When Jessica Durkin was laid off from The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa., she did anything but mope. The day the paper cut staff in March 2009 was the beginning of Durkin’s post-reporting career, a career that has led in new directions. Durkin, who is on the SPJ Digital Media Committee and the Region 3 Director for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, is the founder of InOtherNews.us and a Media Policy Initiative fellow for the New America Foundation.
“It sounds cliché, but I really felt like (losing my job) was an opportunity to use my free time,” Durkin said. “I had been paying attention to the industry trends; it was not a surprise. I saw the writing on the wall before it happened.”
When Durkin graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelor’s in journalism, she had already achieved success in her first career in the restaurant business. She went back to school in 2001 with a dream to work as a newspaper reporter and eventually a magazine editor. She achieved the newspaper goal; in fact, she worked at three in five years. Durkin looked at her past experience and then at where the future of journalism was taking her and everyone else. She knew it was time to change.
“I wanted to stay in communication, but I didn’t want to be in PR, so I asked myself, ‘What is my role, and what do I want my life to be in journalism?’ My answer was, whatever is going to emerge and be the dominant system, whatever it is, that’s what I want to be part of — the next journalism in America,” she said.
Durkin is a self-proclaimed industry junkie. She loves the news about the news. And she combined that interest with a positive attitude to take a chance at going in a different direction, a direction that took her away from reporting and toward getting more involved in the industry.
Last fall, Durkin traveled to Washington, D.C., Virginia, Philadelphia and New York City to conferences, training programs and journalism boot camps. She attended entrepreneurial sessions, the WordPress Word Camp in New York City, an FTC workshop, a New Media J-Lab event on entrepreneurship, sessions about grants, sessions about starting a Web site and more. At the New Media Women Entrepreneurs, she met a contact at the New America Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy institute that invests in burgeoning ideas and the people who have them.
“It was a chance encounter; I gave her my card, got in touch and found that (the institute) and I had similar research interests,” Durkin said.
Those interests revolved around the site InOtherNews.us, which Durkin created in June. The site is a collection of online, independent journalism start-ups, many of which were created by laid-off journalists.
“My particular interest is in local news; hyperlocal news is my beat now,” Durkin said. “(I created the Web site) to teach myself how to blog and to track the start-ups. It’s now become a directory.”
As she continued to aggregate information, Durkin started to see trends in the data. Her research of those trends in the local news ecosystem — like the collaborations between community news and higher education institutions or that of traditional media with hyperlocal — will be continued with the New America Foundation Media Policy Initiative fellowship.
In addition to continuing InOtherNews.us and working as a fellow, Durkin will begin pursuing her master’s at the University of Pittsburgh’s Library & Information Science Program in the summer.
“In order for journalism to be effective and have credible information, you need to know how to do research,” Durkin said. “I feel like the civic space will need a trained researcher to help citizens (and) paid or unpaid journalists. Whatever (the journalism industry) is going to look like, a major role will be played by a librarian.”
Through all the recent — and quick — changes made in her career, Durkin finds solace as she encounters more journalism start-ups to add to InOtherNews.us.
“There are so many other laid-off reporters who are doing their own thing,” she said. “They may not be getting paid, but they are still reporting. They’re doing their own sites; they’re putting it up there for whoever wants to read.”