Unemployment Nine: Print is DEAD (at least to me, I hope)

The conventional wisdom for quite a few years, since the Internet really began to flourish, has been that when it comes to news and media, print is dead. After about one month of full-time freelance work for a print publication, I hope the conventional wisdom is correct, at least when it comes to my job search.

AMEN

Disclaimer: I have a great deal of respect for both the publication I’ve been working with, and all of the individual editors I’ve worked with, and what I’m about to write is not meant to reflect poorly on the specific magazine or any of the people I’ve encountered.

Disclaimer No. 2: I have not had a full-time, permanent job since October 2008, and acquiring one has been my goal from the second I left the building that housed my old company, so I am not going to do anything stupid. I am certainly not eliminating print positions from my search for employment, nor would I do something foolhardy such as turn down a potential gig because it was in the print sector.

Now that I’m done with my disclaimers: For the love of God, don’t make me go back to print media on a full-time basis.

I have been spoiled by working on the Internet side of things since 2000, and I have become fully accustomed to a culture of getting things done, and not stressing over every single phrase, every single link break, or whether text is a tiny bit tighter or looser than other text. My work on the Internet always involved posting stories onto the site on a timely basis, and not agonizing over minute details.

To be fair, layout is an issue in print, where it has no impact on the Internet in most cases. Print stories have to fit in their allotted spaces, whereas on the Web, items can pretty much run as long as necessary, unless they’re slated for slots on the home page.

One of the other things I miss about working on the Web is the simplified process. For the most part, barring exceptional issues, editors filed stories to me, I copy edited them and read them for context, I asked any questions I might have had (usually none), and I posted the items. If anything needed to be changed somewhere down the line, I took care of it, but that was rarely the case.

I understand that once a print story is final, it’s really final, and the only remedy for correcting errors is running a correction in the following issue, which is far from desirable. But when you allow every single person who’s ever been involved with a story to read it and offer their input several times during the process, you’re just trying to ensure that nothing ever gets done. Is it really necessary for several people to read the exact same story over and over and over?

Another thing that drives me insane is that by a certain point, when a story has been read time and time over, it’s time to pull the plug and get things done. If I sound like a slacker, I’m quite the opposite. I was one of the few journalism majors at NYU who absolutely loved the mandatory copy-editing class and didn’t regard it as a necessary evil. I started out as a copy editor, and at one point in my tenure at my old company, I was the copy chief for a weekly newsmagazine, meaning that at some point in the process, I saw every syllable that made it into the magazine. To be a good copy editor, you have to be somewhat anal-retentive — especially when it comes to consistency — and I consider myself to be a good copy editor.

However, in my opinion, where you are in the process should dictate how anal-retentive you choose to be. Something that might be an issue worth pursuing at 2:30 in the afternoon is not necessarily worth pursuing at 8:30 at night. When things reach a certain point, it’s time to let things go and move on. After staring at text on the monitor and on page proofs for 10 hours, there is not enough caffeine on God’s earth to make me care about some of the issues that turn into long debates.

Think of it this way: I think it’s a fairly safe estimate that 99.9% of the people who read an article in a print publication will read it once and once only, and they will never notice things like bad line breaks, tight text, loose text, or whether a certain clause would work better. The only people who are going to read something more than once are people who are quoted or discussed in the piece, and they don’t give a crap about the minutia, either: All they care about are the parts of the story where they’re featured. So is all of this pain-staking effort really, truly necessary?

I’m not saying every effort shouldn’t be made to put out the perfect issue. I’m just saying that at a certain point, people really need to take a step back and decide if going further is really worth it. And I’ve obviously made my decision. When someone cancels their subscription because the text in one paragraph is ragged right instead of justified, that person is clearly a disgruntled copy editor, because no one else on the planet would give half a shit.

Again, as I said, I am in no position to eliminate print jobs from my search, nor would I turn one down at this point, since July 2 will mark the 21-month anniversary of my layoff. But to say that I would prefer an online position to a print one would be the understatement of the year. To me, print is most definitely dead.

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Unemployment Nine: A little clarity in an otherwise-confusing situation

My confusing work situation is a little less confusing, but I’m still very confused. Confused? Good, join the club.

confusion

It appears that I will spend two more full weeks at the freelance copy-editing job I started practically seconds after my return flight from Hawaii landed. After that, I will come in for the publication’s two busiest days, Thursday and Friday.

The good news: I will regain some of the flexibility and free time I’ve gotten all-too-accustomed to in the past 20 months, allowing me to resharpen my focus on my blogging gig and giving me the time to interview for the elusive full-time job I’ve been chasing since October 2008, as well as to get things done around the house and run errands. And, most important, the hours I put in on Thursdays and Fridays at the copy-editing job bring in more money than an entire week of blogging, so I’d be a fool to turn down the opportunity.

