“Ha!” you say. What does he know about this? He just got fired!
Got me there.
Actually, I believe I DO know something about this topic, after nearly 32 years in the business, 23 of them as a departmental manager — and at least three years watching the slow-moving train known as the Unemployment Local come at me.
I survived previous purges and economic downturns … and I rode out the first couple of rounds of the current purges. Never been fired, till a week ago. And I absolutely saw my dismissal coming.
Some of you may not be as old, occasionally wise and routinely cynical as I am. And I’ve given this a lot of thought.
Ten tips for staying employed:
1. Embrace the web. It’s going to be extra work, and you’re going to be on your own 24-hour news/opinion cycle. But that’s how it is; you can rest when you’re dead. Management is keenly aware of the foot-draggers on this front. Don’t wait to be ordered to “serve other platforms” of the paper. Volunteer. Blog. Post photos. Consider video. Offer podcasts. Do web-only quick-and-dirty news stories. You’re a multi-media machine now!
2. Get a meat-and-potatoes job. This is an awful time to be an enterprise or general-assignment reporter, or a graphics artist or just-another-copy editor. Those were important jobs, a decade ago; now, they’re fluff. Ask to take over the most basic beats. Cops. City hall. Schools. Recreational and prep sports. If you’re a production person, make sure you’re THE No. 1 copy editor; otherwise, make sure you’re a primary layout/pagination editor. If you’re a features person, consider taking a news-side beat. Hard news reporters and inner-circle production people will be the last fired.
3. Suck up. I never was any good at this, but it might have enabled me to leave when I wanted. Go to staff meetings. Speak up. Volunteer ideas. Send “attaboys” to your superiors. “Great paper today, Bob! I’m proud of the whole gang!” Make sure the person who makes the call on who gets fired next knows who you are … and is convinced that you believe him/her to be an inspiration, a visionary and a genius.
4. Flip side of No. 3, above: Stop whining. Journalism is a business notorious for its contrary and crabby people, for second-guessers and “that’s not how we’ve done it before” grousers. Five years ago you might have been overlooked as the Charming Curmudgeon. Now, you’re the Negative Nellie. When the call comes down to trash another 10 percent of the newsroom, don’t be the relentless kvetcher who immediately pops into the editor’s mind. Oh, and remember, “second-guessing” now consists of anything other than instant acceptance.
5. Produce. This is no time to coast. This is no time to insist you have more time to work on a story. Even at the metros. Get your byline in the newspaper at every opportunity. Like, daily. If your beat doesn’t lend itself to 3-4 bylines (at the least) per week … it’s time to switch beats.
6. Stop spending money! If your paper still travels, offer to stay in a budget motel. Rent the smallest car and eat fast-food meals. Never, ever “entertain” in the old-fashioned style of picking up the tab for other journos. As an editor, I always knew who would cost me the most to send on a trip, and it affected my decision-making. And, for god’s sake, stop padding your expense account.
7. Make sure your editor hired or promoted you. Some of you will say, “Hey, I was already here when Dave Dopey showed up.” Doesn’t matter. It’s your problem. Employers everywhere want “their” people around them. You become one of theirs by getting them to hire you, or by having them promote you. They then feel as if you are instinctively grateful toward them, and your open contempt for them might go unnoticed or dismissed as an incorrect reading. And if you can’t get New Guy to promote you … strongly consider changing papers. Yeah, it’s a hassle to move, but do you like getting regular paychecks? Thought so.
8. Keep your head down. When you’re not volunteering and sucking up and bustling about the newsroom looking busy … that is, when you’re not doing something overtly positive To Make the Product Better … keep a low profile. Don’t be the newsroom weirdo in terms of fashion or politics or religion. Don’t be the worst-dressed person in the place. Avoid being seen with known whiners or Enemies of The Editor (if any are left in your newsroom). Remember the Japanese proverb: The nail that sticks up gets hammered down … and left to consider part-time work at alternative weeklies.
9. Lose weight, tone up, get a haircut, consider cosmetic surgery. I’m serious. Quite. Layoffs are becoming unpopularity contests, and the obese, the flabby, the shaggy and the saggy are people decision-makers don’t like looking at. I worked for a guy whose loathing of overweight people was overt. I worked for another who made a guy city editor because he was handsome. You can save your ass by shrinking it.
10. Achieve excellence. Five years ago I would have listed this first. Now, it barely makes the list. Competence is a defense, but it no longer is first, second, third or ninth. But, all things being equal, if the cut is between you and someone else who is just as fat and bitchy as you are … the person who is better at their job will survive. (Till next time.)
See what you can do about those tips. I didn’t follow them all myself, and look where it got me! Do as I say, not as I did.