How do I get off journalism's sinking ship?
May 6, 2010 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Get me out of journalism. Please.

It seems every year or so I end up posting an anonymous question here on this subject. But I guess that’s what a misguided foray into journalism will do to you.

Like many would-be writers, I thrilled at the idea of having an audience for my essays, and after college I parlayed a successful freelance run at an alt weekly into a staff writer position at another newspaper. I love working as journalist, at least in theory. And I realize how lucky I am to be writing for a living, even if it is a meager one.

But the reality, as has been pointed out so many times on this site, is that journalism is a miserable, demoralizing profession to be in right now. I’m sure you can guess my reasons for wanting a change.

But here’s the thing: every time I try to experiment with some other career, print journalism seems to suck me back in. During a recent layoff, I was volunteering at an elementary school, considering making the leap into a teacher certification program, when I was offered my current job. (Which was good, ‘cuz teaching turned out not to be my thing.)

I love writing. It’s one of the few things that has consistently earned me praise. But I no longer want to bang my head against the wall trying to make a living from it. A freelance article here or there would probably keep me content.

So what should I try?

PR/Communications would be the most obvious transition, but those jobs are super tough to get these days. And I don’t really have the talent/passion for all the new media platforms those professions want to explore. Similarly, other generic writing jobs that I’ve interviewed for always seemed banal, underpaid, and lacking room for advancement.

So I’m thinking of something totally different. Writing need not play a part in my search. My main criteria would be:

1. stability
2. a job that is in-demand enough that I could find a new position should I choose to relocate
3. something that allows me enough personal time to freelance on the side.
4. at least a bit of intellectual stimulation, probably the biggest thing I’ll miss from journalism
5. no computer science/coding stuff. Tech stuff makes my stomach turn.

Occupational therapy and speech therapy have been suggested to me. And judging from my volunteer experience, these did indeed seem like interesting, low-stress jobs. Plus, there was the added benefit of working with/helping kids without having to endure the difficult lifestyle of the teachers.

I’m okay with the idea of further schooling, provided a degree would funnel me easily into a new career. I am frightened by loans. But I’m still in my late 20s, with no debt aside from about 10k in undergrad loans. And I plan to work another 30 years, so hopefully I’d be able to recover and still retire.

So, specific questions: would it be a bad idea to embark upon a lengthy grad program in a field that I’m not honestly passionate about? What’s the best way to get a taste of some of these therapy fields while I’m still working at the newspaper? What other career paths am I not thinking of?

Perspectives from career changers would be extra appreciated. Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm always advocating for this - my recommendation is to consider a career in health care. Nursing pays relatively well with flexible hours and geographic mobility. An ICU job may be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:53 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Former editor here who went back to school at 40 to become a massage therapist. I would also suggest nursing, for the flexibility, mobility, and intellectual challenge. Also physical therapy. I work on the more clinical end of the massage therapy spectrum and oh if only if only I had the time/money to go into physical therapy, I love love love bodywork so much. (I wouldn't recommend massage therapy for the money, but PT for sure.)

Although on the surface the two career paths seem vastly different, their value to me has been the same: most of my editorial work was in the social sciences and felt meaningful to me, as though I was doing something that mattered/helped people, and I have the same feeling when doing bodywork, just on a one-on-one basis. Many people in my massage classes had been in nursing previously, and felt that the profession had moved away from patient care and toward documentation and insurance-wrangling, so there's that. PT is awesome though, you can be a PT assistant with a 2-year degree in most states, and go into PT with a 4-year degree. And you get to help people.
posted by headnsouth at 6:30 AM on May 6, 2010

I would second looking into physical therapy. A member of my family is a physical therapist and it is obvious that it's an in-demand profession (seems like serious relocation opportunities). She gets calls practically every single day with job offers.
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:43 AM on May 6, 2010

And I don’t really have the talent/passion for all the new media platforms those professions want to explore.

If you can post on metafilter, it's likely that you already know how to do this stuff. PR firms aren't made up of the sharpest knives in the kitchen, and I think generally they just mean Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and all that stuff. I don't think you need talent or passion for it, just some degree of enthusiasm (I recently learned that an old friend who meandered through a bunch of professions in her 20s obtained a job as a "social media strategist" at a supposedly well-known PR firm. She loves her job because it's fun and not hard and low stress compared to directly working with people who need help.)
posted by anniecat at 6:55 AM on May 6, 2010

Go study something ICT-related if you can. People "who know computers" will be in demand for at least the next decades.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:13 AM on May 6, 2010

You should check colleges and universities, including two-year schools, for communications jobs. Yes, still tough to get, but very rewarding. There are many needs within this type of setting that you might not have thought of, and especially at larger institutions the techy stuff will probably be taken care of by someone else.
posted by Madamina at 7:29 AM on May 6, 2010

I would add too, that whatever field you choose is very likely to have multiple trade mags and blogs and the like, to keep you writing. That goes double for health-care jobs, because there's media directed at patients, at continuing education, at researchers, and at the general public. Lots of opportunities there to keep writing on the side.
posted by headnsouth at 8:51 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's one of the oddities of life that I'm experiencing as a journalist. You simply can't live with it or without it. Writing is the only time in my life I'm vaguely happy. So having experimented in other careers, which just make me bored, angry and inwardly masochistic, I find myself drawn back into print media. Time, and time, and time, again.

posted by spaceandtime30 at 9:20 AM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Original poster here. YES, spaceandtime30, that is EXACTLY what I've been feeling. And that's precisely why I ended up back at a newspaper after getting laid off from my last gig. So I take it your still in the print game?
posted by sureshot at 3:17 PM on May 6, 2010

Take your journalism chops and start a project where you interview people in different jobs until you find the perfect job for you. This is much more likely to get you specific, grounded, and useful information (what are the hours like, is it a good job for people who are really bothered by XYZ) than asking a bunch of strangers on the internet.

If you don't find the perfect job along the way, you'll accidentally have written most of a book about employment and soul-searching. You can end the book with "...and it turns out I'm a writer after all..." which it sounds like you probably are, you poor sap. The good news about that ending is that people eat those kinds of narratives up like drunkards eat up cheap chow mein. (If you sell the book, I want "special thanks" and 2 percent of the gross.)

(I'm a playwright, so I feel your pain at being in a relentlessly fruitless industry, and also the pain of "just when you think you're out, they pull you back in....")
posted by neitheror at 10:37 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a school speech pathologist and it's a profession that I love. However, it is NOT low-stress. We don't have the same stresses as teachers, but our stresses are different and no less than those of teachers. I'm not discouraging you, but rather encouraging you to take a harder look at the profession.

You entered one profession that you'd theoretically love, but turned out to hate in practice. It seems like you might be doing the same thing by considering being a PT or SLP. I guess I'd recommend talking to some colleges and seeing if you can do some job shadowing first. Also, SLPs have to get a masters degree to practice...that might be a consideration as well.

Again...I LOVE my job. But it's not a cake walk by any means. Feel free to me-mail me if you want more information.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:27 PM on May 8, 2010

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