The bad news: For as long as I have this Thursday/Friday gig, I basically have no life on Thursday or Friday nights, which happen to be two of the most popular nights for things like games, cocktails, dinners out and the like. I’ve been here for three weeks, and my departure times have ranged from 9 p.m.-9:15 p.m. on Thursdays and 7:30 p.m.-8:15 p.m. on Fridays. Even though Fridays don’t end that late in comparison, by that time of the week, my brain is completely fried and my body is totally exhausted, and I’m not great company (Note: To anyone who was about to comment, “When are you EVER great company?” go get bent.) Only coming in two days per week will definitely help the energy level, but it’s still pretty draining work.

Plus, I still can’t get used to one aspect of working on a freelance basis, although it’s perfectly logical. I hate the fact that taking time off, or even a holiday, means forfeiting potential earnings, unlike working on a permanent basis, on salary, when holidays and vacation time are built into the compensation structure and don’t eat away at my bank account.

One might say, “You’ve been out of work for 20 months. Why do you need time off?” And I might tell one to go fuck one’s self. While I may not have a “full-time,” permanent job right now, I’ve been working pretty damn hard, especially recently, while trying to juggle two jobs.

And summer happens to be my favorite time of the year. I love going to Yankees weekday-afternoon games, or even the occasional 11 a.m. Newark Bears game. I love the idea of a long weekend at the beach, especially since I’m no longer part of a beach house. I believe it’s healthy, for both the body and the mind, to recharge and spend some time outdoors while the weather permits it.

I never liked the feeling that I was wasting a vacation day when I was working full-time. But it makes the decision even tougher when I have to factor in not only the money I’ll spend during the day, but the money I won’t be making. There’s a huge difference between spending about $100 for a Yankees ticket and beer, and quadrupling that amount when subtracting my pay for the day. It’s really not worth $400, give or take a few posts or copy-edited stories, to see a ballgame, as much as I enjoy baseball. But I seriously need the break here and there.

So, we’ll see where the next step takes me. As I said earlier, it will be good to have some of my free time back, and to have a much-less-hectic schedule. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the life of a freelancer, but after 20 months and counting, it’s hard to remain optimistic about finding a full-time gig, and it gets harder and harder as the weeks go by.

Unemployment Nine: Kiss free time good-bye, but for how long?

I apologize for only posting once since returning from our honeymoon, but my work situation took a sudden turn, leaving me minimal free time.

Before leaving for Hawaii, I was down to one part-time blogging job, which was, for all intents and purposes, basically covering my share of the rent and not much more. This was not due to lack of productivity on my part, but rather, to constantly being asked by the powers that be to limit my number of posts. Since the job pays by the post, fewer posts mean less money.

more confused than ever

Just before our wedding, I spoke with a former boss of mine from the days of way-back, whom I hadn’t seen in more than 15 years. She mentioned that she might have some free-lance copy-editing work for me, as the publication she works for was running behind on a large anniversary issue. I was pretty happy about this, as I figured the combination of income from this job and the blogging job would at least allow me to contribute SOME money into our household besides my share of the rent.

Things took an interesting turn while I was in Hawaii, however. As anyone who has ever worked on a weekly publication knows, Thursdays and Fridays are the nastiest days, and usually involve long, late hours. My old boss had a person who copy-edited every Thursday and Friday, but that person was lucky enough to land a full-time job (probably one I applied for, with the way my luck has been going), so I inherited more hours — many more hours.

The good news is, obviously, more hours mean more money. The bad news is that I’m having trouble adjusting to a complete 180 in my schedule. I went from a very flexible, relaxed pace directly into pure chaos, basically forfeiting any ability to make plans for Thursdays and Fridays, since I’ve been at work until 9:00 and 7:30-7:45, respectively, on those days.

The other piece of bad news is that the new job is still a free-lance gig. I’d always had full-time jobs until my October 2008 layoff, and I have a very difficult time dealing with the uncertainly of part-time and free-lance work. A full-time job can obviously come to a sudden end, as I found out all too quickly 20-plus months ago. But at least companies have to put some thought into laying off full-time employees, as they are faced with issues such as severance pay, COBRA and unemployment benefits. All it takes to sever a part-time or free-lance relationship is a phone call, as I found out when my first part-time job ended in that fashion on the last day of November.

The other worrisome thing about this new job is that it’s a vivid reminder of all of the things I hated about working on the print side of things before I permanently joined the Internet unit of my old job in 2000.

I’ve gotten used to the immediacy and speed of the Internet, as opposed to having the same story read multiple times over by multiple people.

