Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Status: Fifth Estate

Today marks three months since my July 7 layoff.

Three months: Good grief, it's a quarter of a year. Ninety days: In some jobs, it's the length of a new worker's probationary period.

Where did the time go? As in real life, it just slipped away.

But this was surreal life: First there was the period of grief and tending to the open wound of being shown the door. Then venturing into public again, finally sure that UNEMPLOYED wasn't tattooed on my forehead. Then reworking a resume, drafting cover letters, networking with people near and far.

At a breakfast meeting of community leaders that I'm still welcome to attend, I had a new business card at the ready and an answer to the inevitable "What are you doing now?"

I belong to the Fifth Estate, I said and got quizzical looks. You know the rundown, which dates back centuries: the First Estate is the clergy; Second Estate, nobility; Third Estate, commoners; Fourth Estate, the press.

Fifth estate is a relative recent term for bloggers, both of the amateur (citizen) and professional (legacy journalist) varieties. And while Wikipedia has an all-over-the-board definition here, the term is sure to gel in coming years.

That's not a bold prediction but a practical one: 2008 was a tough year financially for newspapers, as was the first half of 2009. And six-month circulation numbers due out soon aren't expected to be pretty.

So newspapers continue to cut back, releasing reporters and editors who need jobs and at the same time creating holes in former bread-and-butter coverage.

Now some of the journalists are establishing professional news websites independent of their former employers. The J-Lab, a community-journalism and new-media initiative at American University in Washington, D.C., has posted a video on some of those efforts:

Part 2 - Professional Journalists Create New Ventures About Critical Issues from J-Lab on Vimeo.

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