Friday, February 24, 2012

What's better than no work at all? Part-time!

Here we are, too many months without a word.

Last time I posted, I was reflecting on two years of unemployment. And with a trio of solid prospects in hand, I thought I'd surely be on someone's full-time payroll before too long. WRONG!

So just after Labor Day, I took a part-time position (12 hours per week) that finds me collecting newly filed civil lawsuits in several local courts. Because I like document-based reporting -- I.F. Stone has long been an idol -- I'm used to trying to decipher the not-so-plain English found in suits, which is part of this job. (Do law schools actually teach students this kind of dense writing?) And to boot, news nuggets can be found in the cases, which I've been able to pitch as freelance stories on a couple of occasions.

I'm still far from a full-time paycheck (or even "gig" nirvana), but it's something. A column I wrote (click through to page A12) on being a so-called "involuntary parttime worker" explains more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

2 years, 73 cover letters, 10 interviews and still unemployed

Message to the White House last fall, on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building.
(photo by me, via cellphone)

This month, I marked the two-year anniversary of being out of work.

As the date approached, though, I felt things finally were looking up. I had three hot prospects on the line: one, an employer with whom I had already had a face-to-face interview (and had moved on to the "critique our product" stage), and two others, with whom I was due to interview in a matter of days.

So I had no reason to sulk. Instead, I looked back on the two years and crunched some numbers:

  • I counted 73 cover letters on my computer written over the 730 days in those two years, meaning I averaged one cover letter every 10 days -- which is miraculous, given that I dread writing cover letters. (And "averaged" really is a key word, since earlier this year I'm pretty sure I came close to becoming a discouraged worker as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: pulling the covers over my head and giving up. On the other hand, I subsequently entered a phase of extended unemployment benefits, now ended, during which I had to prove to state labor officials that I met a weekly quota of job inquiries -- meaning that my pace of cover-letter writing surpassed the average.)
  • Over the two years, I landed 10 interviews: two in late 2009 (plus a "howdy" face-to-face before the employer was ready to interview for a new position), four in 2010 and four so far this year. None, though, has yielded a job.
  • I also had 3 preliminary phone conversations that led nowhere, one in which I was told a candidate was already in hand, but they wanted to talk to me anyway (to reinforce that decision, I suppose), and one in which the employer, who had asked applicants to specify salary, wanted to see whether I'd bite at a lower figure. (I couldn't afford to relocate for the stated salary, and didn't relish a commute of up to three hours a day.) The third was with an employer I quickly determined I didn't want to work for.
  • There also was 1 prospective employer that conducted an extensive conference call with me and then had me critique/edit some stories and send along copies of a feature I had created at one job, which had piqued their interest -- and then stopped answering my emails and phone calls. other prospect had me do a trio of tests, two of which I passed with flying colors. I apparently stumbled on the third and was told I could try again in six months. (Huh? The logic of that escaped me.)
To mark the first anniversary of my unemployment, I compiled a list of the 10 things I had learned in those 12 months. A few of them still apply, including this big one: you need a job to get a job. Just the other day, the headline again was about how the few companies that are hiring prefer the employed or just slightly unemployed as candidates. Meantime, some 6.29 6.185 million (updated for July) unemployed have been without a job for six months or longer, down from the year-ago level in June 2010 but at a year-to-date high for 2011.

We know now that the 2007-09 Great Recession was more severe than first thought, which provides a tiny bit of solace as I approach 25 months without a full-time job. But writing about it, and living it, really hasn't gotten any easier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gotta get me a smartphone

Some say the reign of the paper résumé will come to an end. Maybe.

If so, its overthrow surely was sped by job-seekers as creative as this guy:

QR CODE - Content-rich Resume from Victor petit on Vimeo.

(h/t: Dan Schawbel)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back for the weekend: a passel of journalism reads

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
I know, I know: I've fallen behind on weekend reads. I could offer up numerous excuses, but won't bore you. Instead, on to things you'd hate to have missed:

"FCC Report Recommends Targeting Government Ads Toward Local News" (Nieman Journalism Lab): The big news for the week was the release -- finally -- of the Federal Communications Commission's report on how the media are faring in the Internet age. The quick answer is not so well if the medium happens to be local. Nieman sees a lot of same-old, same-old in the report, but notes one new idea: Why not ensure that advertising regularly done by the federal government (e.g., armed forces recruitment ads) gets into local-market hands. Over at Poynter, assessment of the report is about the same: Where's the wow factor?

"Time to Bring Back a P.M. News Product" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): So here's a "wow" idea, courtesy of Alan Mutter: Newspaper publishers might be able to grow revenue and readers through an evening e-newsletter (delivered by tablet or smartphone) that capitalizes on what seems to be a growing habit among wired consumers of sitting down with their devices for quiet time in the evening.

"Take a Lesson from B2B Media's Experience" (Newspaper Death Watch): Another idea for publishers, courtesy of Paul Gillin, is to get to know readers as well as their colleagues in the business-to-business segment seem to. The latter's relationship, says Gillin, allows better matching of advertiser with prospective buyer, leading to "warm" sales leads that beget essential revenue.

"Online Advertising Explodes to $31B, But Publishers Getting Squeezed?" (VentureBeat): Lest we think all is rosy as the pace of online ad spending picks up, there comes word that publishers have made available so much inventory online that they've depressed the price they can command for the space.