I also loved the flexibility that working on the Web provided. Most of my tasks could be completed from any destination with an Internet connection, which was bad because it meant that you were perpetually available, but it was good in that I didn’t feel like I was tethered to the chair in my cubicle. However, as seems to be the case with most print jobs, it would be impossible to work outside of the office, due to reliance on various software elements of the publishing system. Working from my balcony — where I’m typing this in a T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and a backwards hat, while enjoying a cold Miller Lite — is not an option.

Another thing I always hated about working on a print publication is the fact that you’re the only people in the office late on Thursdays and Fridays. It always burned me up knowing people who made several times my salary were out the door at 5:01 p.m. on the dot nearly every single day, while I was stuck there for a few more hours, looking at the same stories over and over. My old company made it even worse with an annual e-mail memo that triggered multiple rounds of profanity: The company was happy to announce that summer Fridays were in effect for all employees, in 36-point type, with an asterisk. The asterisk referred to a line in eight-point type that read, “Note: Summer hours do not apply to employees with weekly deadline responsibilities.” Well, fuck you very much, too.

This is a great publication with a fantastic staff. I’m not trying to paint a picture of incompetence, here — actually, quite the opposite. This is just the way things work in the print world and, after 10 years of working on the Internet and reaching a certain level of independence and self-reliance, it’s a shock to the system to find myself sitting around and waiting, dependent on other people.

My other, even bigger issue is that I don’t know how long I can keep up this pace. I’m working a lot more hours at the newer job than I had ever anticipated, but I have no clue how long this gig will last, and I didn’t want to give up my blogging post, partly because I didn’t want to find myself left with zero income, and partly because I honestly enjoy it. So I’ve been online at 7 a.m. every day, trying to do two or three hours’ worth of work on the blog before trekking into the city, and then, after full days there (the earliest I’ve left that office thus far has been 6 p.m.), I’ve been coming home and doing more work on the blog. I’ve only been doing both jobs for a week-and-a-half, and I’m already extremely concerned about burnout.

I’m obviously not a money-hungry individual, or I’d have gone to law school or taken up drug-dealing instead of majoring in journalism. When you go into my field, you know mansions and yachts are not part of your future, but you make the sacrifice in the name of doing something you love. However, the only thing keeping me going right now is the fact that this new job is paying a hell of a lot more than the blogging gig. I easily make more money for two days of copy editing than an entire week of blogging, although even the combination of both jobs won’t exactly result in a trip to the Acura dealer to upgrade my 1997 Honda Accord. I just honestly don’t know how long I can continue at this pace.

On the other hand, since either job can disappear from my to-do list with one phone call, I don’t know how long I’ll have the opportunity to continue at this pace.

All I want is a full-time job and some sense of stability. Is that really too much to ask? Apparently, in today’s economy, the answer is yes. FML.

Unemployment Nine: The state of my state

I actually had a real-live job interview last week, for the first time since the Nixon administration. OK, maybe it hasn’t been that long, but it sure feels like it.

Layoffs ... sigh

I think it went very well. In fact, I have the same good feelings about the possibility of landing this job as I did way back in October 2008, when the wounds from my layoff were still fresh. I’m not sure this is a good thing, since I obviously didn’t get that job (I didn’t even get called back for a second interview, and I’d have bet a hefty sum that a second interview was a layup). But I guess it’s a good thing that this is only the second time in 16 months that I’ve really felt strongly about my candidacy for a position.

A former boss works at the company, although not for the same publication, and we got along great and worked very well together, so I hope that helps. The job focuses on my strong point (copy editing), and I just took a copy editing test for them and really feel like I nailed it.

I’ve learned from past experiences to not let my hopes rise, but we shall see. I know I deserve this job. Will I get it? Who knows?

Another good sign is that a lot of people I know who have been out of work, in a lot of different industries, seem to be landing jobs. This is good and, although I’d love to join them, I’m not bitter about it. OK, I’m a little jealous, but not in a malicious way. I would just like my turn to come. I think 16 months is a long enough wait.

However, I also know of a couple of people who were able to switch jobs and, while I obviously bear no ill will toward either of them, that’s a trend I don’t like hearing about. It didn’t affect me personally in either case, because I wouldn’t have been a candidate for either position. But with the country facing a 10% unemployment rate, was it really necessary to poach someone who was already gainfully employed with another company? Again, I have no hard feelings toward the people involved, but it still strikes me as blatantly unfair. And you’d think someone who has been out of work for a significant period of time would come hungrier and cheaper, but why start making sense now?

Wow, it’s really been 16 months, hasn’t it? Money flies when you’re having none.

Unemployment Nine: An eventful couple of days

The emotional roller-coaster of being unemployed moved up a level in class over the past couple of days, transforming from the typical, run-of-the-mill ride at an average amusement park like Rye Playland to Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure.

