Should I leave my career and my passion for 10+ years—journalism—to work in web design and development?
November 19, 2006 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Should I leave my career and my passion for 10+ years—journalism? Since I was teen I’ve been passionate about journalism. I’ve studied and worked professionally in at it for more than 12 years, but I fear I’m burning out and lately have considered leaving for a career in design/creative services/Web design/multimedia/teaching/consulting.

My situation:
- mid-twenties
- no kids
- no wife (serious girlfriend though, we could be married within two years)
- Working at a mid-size metro paper (non-publicly traded, so we don’t have as much pressure to make 20 percent profits as papers owned by Gannett, Tribune, etc..) as a mid-level Editor/manager, focused in online development and multimedia design
- I’ve been at this paper for more than 2 years, in the ‘professional’ business for about 4 now)
- Work about 60 hours a week; get paid for 45-50 hours, sometimes.
- I have a masters degree in new media (journalism focus) from one of the top 4 j-schools

I’m doing really well compared to most of my classmates, friends and peers. I’m the youngest editor at our paper. I work hard and am crazy passionate about journalism and multimedia/Web development, but in the past year, my passion has weaned.

I’ve gotten burnt out from crusty coworkers, clueless leadership that refuses to adapt to a failing business model, and generally, an industry that is straight-up combusting. I’m not sure if this is just ‘growing up’ and accepting corporate life or what.

I used to freelance a lot back before and during grad school and have really been fantasizing about leaving journalism and starting out on my own as a ‘creative services’ firm doing design, multimedia and Web development. And possibly doing some consulting and teaching on the side.

Specifically, I’m interested in making this change because of:
- I’m not learning anything or being challenged in my job anymore. (Well, what I am learning is how to deal with corporate douche bags.) Most of the work we do is so much about turning for an overnight or one week deadline, that I don’t get nearly any opportunity to work on larger Flash or Web development/programming projects. All the learning and growth I’ve done this year has been from personal projects I’ve done at home on my own time.
- Finding something more stable or at least something that I somewhat control and not some ink-stained wretch clinging to a dead, deadwood product
- Making more money annually and more money per hour (to prepare a nest-egg for my future wife and family and to allow myself more time to enjoy my future wife, family, friends and life)
- Settling down in one of my favorite cities close to home/family/friends (no more climbing the corporate journalism ladder)

My questions/concerns:
- Does anyone have experiences they can share about with leaving corporate journalism for the ‘real world’?
- Or experiences/advice for changing careers to what I’m interested in being focused in?
- Is there an angle or something that I should focus on more? Web design? Multimedia? Creative services/Advertising? Consulting? Teaching? (Best ROI or return on time invested is what I’m specifically looking for)
- Leaving journalism, am I going to have the opportunities I’m looking for to go deeper and try new technologies in deeper forms than what I’m doing now? (Part of me realizes that the customer is going to dictate what I get to work on, but the other part says there’s a hell of a lot of awesome Flash and design work being done in the ‘commercial’ biz… much better stuff than what’s done at most newspapers so I’ll be challenged and able to learn doing that work.)
- Am I making a logical decision here? Will I regret leaving my passion for so long?
- Any other advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated. :)

Thanks for any help! (Sorry about the length)
posted by jkl345 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1. Maintain what you've got going, and explore from the sidelines without diving. Focus on accumulating savings in case something goes bust, so you'll have a hefty cushion to ride on the way down while looking for the next thing (which shouldn't be hard to find another journalism job since you're already editor). You need to cut the frivolous expenses that you may think you really need and go straight for the nest egg early. That cable TV or whatnot really isn't going to help you much down the line like saving that $50/mo will.

