A little more than a decade ago, I started my journalism career in newspapers.
The Internet was still in its infancy, and no one had dreamed up YouTube, Twitter, blogs or Facebook. We weren’t chained to our inboxes nor unable to function without Wi-Fi. Newsprint and ink still had a place in our world.
Over the years, new technology and the sheer magnitude of the Internet have forced me—and all journalists—to develop new skills and look at the way news is presented with an eye toward the online platform. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve been excited over the prospect of learning more about video, photography and packaging stories for online news consumers. But I have to admit, ink was still coursing through my veins.
In early October, I was met with the harsh realization that the newspaper career I’d dreamed of as a college student and cub reporter was most likely coming to an end. I had spent the past several years working as an editor for a company that publishes local business newspapers and magazines. I was abruptly laid off when my position was eliminated — a casualty of economic hardships, declining ad sales and overall cutbacks.
I was certainly not alone. Journalists all over the country were in the exact same boat, many of us feeling tossed overboard and abandoned by an industry we had poured our hearts and souls into.
Once the shock and sadness began to lessen, I knew I had to spring into action. My husband and I decided the best course of action was for me to freelance and remove our young daughter from full-time day care.
And thus, my freelance career was born. I knew I had to approach my work differently. Looking for more traditional projects writing only magazine features or business profiles wasn’t going to be enough to sustain me. I had to diversify. And that meant throwing myself into the online world. I knew I need to:
• Update LinkedIn and Facebook profiles with my new “freelancer” status.
• Buy my name in the .com world and begin creating a professional Web site. Granted, I’m not a professional Web designer, but I at least wanted a place where I could put a bio and an online portfolio.
• Order free business cards and include new Web address.
• Join the world of Twitter.
• Do some old-fashioned networking with other freelancers and spread the word among friends and colleagues via e-mail and Facebook that I was available for assignments.
• Sign up with MediaBistro.com, Writer’s Market and other Web sites geared toward freelancers. Also add my profile to SPJ’s freelance directory.
I continue to keep my eye out for jobs in “traditional” media and am thinking about queries I can send to print publications. I certainly visit the bookstore and peruse the magazine section for potential markets.
But I also began thinking about other ways I could use my writing and communication skills. I’ve been working for a local PR firm, writing news releases and brainstorming ideas with clients. I’ve talked to a friend about taking over her company’s employee newsletter. And I secured a job periodically updating a blog about green offices. I’ve corresponded with colleagues about collaborating on projects.
I continue to update my personal blog and have looked into the massive world that is the “Mommy Blogger” community for writing/editing opportunities. With my daughter at home, flexibility is important. Blog posts, for example, can be written at 5:30 a.m. or 8 p.m.
One of the benefits of having writing and editing experience is those skills are needed whether for print or online.
No longer can I ignore the fact that the news business is changing. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it means we have to reinvent ourselves.
I think freelancers are in a position to lead the charge. We have the flexibility to try new things.
Was 2008 a tough year for me and hundreds of other journalists? Absolutely. The bright spot is that people still want news and information. We can provide that and in a host of media platforms. It’s easy to get discouraged and develop a “sky is falling” approach to your career and the journalism industry, but try instead to see this is an opportunity for learning, growing and trying something new.
At least that’s what I’m trying to do.