Monday, June 28, 2010

These days, you need a job to get a job

Although some recruiters pooh-poohed it, others saw it as being on point: A CNN Money story this month that pulled back the curtain on the dirty little secret that it takes a job to get a job. Or, as the headline stated, "Looking for work? Unemployed need not apply."

While it may not be a new story, it deserves a periodic revisit so we can get upset about it all over again.

Remember that the Great Recession that began in December 2007 has created a huge class of long-term unemployed -- workers who have been jobless for six months or more. In May, the latest month with available statistics, their number stood at 6.8 million, or about 46 percent of the country's 15 million unemployed, according to the government. (The numbers for June will be released at 8:30 a.m. Friday.)

To Jesse Rothstein, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, these jobless workers were "unlucky enough to lose jobs in 2008 or 2009 when there weren't any other jobs to be had."

His comment came during a program hosted by the Economic Policy Institute to draw attention to the extension to unemployment insurance due to run out this month. You can see Rothstein's "unlucky" remark here, at about 2:10 into the video:

He also made another interesting point, at about 2:20: that today's long-term unemployed worker is different from his/her predecessor.

"Ordinarily, they look like a very disadvantaged group with very low education, other measures, other things that are indicative of disadvantage," he said. "Right now, that's much less true.

"You see relatively many college-educated people who are long-term unemployed. It's not so much that these are people who are not qualified for jobs, it's that there aren't any jobs to hire them."
Indeed, the statistics from May show that 4.7 percent of the civilian labor force that was unemployed, or about 2.1 million people, held a bachelor's degree or higher. During the 2001 recession, that same group had an unemployment rate of just 2.1 percent in May and numbered 771,000.

Despite that measure of being qualified, employers still aren't willing to take a chance, says one recruiter, because if the jobless were really good at what they did, they'd be collecting a paycheck, not unemployment benefits. Jeez.

UPDATE: The government reported Friday that the number of long-term unemployed was unchanged in June at 6.8 million. The unemployment rate declined slightly for the month to 9.5 percent, and the number of unemployed overall dropped a bit to 14.6 million.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cliché or no? 'You get what you pay for'

For the second time in my will-it-never-end job search, I've lost out to a 20-something candidate.

The first time, I really didn't mind: It was an editor's job at a new online-only news site focused on aggressively covering a single federal agency in Washington, D.C. The staff was very small and very green --newly graduated from college or still a college intern. The woman picked for the job was aged 24 and pretty green herself. And, as far as I was concerned, she was welcome to that headache.

The second time, though, I did mind -- alot. It, too, was an editor's job, at a niche newspaper covering politics with a 24/7 online news site. The guy selected was aged 28 and had a few years' experience under his belt as a writer and editor. (Note that I'm a journo to the core and will Google-stalk any candidate I've lost a job to.)

After wallowing a few days in disappointment, I came to a conclusion: the paper cheaped out and chose someone it can pay less to while he grows into the job. Carry that formula over to any news organization doing any hiring, though, and I could be out of luck in the field in which I've worked my whole career.

I've been fighting a couple of negatives already in my job search:
  1. I targeted a metro area where journalism jobs seem plentiful, but where I don't currently reside;
  2. I've spent the bulk of my career in business journalism, which seems to make me unsuitable for covering politics or education or anything else in the narrow eyes of some prospective employers.
But while I can easily counter those concerns -- I don't expect a relocation allowance, for instance -- I can't argue away my experience. Nor should I have to.

It has come with bruises that often were hard-earned: how to avoid lawsuits (contact a lawyer early and often); how to psych-up an overworked staff (put your face on a punching bag); how not to antagonize a supervisor (don't surprise him/her needlessly) or a prized advertiser (don't misidentify the CEO's spouse in a story) or an angry reader (always return the voicemail).

So Mr./Ms. Employer, an experienced worker may cost you a bit more, but believe me when I say we're worth it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hyperlocal idea raises some serious dough

Jane Bryant Quinn in a 2006 appearance
on the Tavis Smiley show on KCET. 
I don't recall how I stumbled on Main Street Connect, the franchiser of hyperlocal news sites that just raised $3.97 million.

It was last fall or summer, I think, when I saw a mention of it, another in a long line of ideas that continue to surface in the wake of mainstream media's implosion.

What initially caught my eye was the involvement of Jane Bryant Quinn, who once wrote a syndicated newspaper column on personal finance. I was the business editor at one daily when she ended her newspaper run soon after 9/11 -- and, boy, did readers squawk. But she continued to publish columns in magazines, talk about personal finance on TV, and write bestsellers.

Now she's editorial director of Main Street Connect, which she and husband Carll Tucker founded in mid-2009 after the local weekly serving their country home in Dutchess County, N.Y., ceased publication. Tucker, once a staff writer for the Village Voice, ran a company in suburban New York City that published community newspapers, which he sold to Gannett Co. Inc. in 1999. At Main Street Connect, he's editor, publisher and CEO.

Their company offers technical know-how and other support to entrepreneurs who want to operate an online local news site: "... programs, launch capital, training, and ongoing guidance our local partners need to succeed," says Main Street Connect's mission statement.

The Nieman Journalism Lab likens what the company offers to the franchised burger model: "A local team assembles the journalists who will cover a community, then Main Street Connect provides the framework for everything else, including the technical setup (and ongoing support), plus an underlying business strategy." For its work, Main Street Connect gets what amounts to a royalty fee of 17 percent of revenue.

So far, the company has helped launch seven sites in Fairfield County, Connecticut: Norwalk, Darien, Westport, Weston, Wilton, New Canaan and Fairfield. They're crisp and clean looking, full of school and community news (some shared, some distinct to each town) and ads.

The goal is 3,000 sites across the country by 2013.

In a column over the weekend (that, incidentally, is listed as among the most viewed), Tucker says the sites don't offer ads but "Annual Visibility Packages": "It's the idea that the way to build your business is to remind your neighbors not only of the quality of your goods and services, but also about who you are and how you contribute to the community."

Package "sponsors" (aka "advertisers") pay not according to page impressions but a flat contract fee. In return, they get not only what looks like a tile ad on the site (what Tucker dubs the "shop window on the Digital Town Green"), but also space to salute customers and others with small head-shot displays called "Our Customer Comes First" and "Local Heroes."

They also get pictures of special events -- what jaded journalists call "grip and grin" shots -- on the site's Celebrate! page, and, according to Nieman, a guaranteed number of stories that run in the site's Features section -- what newspaper traditionalists would see as a breach of the advertising-editorial divide.

In an offering filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Main Street Connect said it raised nearly $4 million from 21 investors in May. (The filing put the minimum investment from any outside investor at $50,000 and the total offering amount at $10 million.) No broker fees or sales commissions were paid.

Here's a promotional video posted to Vimeo on Main Street Connect. Two of the featured speakers, Peter Georgescu and Stephen Sadove serve on the company's board. Georgescu is chairman emeritus of PR/advertising powerhouse Young & Rubicam Inc.; Sadove is CEO of high-end retailer Saks Inc., which advertises on the Fairfield County websites.

Note Sadove's comment that the sites provide the opportunity for a company like Saks to meet its goal of "shifting [ad] dollars from national to local."

Main Street Connect: Norwalk from Mark Joyella on Vimeo.