Last week, my declaration that this is the best moment to be working in journalism was met with some side-eye after outlets from the Daily News to, cough, the Columbia Journalism Review announced layoffs. “BREAKING: No it’s not,” tweeted Dallas Observer editor Joe Tone. “Not sure the folks getting pink slips today at the #DailyNews would agree,” said Jennifer Vogt.
Tweeted Charles Homans, “Contra both @annfriedman & journo-doomsayers, I don’t think journalism is monolithic enough to have a best/worst era.” And some other journalists told me they loved the column, forwarded it to their bosses at newspapers and other traditional outlets, and were told, “This is great… for her. We’re different.”
The implication is that optimism and creative risk-taking are luxuries afforded to only a few lucky journalists, not a point of view that we can all actively take. But the notion that I am excited about doing journalism right now because somehow I’ve been completely isolated from the industry’s financial woes and general upheaval is completely absurd. After all, I’ve been laid off, too. Almost exactly a year ago, GOOD magazine fired me and seven of my colleagues. I won’t lie to you: In many ways, it sucked. I questioned whether I’d been stupid to invest so many hours in what now appeared to be a dead-end job. I was scared I’d end up moving back into my parents’ basement. I smelled like fear and whiskey for a solid four weeks.
But now I can honestly say that being fired was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Here are some things I learned about how to stay excited about the future and get back on my feet.
- Lean on your network. Don’t be shy about emailing, tweeting at, or calling up your friends and colleagues to ask for their help. Be specific about what you want and need. Circulate a paragraph-long synopsis of who you are and what sort of work you’re hoping to land—a full-time editing job, some recurring freelance writing work, etc.—with all of your contact info at the bottom. Encourage people to circulate it. Also, ask each of your professional connections for one introduction to an editor who is (or may soon be) in the position to hire. Getting fired sucks, and the people who are invested in your career really do want to help you land on your feet. Trust me, they will make connections for you. And this network will be your salvation.
- Capitalize on the fact that people are talking about you. This can be tricky because you want to ensure that other journalists know that you’re on the market, but you don’t want to talk trash about your former employer. (Well, you may want to. But you shouldn’t.) If you can, you should agree to interviews about what happened, but instead of complaining about your unceremonious exit from the world of salaried journalism, talk about the experience you gained there, and where you hope to work next. This is free marketing. Take advantage of it. Ask everyone who interviews you to include a link to your personal site.
- Channel that attention toward a new project Maybe now’s the time to kickstart a single issue of a new publication? Shift directions and pursue a different area of journalism? Really commit yourself to that book idea? Getting fired is a reset button, and while you hustle to find the next full-time thing, self-started projects can be a great stopgap. Tomorrow magazine, which I created with my former colleagues in the wake of our firing, was nominated for an Utne Independent Media Award. The issue was basically a resume, a way of showcasing our collective and individual abilities. Was it hard to create a whole new magazine while we were all trying to find new full-time jobs? Yes, obviously. We worked really hard. Was it worth it? Completely.
These days my former colleagues and I are all making a living in journalism. We’re on staff at places like Gawker, Quartz, and ESPN: The Magazine. We’re writing regularly for Fast Company and New York magazine and Slate. We’re working on book projects and documentaries and zines. Unemployment is a distant memory.