Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'm dating again (not really; it just feels like it)

Getting back into the job market is akin to returning to the dating circuit after a divorce or the death of a spouse. With either, the goal is making a good first impression.

As a result, I’ve agonized over cover letters. I’ve developed a near-phobia about them.

They’re the equivalent of putting on your Sunday best for that first date. Not too flashy or too buttoned up but a Goldilocks just right.

As with dating, I feel the pressure to measure up. After all, I was laid off from a newspaper this year, as were more than 13,000 other journalists. And we're all answering the same ads or contacting the same (safe for now) publications about new jobs.

Joe Grimm (right), a former recruiter for The Detroit Free Press, now teaches reporting and writing as a visiting professor at the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. Author of several books, he has a blog at Poynter Online, part of the Poynter Institute in Florida that trains journalists and studies journalism, and operates a Web site aimed at helping journalists -- veterans and new graduates -- get jobs.

He acknowledges the difficulty many applicants have with cover letters to accompany resumes: “You want your letter to stand out from the rest, but you don’t want to go over the edge -- of someone’s desk,” he advises in a short post titled “Killer cover letters.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Job-hunting is tough work

I’ve read about people sending out 60 or 100 cover letters and resumes in their job search.

I’ve heard the advice on setting aside at least 35 hours a week to focus on finding a new job.

I’ve seen the accounts of people laid off in the Great Recession who are still jobless after a year or more.

It’s all so unnerving. Then there’s this statistic to give pause: six applicants per available U.S. job.

That’s courtesy of Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, who monthly crunches numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to see how the unemployed are faring.

Earlier this month, she looked at the BLS’s JOLTS report for July to calculate the latest candidates-per-job ratio. (The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey is released after the government’s monthly report on employment, but whereas the latter covers the previous month, the JOLTS data are two months old.)

What did she find in JOLTS?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pink slips piling up

The running tally of layoffs at Paper Cuts, the unofficial keeper of stats on personnel cuts made by U.S. newspaper companies, today stands at 13,637+ for 2009. (The plus is for cuts the blog classifies as "unknown": layoffs have occurred, but an exact number isn't available.)

At the pace seen during some months this year -- 2,000 layoffs or more -- the count could easily surpass all of 2008, when, according to Paper Cuts, newspapers laid off at least 15,977 workers, including reporters and other news department folks, advertising salespeople, and printing and delivery personnel.

More and more newspapers have closed this year, or they've shifted to online only, laying off most of the staff needed to produce the printed paper.

January, March and July were particularly gruesome months, according to the Paper Cuts numbers, which are assembled from industry tipsters or announcements from the affected papers (or their market competitors).

I was particularly interested in July, when I was laid off, and scrolling through the numbers was amazed by the rash of cuts that came mid-month. Gannett Co. Inc., parent of USA Today and 84 other daily newspapers (as well as 23 TV stations and 850 non-daily publications), kept showing up as owner of this paper or that with a handful of layoffs here, 50 there, 85 here and 100 there.

In all, I counted 1,055 Gannett layoffs in July, a third of them reported on the Paper Cuts roster for July 15 and 16 alone. (The Paper Cuts data are arranged by date.) The total layoffs I counted on the Paper Cuts site was 2,732 that month.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pinch me so I feel the recovery

The other day, the local newspaper carried an editorial cartoon by Marshall Ramsey of The Clarion-Ledger, a daily in Mississippi, that was a takeoff on the whole Rep. Joe Wilson flap.

It shows Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at a podium, as President Obama had been in his Sept. 9 address to Congress on health care. As Ramsey's Bernanke tells the audience "The recession's over," the Joe Wilson line "You lie!" is delivered by a man in the audience with "UNEMPLOYED" emblazoned on his chest.

Yes, those of us who became unemployed in the Great Recession don't yet feel the economy improving.

Of course, Bernanke didn't exactly proclaim the recession over -- the dating of business cycles lies with the National Bureau of Economic Research. But the Fed chairman, speaking to the Brookings Institution, did say that "from a technical perspective, the recession is very likely over at this point."

Friday, September 18, 2009

We've come a long way, baby

Did you catch last night's episode of Project Runway, the fashion-design reality show on cable TV, in which the medium for the evening was newspapers?

The group, down to a dozen challengers from the original 16, had to create out of paper. The designers were allowed muslin as a base, but newsprint (virginal on the spool, or real editions of the LA Times) had to compose the bulk of their garments.

Here's the video from Lifetime of the evening's winner and the trench coat she produced, which guest judge Tommy Hilfiger pronounced reminiscent of Chanel.

The journey to finished product reminded me of the quirky opening that ran with early episodes of the TV series Lou Grant. The drama, which debuted on CBS in 1977 and won many awards in its five years, chronicled life at a fictional big-city paper, the LA Tribune. Ed Asner (left) was the tough-as-nails city editor.

In the opening credits, as the actors were introduced, a humorous side text followed the paper's newsprint from forest to printing plant to the floor of the family bird cage.

See it here (after a sponsoring commercial). It still makes me smile.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where do we go from here?

Twenty-five years, minus one month and two days. It’s what I’ve calculated as the interval between layoffs. It’s the sing-song that plays in my head.

The first layoff, at a wire service, came in 1984, on the 10th anniversary of the Aug. 9 resignation of Richard Nixon as president.

The second occurred this summer, on July 7, my brother’s birthday. As he turned 49, I joined the ranks of 14.46 million Americans who were unemployed, 7.64 million of us classified by the government as "not on temporary layoff."

In the first layoff, I was a pregnant desk editor and the wire service (story in; edit; story out) was struggling financially. I had been there nearly six months, following several years as city editor at a small-town daily. I was laid off the day before my six-month probation ended and benefits were to kick in.

In the second, I was business editor on a Top 100 daily that was scrambling to cut costs. Two others with “executive” in their titles, like me, and one senior editor also were let go. I had been there 9½ years; the senior editor, denoting newsroom hierarchy, not age or purview, was a veteran of more than two decades. We were among 18 sliced from the payroll in one day, 11 in news.

Nearly two years passed between the first layoff and my return to work -- but not for lack of trying.