But he also founded his own photography/videography business. After the buyout announcement, the couple also worked hard to make themselves more financially secure in case the situation at The Star-Ledger worsened—cutting expenses, paying off their car, and even putting their spacious suburban house on the market before they concluded they could still afford it. Matt also continued to teach photojournalism at Kean University. “We came to the conclusion that being diversified was the best thing to do,” he says.

Michelle, who is forty-seven, had always been interested in the law, and she knew that paralegals were in demand. She enrolled in the training program at a local community college, juggling school, a part-time job, and childcare (she and Matt, forty-three, have a young son together, and Matt has two children by a prior marriage). She graduated, winning an award for academic excellence along the way, and landed a job as a contract analyst with publisher Rodale Inc. in March 2010. “They’re another family-owned company,” she says, sitting at her dining-room table. “Rodale will be the happy ending to my one-and-a-half years of tumult.”

For Matt, who grew up delivering The Star-Ledger, leaving the paper is something he doesn’t even want to consider. “I’m Matt Rainey, staff photographer at The Star-Ledger,” he says, laughing. “It’s just that I’m also Matt Rainey, wedding photojournalist. Matt Rainey, corporate editorial photographer. Matt Rainey, freelance photographer. And Matt Rainey, juggler of chain saws.”

The freelance work and teaching are crucial, he says, to make up for the pay cuts both he and Michelle have taken in their jobs, as well as the ten-day annual furloughs imposed by the paper.

Still, The Star-Ledger and New Jersey continue to constitute his identity. “One of the things that I pride myself on, and certainly one of the things that I hold most dear about the Pulitzer, is that I did it in New Jersey. I didn’t travel to Africa or Iraq or some foreign country and shoot some extravagant foreign story. I’ve done a lot of that and it’s wonderful and incredibly exciting.

“But I’m a community journalist,” he says. “That’s how I grew up, that’s how I was trained. My first job was working for a small weekly newspaper. What I love the most about it is that I’m telling the stories of the people in my community and the stories that affect their lives.”

And is that possible in the future? “I’m in the I don’t-know-part,” he says. “I hope so.”

 

Lisa Anderson is a 2009-2010 Encore Fellow at CJR. She was the the New York bureau chief and a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune until December 2008.