It was an exciting time to be there, too. Under editor Jim Willse, “All of a sudden the paper was lively and aggressive. It was fun to read and they were clearly, clearly just trying to hire good people,” said Woolley. The paper encouraged him to treat the military affairs story as a national beat, traveling around the country and overseas to cover soldiers, sailors, and airmen, whose stories he “loved telling.”
Now what? Woolley and his wife, parents of two small children, looked beyond journalism. DeHaven, a former business writer, eventually landed a job as a financial writer at an investment service. Woolley thought public affairs might be fulfilling, but only if it was for something he could believe in. An obvious answer was the military.
By the end of November 2008 he landed a temporary job in the public affairs office of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which was swamped with work following the deployment of nearly 3,000 Army National Guard soldiers to Iraq. Woolley said the tasks there came naturally to him after covering the military for six years, and after spending eight years before that in the Army Reserve after going through Penn State on an ROTC scholarship.
But to have a shot at keeping the job permanently, he would have to be a person in uniform. Due to his prior service, the National Guard would take him—but only if the forty-two-year-old could pass the physical. To do that, he had to lose fifty pounds and get in shape. Through the power of vegetables and exercise, he did it. These days he sports a military haircut along with the fatigues he wears to his office in Lawrenceville.
He uses a lot of his old expertise writing for the department’s external and internal publications as well as press releases and occasional op-ed pieces. But Woolley says he’s also learning about desktop publishing, photography, newsletter and video production, and about how to make a budget. “A lot of new skills,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”
When Experience Hurts
Over three decades as a writer and journalist, Susan Alai welcomed the challenges that came along. She covered politics as a cub reporter at the Daily Advance in Dover, New Jersey; interviewed Yves Saint Laurent in Paris for Women’s Wear Daily; profiled Prince Albert in Monaco for W magazine; and supervised multiple sections as lifestyle editor at The Star-Ledger.
But nothing prepared her for the discouraging realities of job loss in an exceedingly bad economy at the age of fifty-six. For the first time in her adult life, Alai, who took the 2008 buyout after eleven years at the Ledger, is out of work. Worse, like many among the thousands of unemployed journalists, she is confronting the problems that age can pose in the job marketplace. “I don’t think the experience, which goes along with age, is valued anymore,” she says, sitting in her suburban Morristown living room.
The decision to take the buyout was painful, she says, and the pressure to leave was formidable. “We knew nothing good was going to come of it, but you had to get out. They were firing bullets at you.” But the problems facing older journalists, she says, are uniquely frustrating in a contracting industry that appears to want younger workers for lower pay. “There are so many Baby Boomers who need to be reinvented, and it’s not just journalists. Where are you going to find something else to do?”
Alai, youthful and energetic, is married to an attorney and is the mother of an adult daughter. She has looked steadily for full-time work since leaving the Ledger, to no avail. She has also freelanced—for The New York Times, the MorristownGreen.com local news site, and Inside Jersey magazine, a monthly owned by Advance Publications, as well as New Jersey Life and NewJerseyNewsroom.com. But she notes that the freelance market is shrinking along with its compensation.