OK, let's get this straight: Journalists are not the grasshoppers in the ant-and-grasshopper
fable. They don't just while away the "good" years living it up on
their vast salaries while the more sober ants (read: accountants, maybe, or
folks who who went into PR instead of news) socked away the bread to tide them
over the lean years. Most reporters and editors I know take things like savings,
retirement, 401Ks, and paying for their kids' college educations seriously -
more so because they know that, even in a sane journalism world, their chosen
profession is probably never going to make them rich. In the insane version
we live in now, where grand news institutions are crashing to the earth all
around us, they know fiscal responsibility is even more important.
Still, layoffs and buyouts will deliver a solar plexus blow to almost anyone.
So it was a sober crew who showed up Thursday night at the East Regional Library
to hear financial planner Guy Cumbie's advice on how to survive the latest round
of job eliminations at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
He offered good avice. When you've been laid off, "covet cash" -
that is, in most situations, don't use that severance check to pay off your
house or car or make longterm investments you can't get out of easily. Instead,
"keep it liquid" - probably in money market funds or CDs -- because
you just don't know how long you're going to have to make that money last. And
looking for a new job, he said, should be approached "like a job":
After the initial shock wears off, don't sleep in, don't spend the days on the
golf course - work as hard at job-hunting as you did at writing or editing or
running a department. He also told the group to sit down and make a plan - do
a cash flow sheet, tot up their assets and debts, figure out which expenses
can be pared back, take inventory of their own skills, talents and experience,
do serious research on job openings in order to know things like probable pay
scales, go into job interviews with a resilient attitude -- and by all means
don't let their health insurance lapse. And lots more.
Before Cumbie made his presentation, though, I said a few words to the group.
The session was put together by the local professional chapter of the Society
of Professional Journalists, where I'm a board member. And one of my jobs was
to bring to the group some of the painfully acquired wisdom of folks who'd been
through a similar meatgrinder - in this case, former Dallas Morning News staffers
who'd departed in that paper's 2004-06 buyout and layout spree. In fact, the
Thursday night session was a little depressing déjà vu for us
in SPJ - we hosted a similar session for the DMN'ers back then.
The tips I collected for the departing S-T'ers weren't very cheery, but they were grounded in pavement-hard reality. "Don't work for another publicly owned major market newspaper without a contract," one ex-DMN reporter, who's still in the news biz, said, recommending instead that folks staying in the business look for openings at privately owned papers in smaller markets.
Another savvy former colleague who's gotten out of journalism basically told
me that newsies have been living in a dream world - that the rest of the planet
is used to the idea of layoffs, and those workers usually start thinking about
their Job B before the ink is dry on their first paycheck from Job A.
Probably the most depressing - and clear-eyed - part of his message was this, however: "Consider yourself lucky to be rid of a profession that doesn't respect you," he said. "Until the entire business model is overhauled, it's not worth your valuable time. You should realize, there is no job security left in newspaper journalism."
Is that bitterness speaking? Nah. Mark Potts, on his "Recovering Journalist" web site, totted up 900 journalism job cuts announced in the last week. Ow, ow. Man, the truth hurts.