekly review column on the latest films out on video. It only took him a couple of hours a week, and it was a great break in his routine. It’s done all the time – a reporter who writes a monthly wine column, a copy aide with an interest in crafts, an editor who knows architecture. Concert reviews. Outdoors. Travel. Parenting. Cooking. Gardening. Knock off a couple of sample pieces, and see if you can make it a regular thing.
Break habits. Habits and routine are comforting in their familiarity, but they can also reinforce feelings of discontent. The same friends you have coffee with every day are unlikely to help you out of a funk. More than likely they’ll assure you that you’re a victim, that you never get a break, that you’re being abused or misused (what are friends for?). Skip lunch, and go take a walk downtown or volunteer to read at your kid’s school or join a health club.
Enlist help. Don’t suffer in silence, or worse, in anger. Talk to your boss, tell them how you’re feeling, enlist their help. Everyone’s been through a spell of feeling stuck. It’s especially important to maintain your productivity and a can-do attitude if you think you’re going to be looking to make a move sometime soon. Remember who your references are.
Take a break. A lot of papers are gladly letting employees take unpaid leaves or go part time. If you can swing it, a leave may be just what you need to recharge your batteries, as long as you don’t simply sit around the house. Is there a class you could take at a local college? Maybe some volunteer work needs doing?
Read. Read more. Many people, including me, believe the events of the last few months have stirred a rebirth in journalism that discards the irrelevant, wise-cracking voice of the 1990s. Journalists are rising to the challenge of aggressively and thoughtfully covering the most important story of our generation. Buy three Sunday papers. Devour magazines. Seek out graceful writing and insightful reporting, and let it inspire you, no matter what your job in the newsroom.
Jim Kelly is executive editor of The Honolulu Advertiser. He has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Hawaii for 20 years and is a former president of the SPJ Minnesota Pro Chapter.