Is it Rash to Call Newspapers Dead?

newspapers-death

I recently got a phone call from a friend whose son wants to become a newspaper reporter. She wondered whether I was willing to help her dissuade him from getting into the profession. He is studying “communications” and takes courses in various aspects of “communicating.”

My friend knows there is more money in PR and marketing and that many believe the newspaper business is dying. Her son is learning the basic tools of modern technology-driven journalism, communications and PR — tools that didn’t exist when I studied my craft.

These are things that old-school reporters need to learn on their own to compete in today’s online news world. In print in the old days, we only needed to know the “Five W’s and H” (who, what, where, why, when and how) and have the driving need to be in the newspaper business.

And know how to report and write.

Despite knowing there was more money in other communications fields, and the problems with the newspaper industry, my friend’s son wants to be an old-school journalist.

He has the itch: Passionate about true journalism, the love of breaking news and beating the competition. However, he doesn’t want to strictly be an online journalist — nor a content editor, nor a communications or PR director — but a newspaper reporter.

I have been in the business for three decades and I love it. But, I was determined to play Devil’s Advocate. So when we spoke, my question was: Why?

In recent years, “Newspaper Reporter” has been at the bottom of the list of lowest paying jobs, I explained. (Schools still teach heavily attended journalism courses, because ever since Woodward and Bernstein decades ago the job has been considered sexy, so people apply.)

But this man apparently had the inexplicable gene: He was determined to become a journalist and work for a newspaper. I was not about to comply with my friend’s wishes and dissuade her son.

Will he have a place to go?

The question is are newspapers truly going or gone — or will they make a comeback because people enjoy holding printed pages and reading in-depth stories.

This is slightly simplistic, but newspapers are a risky business because the ad dollars have other “news” places to go.

Warren Buffett invested in the newspaper business, though part of his strategy has been to thin the staff. According to a shareholders’ letter Buffett wrote in 2013 after spending the previous 15 months spending approximately $334 million on newspapers:

“Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.”

Hyperlocal news seems to hold the key as to whether print survives, according to Buffett and other media industry experts.

However, this past February Buffett slightly changed his tune when he told CNBC he foresees only two major newspapers surviving in print: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

“If you look, there are 1,300 daily newspapers left in the United States. (Berkshire Hathaway has) 31 of them. There were 1,700 or 1,800 not too long ago,” Buffett said. “Now, you’ve got the internet. Aside from the ones I mentioned, 1,400 or 1,300 of them haven’t figured out a way to make the digital model complement the print model.”

Luckily for my friend’s son, there are still small newspapers that are hiring, usually in places he never expected to visit, let alone live. I told him if he is that determined, he will find a newspaper that will appreciate his persistence. And though the paper most probably has an online element, he also will appear in print.

And, according to Poynter, those small hyperlocal newspapers will survive with community support:

“An industry that is dying is still alive. It is not dead — yet. While alive, it may continue to perform vital services to a community — services such as news and information, keeping an eye on city hall, on sewage in the bay, on the failures of local schools. It may continue to be the best we’ve got.”

Thoughts?

 

 

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When Quitting IS the Best Option

I quit

There seems to be a multitude of posts on the topic of quitting populating LinkedIn in recent days.

Maybe it’s the coming of spring and how the change of seasons enlightens and empowers people to start anew; maybe it’s because the job market is supposedly on the upswing.

Not being a social scientist, but a simple writer, I am absorbing these with growing interest and not a minimal amount of wonder.

I quit several times in my somewhat long career, but only once when I did not have another job in the bag:

I was working for a news service in Washington, D.C. — a place which was a starting point for many journalists in the post-Watergate era. The pay was abysmal, the boss was a tad paranoid — but the pluses far outweighed the negatives.

You got a chance to cover political Washington and at the same time get your bylines in some of the country’s most prestigious newspapers and wire services. And for many — some with now household names — the company’s opportunities led to much bigger and better things.

Each of one us fledgling reporters was assigned different newspapers, usually decided by state, and if we were not that publication’s primary reporter, we did get pretty significant stories to write. Particularly if your state had one of the more influential and busy newspapers.

I was assigned two states: One which had two small, but good papers; the second with some of the best papers in the country.

Despite being dirt poor, I was having the time of my young life: I was a Washington correspondent and my byline appeared on the same pages with journalists of note. Ramen and tuna were staples, but who cared!

