How do I jump ship?
March 25, 2014 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I’m a failed journalist working for a dying European newspaper. I’m female, 39, with two small children and currently on maternity leave. Help me find something else.

Why I am a bad journalist:
I can string sentences together to an entertaining story, and I enjoy learning new things about interesting people. I'm told I can be charming and can build up a good rapport with people. But I lack the curiosity to find out „more“. In fact, I often don’t want to know the dirty secret behind something. I also hate keeping up with the news. And I’m conflict averse.

I make an effort to do all these things, naturally, but I’ll never be the killer journalist that readers actually deserve.

Nevertheless, I’ve managed to work at the same newspaper for 15 years, during which the paper has slowly been dying. It’s basically being merged with another newspaper and people are being fired left and right. It’s a zombie. People are being treated as badly as you can imagine and morale is what you might expect. I’ve been saying for years that I don’t know how long it’s going to make it, but I think this time it’s the real deal.

I am on maternity leave until October. After that I plan on doing privileged part time (they can’t fire me) for another year.

That means that I have until October next year to plan my next move. (Then, it’s anybody’s bet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I am let go.) But I have no idea what to do next.

My self esteem is killing me. It’s like I never learnt to do anything except write. I haven’t networked. I don’t have connections. (I know a couple of other journalists and plenty of interviewees in the topics of real estate, HR and Marketing, but I suspect most don’t think I’m a star journalist, either. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I don’t have a blog or twitter presence: I started one but without a definite goal in mind it kind of petered out. I think if I knew what I was working towards I could tailor my online presence towards it.

There’s one thing I know I would hate and that’s PR. As for journalism, I think most newspapers and traditional media outlets in my country are in a dire state with overworked employees, shrinking coverage and flailing management. Most other things seem unattainable to me. I don’t have the money for going back to university or something. I’ve been playing with the idea of hiring out to an employment agency, but with my age and history what can I expect there?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Come over to the U.S. and blog away.
You'll be motivated by a much more business vibrant and entrepreneur digital news culture that is harder and harder to find in Europe. You have to change your conditions to improve morale.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:27 AM on March 25, 2014

The first job that sprang to mind when reading your question was in the communications department of a university. My former school publishes a magazine for alumni full of articles, in addition to web content.

Surviving 15 years in journalism sounds pretty impressive to me. You sound very down on yourself at the moment, but maintaining that career for 15 years is an accomplishment to be proud of. Remember that those exceptional journalists you are comparing yourself to are just that: the exception, not the rule.

Start polishing your CV and earmark some of the best articles you've written for future job applications.

Perhaps you could restart a blog and write brief posts about daily life with your children-- think of it as a writing exercise.

Best of luck.
posted by stompadour at 7:40 AM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you thought of starting your own business? Maybe helping businesses run their social media? A friend of mine left her English teacher job a year or so ago, and is loving it. Basically, her job involves setting up the blogs/twitters/facebooks/pinterests etc, and then depending on how much they pay per month, she updates it accordingly.

She goes to see her customers like, once a month, asks them what they'd like to talk about, news or announcements, that sort of thing, and then she goes away and does the hard work, writing and handling the interactions.

There's no shortage of clients out there, either, as it is quite time consuming, so unless it's a giant company with a team of people, a lot of businesses neglect it.
posted by derbs at 7:55 AM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd say move out of writing per se all together. What other work do you think you would enjoy?

I'm a happy, happy, happy data analyst. I work in an office, so I have comeraderie with my co-workers, but I have my own projects and I can be at my desk working on my stuff.

I LOVE it!

I was in Sales and I was a Data Engineer before this. I took a job learning a new system, then I parlayed it into this job and I'm pretty proud of myself. FWIW, I'm 51.

You can always blog in your spare time, or find other outlets for the writing bug. (For instance, you can haunt AskMeFi and answer nearly every question.)

Just because you studied writing, because you've written in the past, doesn't mean that you have to keep on that path.

So what kinds of things do you enjoy about working? Write them down and then think about jobs that fulfill those needs.

Another job you may be perfect for is an Executive Assistant. Not just an Administrative Assistant, but someone who is entrusted with the highest level information in a company. I have a cousin who is a lawyer who works as an EA, great pay, interesting work and he is part of an elite team.

Start looking at job postings in your area, make a list of your skills and talents. Understand what's being asked for out there, and shore up those skills. Understand Excel, PowerPoint and Word, do tutorials on-line, watch You Tube tutorials. I PROMISE those skills are always in high demand!

Learn Oracle, SAP, or any of the other large systems. Again, You Tube can be a gateway.

You can do this, you just need to start fishing in a different stream.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:50 AM on March 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

I loved your intro ("I’m a failed journalist working for a dying European newspaper") because of your humor - NOT because of the grotty facts!!

Is there a reason you didn't drift into subbing at some point during the last 15 years? Since crossing the aisle from news/features to sub editing is a common enough move on newspapers - especially for journalists who have grown tired of interviewing and composing stories.

I ask because editing IS such an obvious second act career for jaded hacks (especially for those who shudder at PR!). There are drawbacks, sure: it's -trivially - lower glam status than newspaper journalism, the pay is - a non trivial consideration - inevitably far, far worse (although the freelance flexibility can be brilliant) and it may not appear to be sufficiently creatively satisfying…however there are enormous benefits too.

One other thing - beware of judging yourself too harshly while you are on maternity leave with small children!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Internal communications/internal information management struck me as two things you might be interested in, or at least things which are good fits with a writing background.

My dream dream used to be being a proper real grownup writer, until I realised that I actually hated the majority of things about the industry & profession. But I've managed to put the skillset to use in an internal comms job which I really love.

I like communicating clearly with people, giving them comprehensive and accessible information on topics they want or need to know about, building rapport across the company, fixing reactive problems as they arise, editing copy that software engineers have written and turning it from something incomprehensible to something clear and useful, understanding & curating the company culture and values, and generally knowing where the bodies are buried (as well as knowing who to share those details with and when). That's the heart of my job, and if those things sound like things that would interest you then maybe check out this space?

Downside is that these jobs are sometimes packaged as "internal comms plus PR/marketing/external comms", which to me is a dud as they're different skillsets and it sounds like the employer doesn't want to pay two salaries and doesn't really understand the purpose of either role. Avoid these unless they jump out at you as being a really good fit.

And, as always, ymmv.
posted by terretu at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2014

What do you love? Do you still love writing? You say "I enjoy learning new things about interesting people". Are there any subject areas that interest you? With your writing skills, you could definitely write a great blog about a topic you are enthusiastic about. I love using twitter for the crossover of interest areas it allows. I am enthusiastic about videogames, parenting, education, and educational software. So I tweet about those things, and have had conversations with a really diverse set of people from all those areas. If I was in your position I would probably be making more use of those "contacts" to try and write more, attend conferences, learn about them, and see what opportunities arise.
posted by Joh at 9:32 AM on March 25, 2014

All of the journalists at my current job were let go and quite a few of them found new (more lucrative) jobs working in Media Relations/Public Relations.

Seems like it's a pretty easy transition since you already know how to write well on deadline, and you have a lot of expertise already on working with journalists.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2014

I think before people pile on the answers of varying degrees of usefulness, it's crucial to know how much you need to earn and if you have an undergraduate degree.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2014

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