Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When newspapers don't love us back

I'm sometimes startled by the raw emotions found in blogs, the deep feelings on motherhood, marriage and miscarriage posted by the likes of Heather ArmstrongAnn Powers and Penelope Trunk.

Then, from the ranks of displaced journalists, this:

"In 2009, my life crashed. Freelance assignments dwindled, and attempts to get a staff job were fruitless. My partner's pay and hours were cut at an NYT chain paper. Our home became a minefield of money stress, finger-pointing, and bitterness. Last July, he moved out. Three weeks ago, I lost my house, because I couldn't get enough freelance work to keep up the rent.
"Now I'm hotel-hopping, living wherever I can find a story and a warm bed. I feel afraid and uncertain. I feel betrayed by the industry I love. And yet I still won't leave. It's a faithless lover. All it does is break my heart. But I'm in it for the long haul. I don't know anything else. I made this my entire life, and now, at 36, I feel used up. Broken. I believe in journalism's future, but God help us all through these hard times."

Sort of kicks you in the gut, doesn't it?

The comment was posted in response to a touching essay done by the wife of a longtime newspaperman who just took a job with an online-only news start-up. The husband quit print after many decades in which he gave his all to newspapers, but they offered only layoffs and wrongheadedness in return. "His love has been unrequited," the wife wrote.

I was struck by the essay, which elicited a couple of like tales of leaving print by choice or buyout along with some hearty "Good luck." Then came the heartwrenching comment from Carmen K. Sisson, who blogs as The Fearless Journalist.

"Am I truly homeless?" she asks on the blog, and then quickly answers:

"I’m city-hopping now, living out of hotels and abandoned buildings, chasing bylines and fighting to survive. ... I prefer to think of it as an extended road trip. An epic journey. The ultimate assignment -- rewriting my life.
"Come along for the ride. Letters, comments, story ideas, and work leads are always welcome."

I caught my breath and did a quick there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I check on my bank account. Would I have had her chutzpah? I don't know.

But as someone also on a journey to find my place in journalism's new landscape, I wish her the safest of trips.

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