There is life after daily newspapers. I promise.
A few years ago I was part of the crew of journalists who left the Chicago Sun-Times after taking a buyout. It was tough. I mean, like many journalists, I didn’t know who I was outside of being the person first on the scene and knowing all the inside info and then writing/talking about it. Plus, editing and writing breaking news and longer-form features is fun in a weird way. (Fun to me, that is.) But I learned quickly that what I do and who I am are very different things. I also figured out how to make the buyout work out for me.
In light of the news that several Chicago Tribune colleagues recently left their newsroom under similar circumstances, I wrote a little Twitter thread on surviving the buy out.
That first tip is real talk. A lot of people who are middle class don’t like to discuss being on unemployment, but like I said: we paid into it, so it’s ok to use it.
What else did I do? I wrote on Medium and other sites, I decided to become a freelance editor and writer, and I learned that my network is pretty powerful. When you spend 20 years interviewing people and setting up cover shoots, you wind up with a rather large contact list, so why not use it?
Once publicists and artists learned I was on the market, they hit me up with opportunities or just to take me to lunch. Some of my best writer friends asked me to edit their books or to be a sensitivity read. I fell into being a Chicago fixer as folk sent folk to me to scout locations, find sources for documentaries or even meet up with folk who could help them write their television series that focus on Chicago’s underbelly. I used my insane interest in flooding and water issues (thanks to covering hurricanes) to land a gig writing about flood plains for a government site — yes, I decided to gig for the government. Again, it’s ok.
Those gigs were well-paying and fun, and they set me up for my new direction(s.) One other key thing I learned about were the fellowships. There is a fellowship for damn near anything that strikes your fancy. There are fellowships for parents of young children too, and lots of conventions are (were) moving toward being more family friendly and offering breastfeeding rooms, which I needed at the time. A for mer editor of mine told me about a Netflix opportunity, which I snagged. A former publicist I worked with at Ebony told me she was going to head up an in-house newsroom at a major cable network and she needed a part time editor.
Closed mouths don’t get fed, so I started asking.
And, all that said, each opportunity that came post buyout was a setup for an even better situation, and I know that now.
Andplusalso, going to the movies at odd times guaranteed a nearly empty theater! Woot.
All that to say: leaving newspapers is not the end! It’s the beginning.
There is plenty to do after dailies. I promise.