You can’t plan life, but you can prepare for it

My life seven months after graduation is not what I envisioned.

I made a plan over seven years ago: Go back to school, get a degree in journalism and work at Arizona’s biggest newspaper right after graduation. But, my plan failed. I graduated May 2017 with a degree in journalism. Instead of my dream job, I’m a business analyst for an energy consulting company, with my contract ending in May.

Life is chaotic. It’s pointless to plan big because planning assumes that life unfolds perfectly. You can’t plan for chaos, but you can prepare for it and hope every decision is for the best.

I learned this the hard way in the wake of the Great Recession.

Image by Russ Allison Loar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I was fired from my managerial job in 2009 at a reprographics company, which printed copies of blueprints and construction documents. The niche trade suffered directly from the 2008 financial crisis, which plunged almost every developed country into a deep recession. I was jobless, living at home, spending half my time looking for work and the rest watching television, boozing and online gaming.

I was fortunate enough to have my parents’ support, but they also struggled during this time. My entire family collected unemployment. We couldn’t financially plan or prepare for tough times because we lived paycheck to paycheck.

I thought I would work my managerial job until retirement, which was why I didn’t bother with a college degree or any skill certificates.

Every job listing that paid my previous wage required a bachelor’s degree or years of experience, which I couldn’t prove because I couldn’t use my previous employer as a reference. Food service jobs were scarce because the job market was saturated with applicants, plus I didn’t want to work in the industry again. Every day was a blur. Weekends were meaningless. And I would sometimes booze alone in my room.

Eventually, I had enough. Enough of being at the mercy of employers. Enough of online gaming. Enough of boozing almost every night. I wanted a radically different life with a fulfilling career. So, I did what any person in my situation would do: I went back to school.

On Taylor Place, Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix Campus / (Photo by Christopher Silavong)

I spent three and a half years, part-time, at South Mountain Community College where I got an Associate of Arts, and then transferred to Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication where I spent three years and graduated in early May of 2017.

College as an older undergraduate was interesting. I learned that my grammar was inadequate, my writing skills were terrible and that I was out of touch with pop culture. I also learned that there was no material reward for making the Dean’s List, which required maintaining a 3.50 grade point average. It was a hollow honor.

I cherished my last three years of college. It transformed me into a smarter, better and more ethical person with the confidence to pursue my passions. But college had also burdened me and others with financial debt.

This fact of life greatly influenced my decision between starting my journalism career and finding work before my first student loan payment.

The Arizona Republic building / (Photo by Christopher Silavong)

Looking and applying for jobs is full-time work without the pay. I set up profiles with five job search websites, of which two specialized in journalism, publishing and media. I designed a new resume and tightened up my work descriptions. I bought a web domain and built a beautiful resume website, which took five days to finish.

I presented myself in all of these mediums as a “digital” reporter, a journalist who’s well versed in online news publishing.

I started off looking for local reporting jobs. The first job I applied to was city reporter with the Arizona Republic, where I interned for two semesters. I thought I had a good chance, but just in case I offered to freelance while the hiring editor went through resumes.

My first assignment as a freelancer was writing a story on keeping pets safe from the summer heat. I researched, interviewed sources and looked for a central character for the story. I followed up, after one week, with the paper’s freelance editor about my progress. She sent paper work for me to fill out and submit to human resources.

A few days after turning in my paperwork, I learned that I couldn’t freelance for the paper. Gannett Inc., the parent corporation, has a policy against former employees working as correspondents. I couldn’t even submit the story for publication. So, all of my work was for nothing.

I’m used to stories falling through and moving on to the next lead. But when a publisher falls through, there’s no moving forward with the story. There wasn’t any point in shopping the story around to other publications because the story was such an obvious idea. Every newsroom published similar pet stories.

I planned, the plan failed, and chaos reigned supreme.

The Cronkite School, the First Amendment on the second floor / (Photo by Christopher Silavong)

But overall the news industry is in chaos. It’s going through a “Schumpeterian” moment, a period of creative destruction when an old industry is destroyed and replaced by a new industry through innovation. The old (and current) business model for news media heavily relies on advertisement revenue. But since Google and Facebook started over 10 years ago, and the internet revolution over 25 years ago, newsrooms’ market share of ad revenue has withered.

Media research company eMarketer expects Facebook and Google to rake in over 60 percent of the ad revenue in America for 2017. That’s over $52 billion. This forces newsrooms into making tough decisions: laying off reporters, merging with other media companies or potentially selling the newsroom to wealthy unscrupulous kingmakers.

The news media developed a business model (a plan) over 200 years ago, and only recently they have accepted that the model no longer works. Other models that no longer work are some traditional practices of journalism. Specifically, a warped notion of objectivity and out dated understandings of professionalism. I will address these ideas in a later post.

For now, I’m contracting as a business analyst. It’s the highest paying job I’ve had thus far. I paid off my credit card, and I’m saving up for a car of my own. My life is going well by most material standards. But I want to get back to journalism, where I feel I can make a difference.

Finding a stable reporting job limited to my hometown is tough. But I’m not giving up. I’m going to start my blog and podcasting — reporting and writing on politics that interest me and hopefully others.

These are not ideal plans, but that’s because you can’t plan for chaos. You can only prepare for it and hope for the best.