Why being an unemployed journalist is the best thing to ever happen to me

When I was first told that I was being laid off from my journalism job back in December, I was devastated. I thought because of my rare technical skills and demonstrated passion for the job that there was no way I would ever be fired, even though I saw the mass layoffs that were happening all around me. It was a further blow to my ego when I realized that months later I was still unemployed along with thousands of other journalists.

The gravity of the situation brought on a whole range of emotions — anger, despair, hopelessness — until I realized that even though I was devastated financially, I was in fact growing creatively; even though the bills were stacked a mile high, that this was the incubation period that every journalist transitioning to new media hopes for.

Journalism is requiring its reporters, editors, and staff to adopt technical skills that fall outside of everything they’ve ever known, but is not providing a way for people to learn them. Newsrooms aren’t shutting down operations just to do training sessions. Journalists can’t take time off because they want to learn video or audio editing. Those that do want to self improve must either self-train in their spare time or hope to be given time off to attend training workshops.

It took a few months for me to realize it, but I had indeed been given a special opportunity to hone my craft and share my passion with others. Self discovery doesn’t pay the bills and news of being laid off is nothing a journalist wants to hear, but I take solace in the fact that creativity thrives in the most oppressive times of one’s life.

I started 10,000 Words two years ago and, at its start, churned out some pretty crappy posts. The down time allowed me to go back and fix or improve the posts that I wasn’t proud of. I finally had a chance to redesign the site without worrying about time constrictions. 10,000 Words also became the forum for me to create the journalism projects that I perhaps wouldn’t have time to do while working a full-time job. These include the offbeat A is for Audio: The ABCs of Multimedia, the poignant mini-site journalism is dead, and the photo slideshow The Typography of East Hollywood, a project I’d been wanting to produce for months.

The time away from journalism has helped me find my inspiration, to remember why I am a multimedia journalist in the first place. I’ve taken day trips to museums to see the interactive exhibits. I’ve attended (free) conferences to hear about not only what’s being done to revitalize journalism, but the amazing technological advances that are happening outside of the journalism bubble. I’m even nearing the final stages of writing my first book, an encapsulation of this blog that I hope will be available at the end of the summer.

Of course, I’m not the only one to take advantage of being laid off. Unemployed journalists everywhere are using the experience as a starting point to create their own forms of journalism. The Arizona Guardian was founded by a group of journalists laid off from the East Valley Tribune. New Jersey Newsroom was created by former employees of the Star-Ledger. Everywhere journalists are creating new business models that may shape the future of the industry.

And this, my friends, is why all the talk of journalism dying is hooey. If I and thousands of other journalists continue to conduct and improve our craft without the means or the resources to do so, then there is hope for journalism after all. I see the future of journalism in the eyes of downsized journalists who, despite their circumstance, maintain their optimism for the industry and in the bright-eyed students who flock to journalism despite widespread news of its demise.

And while I don’t hope to be unemployed forever, I cherish this time as a boon to my creativity, my resolve and as encouragement that there are better times ahead.

Also on 10,000 Words:

Essential multimedia tutorials and resources for do-it-yourself training
Journalism Grads: 30 Things You Should Do This Summer
10 Things I wish they’d told me in J-School
Journalists: Change starts with you