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.
So far, numerous applications for magazine and public relations jobs have produced nothing—often not even an acknowledgment, she says. Alai considered becoming a teacher, but the prospect of investing time and money in education courses and state certification seemed questionable at a time when many school districts are shedding experienced teachers.
She has found ways to use her skills in community service. Alai is on the Community Health Advisory Board for Morristown Memorial Hospital and works on the publicity committee for hospital fundraisers. She has become involved with the Rotary Club of Morristown, where she writes for the newsletter, and she recently helped raise money for Haiti earthquake relief. “It gets you away from thinking about yourself—‘Poor me, I have no career because my industry collapsed,’ ” she said. “For these people in Haiti, their world literally did collapse.”
An Unexpected Gift
For Memphis-born Chandra Hayslett, journalism was a calling, education reporting a passion, and New Jersey the place she wanted to make her career. So in January 2003, when Dick Hughes, her former editor at Gannett’s Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, New Jersey, asked her if there was anyone, anywhere he could call for her before he retired, Hayslett knew the answer.
“I said, ‘You know what? I really love New Jersey. I want to stay in New Jersey. Can you call The Star-Ledger?’” At the time Hayslett, thirty-five and full of can-do spirit, was a municipal reporter at Gannett’s Asbury Park Press. As a young reporter at The Home News (the paper merged with The News Tribune in 1996), she had competed against more seasoned Ledger reporters, admired the quality of their writing, and envied the resources the paper offered. The Ledger “was the destination paper.”