Hayslett joined the Ledger in September 2003, covering twenty-four school districts from the Middlesex County bureau. She loved the job. By the beginning of 2008, however, staff cuts made a dedicated education reporter an unaffordable luxury in the bureau and Hayslett was reassigned to a municipal beat, which she didn’t enjoy as much. And after three years without raises it was clear to her that the industry was in trouble. When the buyout was offered, she took it. Her husband is an engineer and they have no children; she decided she could afford to go, and did so on December 10, 2008.
“I thought I was marketable,” she says, “but I probably applied for 300 jobs and went on three interviews in 2009.” She notes that her eleven years of experience exceeded the requirement for many of the jobs she sought.
So she considered public relations. She started Hayslett Media Consulting from her home in February 2009 and picked up some clients, though not enough to live on. In March, while still looking for full-time work, she decided to volunteer a couple of days a week—press releases and clerical work—at her church, the 6,000-member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset. It was partly just to get out of the house. She also thought her politically connected pastor, a former New Jersey secretary of state named DeForest B. Soaries Jr., might be able to help in her job hunt. But he was so busy that for eight months Hayslett never even saw him in the office.
When she finally did, she gave him her résumé. “He called me that afternoon and said I need you on my team,” Hayslett said, still excited at the memory. “I started January 4th.”
Hayslett is director of communications and marketing for First Baptist and its affiliated Central Jersey Community Development Corp., which runs five nonprofits that deal with such issues as housing assistance and foster care. “This is a gift from heaven, this job. I mean literally—it’s the church,” she said. “I loved journalism. I had a great run in journalism. I never thought I would be this happy after journalism. But I’m happier.”
‘A Pretty Wonderful Floor’
Brad Parks got his first byline on November 5, 1988, covering a high school hockey game for The Ridgefield Press in Connecticut. He was fourteen.
“I fell in love. I fell hard and absolutely. Journalism was what I was going to do with my life. What always amazed me was the number of people in the newsroom who had the exact same story,” says Parks. A former sportswriter and investigative reporter at The Star-Ledger, he took the buyout in 2008.
After college and a stint at The Washington Post, Parks followed his future wife to New Jersey and found a “dream job” in 1998 at the Ledger, where he joined the sports enterprise desk. But after his marriage in 2004, he realized that spending 100 nights a year in a hotel room probably wasn’t compatible with having a family.
In November 2004, he switched to investigative news, a move that eventually would change his life. His first story involved a Thanksgiving weekend quadruple homicide in Newark. In a bloodstained vacant lot was a scene that would stay with him. While his wife labored at her graduate work, Parks started work on a novel that began with a quadruple homicide investigated by Carter Ross, an intrepid young reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, a paper that bears a strong resemblance to The Star-Ledger. The WASP-y Ross also bears a resemblance to the thirty-five-year-old Parks. “He’s some idealized version of me. In essence, he has become the vessel for my unrequited journalistic desires,” Parks says. “I don’t get to do the stuff Carter does anymore and, frankly, I miss it.”
Even before the buyout, Parks says, he had realized he would have to leave the Ledger. The epiphany came in late 2007, after he had turned in an award-winning series on the fortieth anniversary of the Newark race riots, an event that vastly altered the city. Parks asked for a raise, though there had been a pay freeze on for two years. When he was denied, he says, “that was the beginning of the end.”
Slowly, he realized that “the things I loved about my job weren’t going to be possible anymore.” Parks and his wife Melissa decided to go for what they had always considered “the nuclear option” if things got really bad. A guidance counselor, Melissa began looking for a position at a boarding school, with the idea that they could live rent-free and Parks could write.