Tag Archives: newspaper industry

What? Your job is to help people find jobs?!

Here’s a little irony for you … well, quite a bit of irony, actually.

I’ve been looking for work for the past 15 months. After 22 years in the newspaper business, I was laid off. Over the course of that 22 years I have been a reporter, columnist, copy editor, assistant news editor, opinion page editor, assistant city editor, website staff writer, and blogger. I’ve been trying to find work, usually via online job boards and websites, networking via friends, LinkedIn and Facebook, and by simply keeping my ear to the ground.

I’ve been pretty open about the experience. At least, with my family, friends, and those of you who have visited “Letters From Away.” I’ve written about the frustration of the job search and the various pitfalls that have occurred in the past 15 months.

But I wasn’t very open with the other tenants of my apartment building. I don’t know any of them very well and I felt uncomfortable opening up about that sort of thing. And apparently some of them have not caught onto my blog, if you can believe that.

Anyway, I was walking down to the basement garage on Saturday when a guy who lives in one of the downstairs apartments came out.

“So, where are you working now?”

“I’m not,” I replied.

“What?!”

“Yeah, today makes 15 months since I was laid off,” I informed him. A mix of surprise and shock flashed over his face.

“Listen, I think I can help. …”

I’ve been living in the same apartment building since late 2006 and out of work since March 5, 2009, and I had no idea that my neighbor worked for a county agency that helps people get back to work. One of the programs for which I may be eligible is a six-month, 50 percent salary grant where an employer would be reimbursed for 50 percent of a worker’s salary for six months.

That does a couple of things, of course. It gets workers into jobs, it gives the employer a worker and a chance to see what the employee can do to prove himself or herself in a job and it gives a little time for the economy a little time to come around so that at the end of the six months the employee has a better chance to be held on permanently.

 I’m not exactly sure what else the neighbor or the agency can do to help me, but I have an appointment to talk with the guy tomorrow.

Learning a few things about being unemployed

First – and probably always – do as I say, not as I do.

My parents used that – “do as I say, not as I do” – on my sister and me while we were growing up in Maine. We didn’t always get the context, but we got the idea.

And I use it now because I’ve learned a few things in the past nearly year that I’ve been unemployed, some of the lessons have come from failures rather than successes.

I was laid off on March 5, 2009, from a job in the newspaper industry. I had been in the industry working as a staff writer, copyeditor, columnist, assistant news editor, opinion page editor, assistant metro editor, and as a staff writer for a newspaper website. I have some pretty varied skills and broad experiences.

Unfortunately, while I was working and achieving results for various small- to medium-sized newspapers in Northern California, I was centered on those tasks and results and not looking far enough ahead in updating skills for the future. I’m paying for that now, but I accept (nearly) full responsibility for that. The rest of the responsibility – and full and complete responsibility for the current crisis in the newspaper industry – falls squarely on the shoulders of publishers, media industry officials, and media stockholders.

I started off with the old “do as I say, not as I do,” simply because I’ve learned what I’ve learned more out of trial and error rather than trial and success. At least, not yet.

Here are a few of those things that I have learned after having been laid off:

1) Do not act rashly. It is demoralizing to be laid off, to be told that your services no longer will be required. There is a practice in human resources that says a firm should carry out firings and lay-off notices on Friday. That gives the person fired or laid off the weekend to cool off and it is supposed to cut the chances of violent retaliation. I think it may be more important for the person fired or laid off to consciously take advantage of that sort of cooling off period to consider what you want to do and what you can do. Take a couple of days to consider your options before moving toward finding a new job, shifting to a new career, or moving to gain the training and skills needed for that new career. But for goodness sake, don’t retaliate; layoffs are, unfortunately, a part of business.

2) Cut spending immediately, as in NOW, and assess your personal financial situation. Know what resources you have in savings. Know what severance you have. Know what other accounts you can access in a real pinch. That said, stay away from dipping into the 401(k) and other retirement accounts for as long as possible. Such withdrawals typically are subject to steep penalty and may not worth the short-term gain and long-term detriment.