Video interlude: One speaker was an overwhelming hit at Personal Democracy Forum 2011 earlier in the week, judging from comments in the Twitterverse. Here's one reaction, complete with the video of Jim Gilliam's presentation. (Take the time to watch it.)

Short takes:
  • "How the Crowd Saved Our Company" (Digital First): Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton posts on his blog the presentation he delivered this week to the 10th International Newsroom Summit of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, offering a progress report on his company's "digital first" strategy.
  • "BxB with Deb Galant of Baristanet: Authentically Local" (Storify): Block by Block, which offers information and networking for and about hyperlocal and community news publishing, held a Twitter chat with the co-founder of Baristanet about a new endeavor, Authentically Local, which aims to counter corporate infiltration in the neighborhood (think AOL's Patch). The chat was collected on Storify.
  • "A USC Annenberg Thesis Project" (Entrepreneurial Journalism): This is a monstrously long and deep dive, but worth the time if you want an exhaustive look at what's happening in journalism today, as reported by (successful) master's candidate Kim Nowacki.
  • "What I Learned in Joplin" (the deadline): And if you haven't yet read the Twitter observations by the New York Times' Brian Stelter of the tornado devastation he saw in Joplin, Mo., here it is.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend read: Reporters as 'maestros'

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
It's the weekend, so pull up a chair and settle in for some interesting reads:

"Chapter Nine: Managing Digital" (Columbia Journalism Review): Somewhere during the course of the week, it was suggested that this chapter of the new report on digital journalism from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism would be particularly eye-opening. And it is. Consider this evaluation of how Forbes' Lewis DVorkin assesses reporters: "He expects Forbes journalists not just to cover news, but to be 'maestros' of comments and of followers." And from DVorkin himself: "It used to be a question of how they [reporters] develop their sources. Now it's how they develop their sources and their audience." Take note, veteran journalists.

"Main Street Connect’s Tucker: Hyperlocal Needs Scale" (Street Fight): No sooner had founder Carll Tucker been interviewed about his growing network of hyperlocal news sites -- he has established 10 in Connecticut and will add 32 in Westchester County, N.Y., on June 1 -- than he added 10 more in Massachusetts with the announced acquisition of CentralMassNews. Main Street Connect has kept a relatively low profile since raising close to $4 million last year, but it apparently has been busy behind the scenes. (Tucker, by the way, believes his hyperlocal model is way better than AOL's Patch.)

Musical interlude

"Meet Facebook's Journalist Ambassador (Yes, We Said Ambassador)" (FastCompany): If DVorkin, above, is correct, reporters needing a platform from which to build a fan base may have a friend (pun intended) in Facebook. And helping them learn best practices is Vadim Lavrusik, a social media ace who just became journalism program manager at Facebook.

"Google Adds News Near You -- Newspapers Still Nowhere" (GigaOM): Here's another shout out to newspapers to get mobile fast because Google is getting ready to eat their lunch again. This time, it's with a feature that can deliver news that is "personally relevant" no matter where the reader may be. And for how long have the experts been saying the potential for mobile is huge?

Video interlude: It wasn't just the recession that cost the U.S. jobs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When job postings baffle

I've seen an occasional oddball posting as I've trolled various company and journalism job boards, but never one like this with a list of "physical demands":

(Click to enlarge)

It's for a job as a digital content creator at a radio station, and many of the requirements sought of candidates include the usual variety:
  • 3-5 years reporting/writing/editing experience
  • Proficiency in Photoshop, HTML and audio editing
  • Excellent writing and editing skills under tight deadlines
  • Attention to detail with content, including grammar, punctuation and fact checking, and layout
  • Understanding of social media and its relationship with news consumers, online marketing and web traffic
  • Be part of a team to develop new and innovative content for the web and on-air
  • Ability to thrive in fast-paced, breaking news situations
  • Flexibility in work schedule
  • Etc., etc., etc.
But being able to exert "up to 10 lbs. of force occasionally," as I've highlighted above? That's a new one. And just what does "including human body" mean? That you're able to get up from your chair successfully?

I'm baffled -- except to note that the job is at a radio station that says it caters to an audience of federal workers in Washington, D.C. Perhaps some Fed-speak has rubbed off.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On creating a first-class news experience

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Here are a couple of end-of-the-weekend quick hits:

"Business Class: Freemium for News?" (Information Architects): In the how-do-we-fund-the-news discussion comes this idea: offer a user experience comparable to flying first class vs. coach. That means visually attractive web pages and additional perks that enhance the experience enough that people will pay for it.

"ASNE Offers Good Advice on Social Media, But Too Much Fear and Not Really ‘Best Practices’ " (The Buttry Diary): Steve Buttry, late of the online-only news experiment in Washington, D.C., worries that print editors still don't get what social media is all about as they proffer best practices for journalists using Twitter, Facebook, et al.

Video interlude: Check out this video from Fast Forward News, a project of the video storytelling workshop at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University that explores journalism's future. (I picked this particular video because it's the worst nightmare of any reporter: being replaced as a writer by a "robot.")

Man vs. Machine from Fast Forward News on Vimeo.

Music-video interlude: Here's a toe-tapping explainer developed by a New York University class to accompany ProPublic's series about gas drilling and the technique known as "fracking."

Musical wrap-up: And last but not least, a cool remix of the "All Things Considered" theme song.