First, I received a Facebook message from a former co-worker, who asked if I’d be interested in a free-lance copy-editing job. Since my two part-time gigs have only been bringing in about one-half of what I was making before my layoff, turning down an opportunity to do something I excel at would be foolhardy.

CONFUSED

After an extended bout of phone tag during the holiday weekend, my former co-worker’s boss and I were finally able to speak late Sunday, and I took the job. It required copy-editing what I thought was a 130-page project. However, I forgot how long it takes Microsoft Word to paginate long documents. The project was actually 240 pages, and it took me far longer than I ever anticipated, but I think I did a solid job cleaning it up and I hope it leads to more work.

I saved the bulk of the free-lance job for Monday evening so I could attend to my two steady part-time jobs during the day. I was just getting into my morning groove when the phone rang and it was my boss from the second of my two part-time jobs, calling to deliver some curious news. After I started my part-time gig with that company, another person was brought on to work full-time at the same site. He had been working for another site the company owned, but that site was sold. The deal officially went through yesterday, and this person was let go, which I didn’t expect.

Part-time blogging has been a strange transition. I worked with this person for a few months, yet met him only once and really didn’t even communicate too much with him via e-mail, except to make sure we weren’t working on the same stories and crossing our wires. We co-existed well and his work was pretty damn good. I certainly don’t have a bad thing to say about him.

I didn’t know what to think. Was this good for me, because with me being the only person working on the site, the company would have to keep me on board? Or was this bad because the cost-cutting ax is being swung again? This is all so confusing, and it’s even harder to decipher while working in isolation at home and not being able to read the vibe of the office.

While trying to digest the news, I still had two Web sites to work on, so I put it into the back of my mind and attacked my usual daily work. I found it somewhat curious that I didn’t receive a single e-mail from the first part-time gig all day, but I assumed my co-workers were out of the office and covering an event.

Suddenly, the phone rang just before 5 p.m. and, since the folks from my first part-time gig rarely call, if ever, when I saw the company’s name on my caller ID, I got that intuitive feeling that no good could possibly come from this phone call. Unfortunately, I was right. Someone much younger, at a much lower price, replaced me on a full-time basis. I can’t say I blame them. It was a smart move on their part. But it still sucks on a number of levels. Obviously, losing that steady stream of income will hurt. And I legitimately enjoyed the work I was doing. But it’s simple logic: When you can have a full-time employee for only a trifle more than you were paying a part-time employee, you make the move.

With the free-lance job I had just accepted looming, I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself. Partially thanks to my miscalculation on the number of pages (thanks, Bill Gates) and partly because of the time it took to get used to the style of writing I was dealing with, I worked until 2:30 a.m., then set my alarm for 6:45 a.m. to give the project one last spell-check and quick glance before sending it back. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I hope they were satisfied, because I’d be more than happy to tackle a few more of these projects. And now that I have a feel for how to attack the work load, I won’t need to pull any more college-style all-nighters.

After a shower and a Dunkin Donuts run (damn them for not carrying my pumpkin iced coffee after Thanksgiving), I settled in at my PC this morning to attend to my one remaining job. While hunting for stories, I discovered that my old company sold three publications, including the two I worked for, to another publishing company that I had never heard of (although I am familiar with one of its magazines). I don’t know what to think about this move, either. Escaping the inept management at my old company has to be seen as a plus. But I know nothing about the new company, so for all I know, they could be going out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I’m very concerned that more of my former co-workers will face layoffs, although I honestly don’t know how many more people they can cut and still hope to produce anything resembling a magazine and Web site. On the other hand, the people I clashed with near the end of my tenure at my old company occupy the type of senior-level posts that tend to be eliminated when a publication or group of publications is acquired. I’m not cruel enough to wish unemployment on anyone, but if it happens to one or both of the two people who I feel were directly or indirectly responsible for my current situation, I wouldn’t exactly shed a tear.

Later Tuesday afternoon, while juggling the tasks of doing my work and deciphering all of the news of the past couple of days, I received an e-mail from yet another former co-worker, who mentioned that a former co-worker of hers might have a job opening doing exactly what I did at my previous full-time job. Before I could even take a break from work to prepare a quick introductory e-mail, the former co-worker’s former co-worker’s boss (yes, I’m confused, too!) e-mailed me, asking if he could “pick my brain” for suitable candidates.

I thought to myself, “Suitable candidates? The most suitable candidate is yours truly,” and I responded with an e-mail to that effect, stating why I thought I’d be perfect for the job and attaching my résumé. Since tomorrow is the 14-month anniversary of my layoff, I’m not exactly doing cartwheels around the house, and I know better than to get too excited about anything, but I’m hopeful.

Things are picking up. I don’t know whether the end result of the past few days will be good or bad, but it certainly hasn’t been boring. For the love of God, someone please hire me and pull me out of this misery!