3) Apply for unemployment insurance as soon as you are eligible. The eligibility differs slightly from state to state, but typically it is a week or two after being laid off. The application can be done online. It takes some time to fill out the application and you will need financial information, such as salary, severance, and other asset information.

4) Exercise the body. Being laid off is demoralizing. It is depressing. Physical exercise does several beneficial things, including fending off depression. It reduces stress. It makes you feel better because you are healthier. Unless you have health issues that prevent you from physical exercise, get out and walk, hike, ride a bike, take the stairs instead of an elevator. Do something.

5) Exercise the mind. Trust me, the mental stimulation resulting from working everyday and interacting with co-workers and others does a world of good to keep the brain working the way it should. Read, take tutorials for things you think you might need for the future, do puzzles. Do something. I already know that despite doing what I can to stimulate my mind every waking hour, I do not feel as sharp as I did when I was working and regularly interacting with co-workers and others. The situation would be much worse if I did not read and write everyday.

6) Eat right. This is vital to keeping your energy level high enough to do the things you need to do to get your life back on track. Empty calories should be avoided. Eat fruit and veggies. Whole grains. Take the time immediately after being laid off to get your eating habits back in line to help jumpstart your career.

7) Cut the booze. Do not crawl into a bottle. It will reduce quality sleep. It will jeopardize physical and mental wellbeing. It will make you mentally sluggish.

8 ) Remain as positive and optimistic as possible when possible. This is difficult. Hope always should be at a person’s core, but being laid off can be extremely demoralizing and stressful. And the feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming. But remembering a mantra such as “everyday a step forward” or “something good will happen soon” can help keep you moving toward recovery after being laid off.

9) Be grateful and thankful. Be gracious and supportive. What do you have to be grateful for? Thankful? Gracious, why? And supportive? You may think that there is nothing for which to be grateful, thankful, gracious? And support, you probably feel you are the one who needs the support. But there is plenty for which to be grateful, thankful and gracious. You are alive and living in a great – albeit flawed – nation with a system in place to help people like you and the others among the 15.3 million unemployed in this nation. People understand that times are tough and there seems to be less “well, he’d have a job if he tried hard enough” or “she’d be back at work if she wasn’t sucking up the unemployment insurance.” Very few people want to be unemployed. It just doesn’t make sense to willingly be unemployed. So be grateful and thankful for that system and the support system you have in place, family and friends. Be gracious to those who were laid off at the same time as you, but who are back to work before you. They deserve to be back at work. Not more than you deserve it, but sometimes that is just the luck of the draw. Understand that. Be supportive of those who have been laid off and supportive of those who are in more dire situations than you. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or kitchen. Volunteer to help disabled veterans or the elderly. Do something with the skills you have to better someone else’s life while you have a little more free time. Do something.

10) Negative feelings are not always completely negative. There will be times when you will not be able to bring yourself to be positive or optimistic. That is OK. No one has the strength to be positive and optimistic 100 percent of the time. It is OK to take a break from being positive and optimistic. As long as you learn from the down time and the down time does not last too long. You can use what you’ve learned from the negative feelings to make the positive and optimistic times last longer. While it can be healthy to vent from time to time about your own situation, remember that there is a limit to how much your family and friends should be subjected to negative statements. Sometimes you are going to have to live with your own negative feelings and ride them out until you can feel more positive and optimistic. The negative feelings will pass. And then use them to motivate you for positive action.

11) Reconnect and stay connected. You are not alone. There are 15.3 million Americans out of work. That is a lot. And most people who are laid off are not at fault. It was not my fault I was laid off from my job. It was the result of an industry in convulsions. So it is important that people who are laid off to remember that they are not alone and that it is not our fault. It is very important that a laid off person does not cut themselves off from family and friends. Stay connected. I joined the social networks Facebook and LinkedIn and started blogging, all to reconnect and stay connected with family, friends and former co-workers. I have even reconnected with high school and college classmates. Staying connected does wonders for maintaining mental wellbeing.