Then one day, two events coincidentally occurred simultaneously, which changed everything — and led me to not only quit, but storm out the door with a few choice words:

  • I was accused of leaking some internal financial information to friends at a major Washington newspaper. The reason: They had gotten hold of some damaging data, they were my friends — so it had to be me; and
  • A new reporter was introduced to the newsroom who had some prior experience in my bigger state and I was told he would be taking over the papers in that jurisdiction.

I tried to point out the absurdity of the first accusation to no avail. I then pointed to my unbridled enthusiasm and loyalty in my months of coverage: This too changed nothing.

So, I turned to the boss, told him what I thought of him and stormed out the door, taking the minimal belongings that were mine.

It was a major rush to turn to him and say: “I Quit.”

The managing editor literally chased me down the street and asked if I knew what I was doing and that jobs in journalism weren’t easy to find (even back then).

I said I could care less; I was throwing caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may.

I was also in my mid-20s!

Now, I justify my quitting without another job on two levels:

  • I was unjustly accused of compromising my place of employ when all I had ever exhibited was hard work, for low pay at absurd hours; and
  • I had snatched from underneath me the opportunity to work for two of the best newspapers in the country at the time.

Total disrespect was the reason I quit — that, and I was young enough to do so with youth’s empowerment of invincibility on my side.

I to this day believe that there is only so much disrespect a person can take at a workplace before they decide enough is enough. And, I might have quit some other jobs before the time was appropriate had I not found other venues — or needed the money.

But my age was the key: It’s a lot easier to quit outright when you are 25 than when you are 45!

And, by way of a postscript: I found another quite awe-inspiring job the next day.

How to Keep on Keeping On

Fist

When I got laid off a year ago, I was not surprised, nor — for reasons I am not allowed to discuss — particularly upset.

The very next day (which was a Saturday), I revised my resume, started posting it on all the usual suspects and started hitting LinkedIn and other sites with a fury. I embarked on a mission to contact everyone I knew and made the obvious requests to keep their eyes and ears open.

I did not go into a funk; I did not feel sorry for myself; and I wasn’t even immediately worried about where my next paycheck was coming from.

I was doing everything I was supposed to do — or so I thought. But it was pointed out to me by two very good friends (who as is my way will remain nearly anonymous) that I was not doing what I do best:

Writing!

Both these friends — one who I have known since college and later worked with, the other who I have also known since almost the beginning of my career — basically kicked me in the butt and said: “Sit your tush down and write.”

They actually gave me a pretty hard time, because they said all I was doing, by not doing, was wasting my talent – and it is extensive, if I do say so myself.

At first, I was angry: Who are these people to tell me what to do? And then I thought about it and came to a conclusion:

They were right.

Now to the point: Just because you lose your job does not mean you should not continue to try and do what you know best.

Obviously in some professions it is easier than others: unless an unemployed actor is into street theater, this advice doesn’t help much.

But there are other ways to use your talents until you land where you want to:

Volunteering immediately comes to mind. So does reading everything you can on advancements in your profession and telling people – particularly on LinkedIn – what you have learned.

I have already blogged on the fear of writing and on retooling your career after 50, so I won’t repeat myself.

But I will say giving up is not the way to go.

There are days when you won’t feel like pushing; there are days when you will want to take off from the job-search grind – and you should, for both sanity and health reasons.

But we should still wake up most morning looking, driving ourselves and pushing forward. That’s how human beings are built.

And, in conclusion to one of my more obvious blogs:

I thank my old Mets fan friend from up north and the Cincinnati Kid for kicking me in the butt.

When a ‘Connection’ . . . Isn’t

Zappa

You’ve sweated through high school, college — maybe graduate school. You’ve held several jobs, possibly in different careers and along the way you have met scores of people.

On LinkedIn, for example, you can find these people, or people who know these people, or those who are somehow connected. It can be a very useful tool in getting a job or more business — no complaints there.

You network elsewhere and meet more people, who know or knew people whom you know or who know of you — or who you once were.

And here my dear colleagues lies — as the late, great Frank Zappa said — the “crux of the biscuit”:

Who of these people are really connections — and which ones know who you are — TODAY? And which ones remember who you were, maybe as a different and less — or, in some cases more — appealing a colleague than you are now?

It is therefore critical that before you send your references and connections off into the world, it’s best to reconnect with the people you’re listing and make sure they are who you think they are and reinforce to them who you are at this point in your life.

I’ve been working since I was 14 and along the way have met a lot of people — been good to many — maybe not as good to others.

I have lived in several countries and, in some, actually have accomplished at a very early age what some people never accomplish in a lifetime. I can back this up.

