Thursday, May 9, 2013

Exit strategy: Can you leave the business?

Lately a lot of young people I know are leaving the business for private industry. Many are going into public relations or some sort of marketing position.

Of course this happened with my generation as well, but usually when people were in their forties and simply tired of the grind. These days it seems to be different. People are tired of the ridiculous workload, shooting their own video, managers who are jerks (the most common reason), and low wages. It is sad when I get calls from people in their twenties already giving up on their dreams; not because they don't love journalism, but because the business has become too painful to endure.

Regardless of the reason, the big question many face is this: Can I survive without a journalism career? For many of us it's a narcotic; a big story or killer live shot can give you a rush like no nine-to-five job can ever provide. So what happens when you trade a newsroom gig for one in the "normal" world?

And here's the other big question: If I don't like the normal world, can I get back into the news business?

First, let's talk about what happens to people who leave the business for the private sector. (And yes, I've done this, so I've had the experience.)

The biggest change is the pace. You might go from two packages and a live shot each day to a PR job in which you're required to write one press release in a week. What the hell do people do with the rest of their time? (This also happens to soldiers coming back from war, by the way.) Suddenly you're sitting at a desk with no chance of leaving the building. You're watching the clock. You're given one week to do an assignment what would take five minutes. You like the new paycheck but you're bored out of your mind. How do you deal with it? Some can't and go back to news. Some manage to downshift and come up with new ideas for their new jobs. (Imagine going to your boss and asking for more stuff to do.)

The other big change is the lack of creativity. Suddenly you're not turning a phrase in your copy or trying to think of a clever standup. Now you're looking at pie charts and making mailing lists. Your muse is about to drive you nuts; she wants you to do something, anything, with a blank page but you have no assignment.

The key here is to find a creative outlet. Write fiction (it's what I do when I have down time), do some articles or a column for a newspaper, make pottery, paint. Create something. If you do nothing creative from nine-to-five, it's imperative that you do something on your time off.

Finally, the biggest change is the type of people you're surrounded with. The free-wheeling personalities of the newsroom and sarcasm are gone. The wicked, dark humor we use to deal with all the bad news we cover is nowhere to be found. The relationships are more businesslike, not as close as those in a newsroom. You go to an office party and you're not the least bit interested in what people are talking about, and, hardly anyone is keeping up with current events. The unique camaraderie you had in the newsroom doesn't exist.

Now, let's get to the re-entry question. Many people assume that once you leave a news job you can't get back into the business.


I've done it, plenty of others have done it. If you're talented, that talent doesn't vanish because you took some time away from a newsroom. Just make sure you save all your tapes. You make think you're done with this business forever when you walk out the door, but if it runs through your veins you may someday want back in.


turdpolisher said...

Yep. Yep. Yep. I left the business for 3 whole days. Best decision I ever made was to come back. News has it's problems, but it's so much more rewarding and so much more fun than anything else out there. I won't make the mistake of leaving again, any time soon.

KM in FL said...

You're so right about the biggest difference being the people. Wicked, dark humor and sarcasm are as rare as the Hope diamond in my elementary school. The problem is the other teachers think they have warped senses of humor...which has lead to some truly awkward conversations! In two schools, I've met one person whose personality and quick wit would be at home in a newsroom. Naturally, we're friends. I love teaching, but I definitely miss the camaraderie of a newsroom.