OK, those are 11 things that I have learned in the past year or so. I started off saying “do what I say, not what I do.” I won’t reveal exactly which of these I learned through my own personal failure, just accept that some of these were learned through painful experience rather than painless epiphany.

I’ve been a very, very bad blogger

It is clear to me that I have been a very, very bad blogger the past couple of weeks.

In many ways I have completely failed. But in a few others I think I have excelled.

Well, “excelled” may be a bit much, so let us agree that I have not done as well at some things as I have others. And I vow to strive to do better at the things I failed to do well, while continuing to do the things that I might have done better than, well, the things I did not do so well. Well …

What I have not done well lately is write fresh, new content for this blog about Maine and Mainers from a perspective of someone “from away.”  It has not been because of so-called writer’s block or want of trying. It simply has been a matter of time and not seeming to have any to write new content.

Frankly, I am still getting over the holiday haze, but now am looking forward to what great and special things will happen in 2010. Top among those things is finding employment. I am hungry to get back to work.

If you have read this blog before – I am a “blogger,” but what are people who read blogs? – you will know that I have been out of work since March 2009. I was laid off after 22 years working in the newspaper industry. And you would have to be from the dark side of the moon not to know that the newspaper industry has been hit very hard the past couple of years – continued high costs of paper and other materials, continued high profit margins for stockholders, lower revenue due to lower advertising sales due to the housing crisis and the auto industry crisis and the national economy crisis.

Leaders in the newspaper industry failed to heed the warnings that came to them a decade or two ago that a new age in information dissemination was coming – the Age of the Internet – and they made little effort to adjust. And what little effort they made came much too late for tens of thousands of very talented people in journalism and for many newspapers which have now long ago shut down their presses. I blame newspaper owners and publishers the most, although everyone in the industry has a share of the blame.

Because of all that I have been looking not only for a newspaper job, but for employment in the nonprofit or government sectors. There is a chance that what they used to say is still true, that writing skills are appreciated in very nearly any field. I am not 100 percent convince that is true given the traditionally low salaries in newspapers and other media, the decreasing salaries in newspapers, other media and for freelancers, and the low wages for “writers” in industries in which writers are not traditionally thought to work. And the disintegration of language because of what passes as “allowed” writing in emails, texting, blogs and other electronic media belittles and besmirches what professional writers do. That is the way of the universe.

And I also have given thought to returning to college to earn a master’s degree in another field, perhaps pubic administration. I believe I would go with an emphasis in nonprofit management over government agency management, because for some time I have wanted to do something for the greater good and working for a nonprofit has the feel of doing something more directly good for people.

What I think I have done fairly well for the past couple of months is to: 1) aggregate news about Maine from various sources, usually from Maine newspaper websites; and 2) post stories and other information about the plight of the people in Haiti following the earthquake last month.

Of the former, I usually have posted a headline of a story of interest and maybe some comment along with a link back to the newspaper’s website. I sometimes use the share feature on newspaper websites and sometimes the effort requires a little more work than that, but I always link back to the newspaper so the newspaper is getting the Web visit and the full credit. I gain nothing from the exercise other than keeping idle hands busy.

Of the latter, the effort to help spread information on what happened, what is happening, and what people can do to help Haitians seems a very tiny effort comparatively speaking. I wish I could do more. It is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and we have an obligation – not as Americans, not as members of one of the richest nations in the world, but as fellow human beings – to do what we can to help. Mainers have represented themselves well in the effort to help Haitians and it makes this Mainer “from away” proud to post those stories of Mainers’ efforts.

When I started this blog only a few short months ago, the intention was to write about and comment upon Maine and Mainers from the perspective of a person now “from away.” I had planned to comment each day.

Things have been hectic lately and sometimes it is a bit overwhelming to try to live up to my own intensions.

But I will strive to be more diligent about updating my blog.

Come back to Letters From Away every so often, won’t you.