2. Explore what more specifically that is the cause of the loss of passion. Is it really the external circumstances that are causing the gloom, or is it your reaction to them? Can you not brighten up gloomy co-workers? Would taking a bit more of a deliberate hand (such as purchasing your own equipment or using your own money for employee bonuses or supplies) instead of waiting for corporate to get off their butts and sign off for it?
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:38 PM on November 19, 2006

I left corporate marketing for freelance writing/journalism and, eventually, marketing consulting. I've been at it for 10 years and I have put together a lot of tips for starting a consulting business -- link in profile and on Projects page. Some things you can start doing now:

1. Start saving. If you've got savings to cover six to nine months of living expenses, you are on the right track.
2. Cut back. If your income drops and you need to build your business, you may have a radical lifestyle change. (Wasn't so big for me, since I tended to live more modestly than others.)
3. Try to pick up some freelance work on the side. Learn a bit about setting fees, finding clients, negotiating contracts, chasing payments, managing clients, etc. And try to find some recurring work, so that you don't have to plunge into freelancing all at once.
4. Apply for a line of credit. Avoid ever using it. But do make sure you have credit available.
5. If you don't currently own a home and would like to do so in the next 5 years, consider buying before you quit your dayjob. Many banks are kind of sticky about freelance income, even when it's been stable for a few years.
6. If you do eventually quit, try to find a side job. This will keep you in contact with people, keep money rolling in, and give you a backup, in case someone forgets to pay you, your biggest client dies (literally happened to me), work dries up, etc.
7. Teaching can pay $40 to $75 an hour, sometimes more. But it gives you credibility, puts you in touch with people, and keeps money coming in. It's like a side job. Try to find a course with no marking.

Just a few thoughts.
posted by acoutu at 10:04 PM on November 19, 2006

a career in design/creative services/Web-design/multimedia/teaching/consulting.

That's at least six careers. How about throttling back the ambition to doing one thing you'd enjoy?

(PS: I think a journalist with web or design skills should self-publish something blog-style, and grow that into a book or speaking career... not consult.)
posted by rokusan at 2:56 AM on November 20, 2006

America is powered by "the man" and you will always be working for him in some capacity. The higher (more salary, more nest egg) you go, the closer you get. I will tell you first and foremost, you'll not be able to avoid that in the creative services industry. I have managed to easily spot him in corporate, non-profit and higher ed gigs.

My guess is that you need to find a job that allows you to be more creative (webbie, flashy, whathaveyou) while keeping your passion for journalism in sight. You have good experience. Why not try finding job at a news source that has some innovative web/creative/flash stuff going on? (Or leverage your position at your current paper and get something innovative started.)
posted by 10ch at 8:13 AM on November 20, 2006

Cor, you are me -- and a lot of my colleagues. There's a few things to consider: firstly, the market is in an incredible amount of flux right now, moreso than the existing media was when TV came along. The uncertainty is really disheartening, especially when you're working for people whose well-honed instincts of 30+ years are now next-to-useless.

However: journalism is still valuable. The print business model is stalling and failing, but the things it does can still make money, if papers properly adapt to the internet.

Serious investigative journalism makes no money, and hardly anyone buys papers for it, but it weilds a lot of power, and that bugs those who think they should have all that power. That's a good enough reason to try and ensure it continues. Imagine a totally unchecked Bush, for example.

There is going to be a period of bloodletting, very soon. It's happening right now in the UK -- we've lost about 75 staff in the past year -- and although the US press market is less intensely competitive, it's going to happen there too. My advice is to ride it out: we're going to come through the other side, and then suddenly people who've been banging their heads against the wall for years will find they're the centre of attention.

(Even if you do decide to leave, wait for the redundancy money! It's coming!)
posted by bonaldi at 9:36 AM on November 20, 2006

Would you consider moving? It sounds like your problem is that you work for a paper that treats you badly, not like you want to give up the field.

It look me some blood, sweat and tears, but I finally make enough money as a journalist that I'm able to save up for a home down payment. I'm not rich by any means, but I'm making $10 k more than I did before I found a paper that cared about treating people well.

After getting overworked at three other papers, I now work for a publication that has a 40-hours-per-week rule and enforces it. It's pretty awesome.

On the other hand, if you're not passionate about what you're doing, maybe you should get out of the way for the hordes out there who are clamoring for your job.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:11 PM on November 20, 2006

One more thought: Could you ask to go part time? If you could cut your work load in half, you'd have a little bit of a financial cushion while you develop your freelance chops.

That's my lmedium-term goal, if I don't get hired anywhere super-stellar in the next five years or so.

I've heard it takes a year or more to start getting real income as a freelancer.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:13 PM on November 20, 2006

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