To say nothing of the crisis happening at regional and local newspapers throughout the country, last week was a terrible bloodbath for digital journalism: Vice/Refinery29 laid off 155 employees, Conde Nast laid off 100 staffers and furloughed another hundred or so, BuzzFeed is furloughing 68 people and implementing salary cuts, 9 percent of Vox Media’s staff is furloughed for three months, Quartz laid off 80 people, and the Economist laid off 90 people. I thought it was bad when 3,000-some people got laid off last year in media, but since the pandemic began, nearly 36,000 reporters have been laid off, according to the Times. It’s been no secret to those of us who have been watching this slow-motion car wreck for most of our journalism careers that the ad-supported business model barely propping up these companies is broken, but since March, the whole thing has been totally demolished, like a sandcastle in a tsunami.
Every time this happens it, for lack of a nicer term, fucking sucks. It’s so helpless to feel like the best you can do is futilely tweet “hire this person!” while quote tweeting a young reporter who got laid off, or Venmo them $20 for beer, in lieu of buying them some drinks in person. With all of this in mind, last Friday I tweeted:
if you were just laid off and have suddenly found yourself freelancing for the first time, hmu, i'm happy to help with advice or contacts or side-hustle ideas or anything else i've got
I then tweeted this:
if you want to talk about making the transition out of doing full-time journalism...well, i'm happy to talk to you about that, too!
I very much like my new job, and I also resent that journalism has pushed out so many people because there aren’t enough jobs for all of us. But that’s a systemic problem, and I am but one person, and if I can do anything to help other people who find themselves in similar positions, I’m more than happy to do so. What can I say? I simply want my friends to be able to pay their rent during an interminable global public health crisis.
A man with a rose emoji in his Twitter display name, who I have met many times before and was not recently laid off, took it upon himself upon seeing these tweets to DM me to ask some questions about my new job. Here is roughly how our conversation went.
He: Are you doing marketing now?
Me: I work for an agency that does comms and marketing for tech companies.
He: So you’re pitching journalists about tech startups?
Me [being purposely short because I want this conversation to end]: No, much of my work is internal
He: Oh that’s good. Do you have any ethical concerns about clients you might have to represent?
Me: I wouldn’t write anything for a news outlet as a freelancer about a client or a competitor. I left journalism at a time when the pandemic started looking like a big factor in the future of media companies.
He: Yeah I didn’t mean ethical concerns about writing about your clients. Just representing people who might be doing bad shit. Is it possible to go into marketing and comms for tech startups without becoming the sort of mercenary that makes life harder for tech journalists?
Me [completely at a loss because I dug this hole for myself by even responding to him initially because I wanted to be nice but now I realize boy, have I really stepped in it]: I would hope I wouldn’t be put in a position where I have to leave my job because I feel ethically compromised but I think I’ve already done that, I don’t know the answers to your questions, I was tired of hunting for a job and I have a lot of debt
He: Cool. I’m pretty much done with journalism now, looking at opportunities in the [redacted] sector
To be clear I am happy to talk to people about trying out new jobs! I just don’t appreciate being accused of being a mercenary (?) and making dubious ethical choices by working in...marketing. Here’s the tl;dr story of how I left journalism: First, I quit a job very publicly last January over ethical concerns. Since last fall, I applied for something like 130 jobs, in and out of journalism. Almost every promising lead ended up falling through: companies didn’t have the funding to hire after all, or I got ghosted after doing a several-hour-long edit test, or in the case of one trillion-dollar tech company, I got told no after seven rounds of interviews for a contract job. I’ve had a pretty decent five-year career in journalism and I feel like I’ve grown my network and know a lot of editors; if I couldn’t land a full-time journalism job, what was wrong with me? I can see now that it was never about me at all—the industry is shit, and it can be so hard to find your footing when everything is crumbling. I failed, surely, but also, the industry failed me.
Eventually I started thinking more pragmatically and applying for jobs that weren’t journalism (I’m still a bit sad that I never got called back for the job doing social media for the NYC Ferry, but given the lack of mass transit use in the city this summer, maybe that’s ok after all). A very helpful former-journalist-turned-PR-guy reached out and helped me navigate the world of interviewing for jobs at tech companies with my journalism skillset. I cold-applied for a job at my current agency on LinkedIn in March, and one thing led to another, and against all odds I got hired in April. And I’m very happy there! It’s hard to start a job remotely, especially when company culture is so clearly important to the people who you work with and they’re all used to socializing IRL, and it’s hard to adjust to a different kind of writing and work, but I like being busy, and I love working with my manager, and I like the work I do, and it’s frankly nice to not worry about layoffs or outlets not paying you on time for your work or all the other externalities that come with working in journalism.
Do I wish that more people weren’t made to choose to leave journalism because of a lack of available jobs? Sure, and I wish media companies had figured out business models that were sustainable long before this. I’m furious at millionaire media executives who refuse to consider taking a pay cut, or refuse to listen to their unionized employees begging to take a pay cut themselves to keep their colleagues on the payroll and avoid layoffs. I’m furious at a system that has made friends of mine live through four rounds of layoffs in three years, that lays people off in the worst, most mismanaged ways, often with very little severance, that makes those who try to stick it out in journalism fight among themselves for scraps and turn against each other cruelly. If this is actually what you’re mad at too, perhaps try not to direct your disdain toward individuals who make the best possible choices they can in unnavigable circumstances.