I remember my mother telling someone when I was 21 that I had already lived three lifetimes.

But I digress.

This post is about connections — and whether they are just part of your past who can be of no help to you, or you to them.

Or even worse: They don’t remember when you were there for them and, now that you are in need, they are nowhere to be found.

So let the story be told.

As is my way, this tale will be slightly altered so no links can be made to those guilty of what I call severe and demeaning memory loss.

It was my second or third job, and I was approached by my boss and told of a colleague who had broken up with his live-in girlfriend and basically had nowhere to live.

I had taken in strays before — both human and animal — and she knew this. She also knew I had room in my house and asked if I would take the man in.

Without hesitation, I said yes.

Several years passed; my colleague was much more of a likeable character than I was — or, more likely, played the part very well. He also hung around me like a stray puppy as he built his network, through what even I will admit was intense charisma and good looks.

We still worked together, but he had found a place to live and I had moved in with my then-girlfriend.

And then several occurrences, some self-inflicted some happenstance, left me in a lurch. I was basically homeless and without a job.

So I turned to my colleague, but he said his current circumstances could offer me no solace.

Having met a sufficient number of ingrates in my life, I took it with a grain, and pulled a phoenix, getting my life back together.

Years passed. This once-homeless colleague of mine became a leader in his chosen profession and quite well known both here and abroad. I continued pursuing my career, had some setbacks here and there, but was doing quite well.

Then I heard that my old colleague had hit the pinnacle — so I approached him, not really out of immediate need, but figuring it might be of future use. Plus, I thought we might renew an old friendship.

This new superstar would not even acknowledge my existence. Worse: While speaking to mutual friends he said: “Oh yeah, I knew him — he once helped me find a place to live.”

I went ballistic and let him know as much.

As I said, he is now at the top of his profession, but I know to me — as a human being — he is still a user and manipulator.

Enough venting and personal anger; here’s reinforcing my point:

Not everyone you think is a business or personal connection really is one. And when you are in need, be careful who you turn to.

They might legitimately not be able to help or they might just not care.

My former colleague?

May he continue with his unbridled success.

And, I am glad I don’t need him now.

‘We’ll Get Back to You Next Week’

How many times have you left a job interview and either due to your enthusiasm for the job; the positive vibe you received from the interviewer(s); or the need for work, actually waited patiently for the phone call or email with a decision?

If I could count the number of times, this has happened to me over the years, I wouldn’t be writing this post. And, more significantly, I know the usual answers when two weeks later you try to get some feedback: Either “We’ve been extremely busy” or “We have decided to broaden the search.”

Even worse: You continue to wait and look at job postings and see the same job you interviewed a month before posted again.

I realize this will not endear me to any potential employers, nor will it enhance my chances of getting my dream job.

But here is what I have learned after years of on-and-off job search, when stability became an issue:

  • When you hear: “We’ll get back to you in a week,” don’t believe it.
  • Don’t take it personally; it seems to be in the handbook handed out to hiring managers and subsequent interviewers.
  • Do not get discouraged; accept it as a part of the process.

back to normal

I feel inclined to share one story; names withheld to protect the guilty:

I interviewed with three people at the same shop — not a group interview, but three separate individuals — and was told how impressed they were with my credentials. But before I could be put on the dreaded “short list” there was one more thing they would like me to do.

It was not exactly a writing test, they said, but would give them an indication of how I dealt with raw material — and I could do it at home and it was short.

Fair enough, or so I thought at the time, as all the other buttons clicked. And as one of the required questions we are told to ask at the end of every interview, I asked once the “non-test” was completed, when would I hear from them again.

You can guess the answer.

Well, this is what I received in an email: a 20-page, single-spaced document to edit in track changes; a request to write a 500- to 800-word blog; and an application that asked everything except my original hair color — when I had some.

Though slightly perplexed, I did all I was told. I waited two weeks to see what the status was and was told it would take a few more days. Then I saw the job posted again.

My reaction — aside from this post — was a smile. Why?

Because this is a buyers’ market; the job seeker becomes secondary to filling the post; and more often than not I probably knew more about the position than the contacts at the company.

Yes, I have read all the suggestions made for crafting a resume, writing a cover letter, how to find contacts and what to do as follow ups.

But one thing I have not seen is advice to the employer on how to treat a prospective employee, who truly wants the job or probably would not have shown up.

This is not a plea for sympathy; this is an example of what is done in civil society.

One last thing: I could do a whole other post on: “You were one of two final candidates.”

I’ll save your reading time.