Today is the six month anniversary of the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News. Yesterday I sent out a short survey to everyone who was on the paper's editorial staff on that day, hoping to give an account of what had happened to them. Anybody who's lost his or her job will understand that the most common question you hear is, "So what are you going to doing now?" I'll try to answer that question for the staff in a quantitative way next week. But in the meantime, I think some of the comments I've already received are worth sharing.
Here's a sampling of responses to my final question to the staff: Do you have any comments you'd like to share about your experience post-Rocky Mountain News?
First, from Sports Columnist Sam Adams, this video:
From Features Editor Joe Rassenfoss:
No matter how many times you said to yourself "The closing of the paper is inevitable, I'll just move on when it happens," the closing and the loss of the job knocks you for a loop. Your daily pattern, shaped over decades of work, doesn't just wind down -- it snaps shut. You're done. You lose the day-to-day interaction with a lot of fun and talented people. You need to figure out a new pattern that allows you to start a job search while also making sure you enjoy some of the free time you suddenly have. For many of us, you have to explain the situation to your kids (good luck with that). I have certainly hit some dead ends trying to navigate a new course. Still am.
And let's face it: The fact that the paper closed just shy of its 150th birthday, in an economic environment in which things turned so bad so fast, shakes you up. Papers have been around for centuries, you think, and now everyone is saying in a matter of just a few years they may be extinct. What the heck is going on here? What's disappearing next?
All that being said, after more than 25 years in newspapering in a variety of positions, I was open to trying something different, and not because I was sick of journalism or because finding a news job would be difficult (although it certainly is more difficult). I wanted to see, first, if I could run my own business. And I wanted to find something interesting and forward looking that fit my skills. This became even more clear after spending months networking like crazy and applying for jobs (to no avail) via e-mail, the current bane of every job-seeker's existence. I am, however, saving all of the rejection form letters, because I'm sure they will form the basis of a book I can sell at supermarket check-out lines next to celebrity magazines and weight loss tomes.
So I have launched a social media consultancy where I help businesses figure out the best way to communicate with and engage their clients, customers, fans ... you name it. There's a lot (a LOT) of hype in the space. More persuasively, there are a lot of people in that space. Facebook has more than a quarter of a billion members, and there are plenty more on the likes of Digg, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and many others. (And yes, those names may change in the years ahead, but the people are going to stay in the space.) Newspapers, many of whom liked to mock social media over the past few years, are suddenly starting to realize what a powerful tool it can be for their breaking news. Hey, even the Iranian dictatorship (sorry, elected government) can attest to the power of social media.
So am I going to be a big winner? Have I picked the right thing to do? Will R&R Media (see, I even have an LLC) make a lot of money? I have no idea. But I am learning something new every day, I have two clients (bless 'em) and working on more. It's exhilarating. It's terrifying. It's difficult. Most every day I think about failing. In other words, just like working at a newspaper.
From copy editor Hereward Bradley:
It has been a more difficult adjustment than I would have believed at the start of the year. I am now 60, so unless I plan to move out of the city or the state for a newspaper job, I have pretty much concluded that my journalism career is over. I now find myself in this quasi-retirement state (I'm on my second part-time job) feeling as if I'm too young to call it quits in the workplace and not having the energy to continue the daily grind. I'm still sorting it out, but my feelings -- call it mental exhaustion -- might have something to do with the emotionally charged battle we all fought during the last months at the Rocky, and then the battles we continued fighting after the paper closed. Even during the best of times the job could be stressful, but the last three months at the paper took its toll. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife with a full-time job, so we're not facing eviction or the poorhouse. But for me, it's been a struggle to adjust to this life-changing event, and to accept the fact that a Denver institution that I worked at for so many years no longer exists. I eventually will get over it. I just have to stop looking back. - Hereward Bradley
From Presentation Director Kathy Bogan:
I miss the collective energy that comes with collaborating on stories that can make a difference in people's lives.
From city desk editorial assistant Karen Ziegler:
I loved being part of the of the newsroom. I don't think I could ever find another job that could ever match that of the Rocky. The rush of the city desk and the way everyone worked together was unbelievable. It truly was my home away from home and I miss my Rocky family.
From copy editor Alexandra Foster:
I'm glad that I'm still in "communications" and glad that my experience as a journalist helps me do my current job better, but knowing that I probably won't ever work in a newsroom again is tough.
From Finance Editor David Milstead:
I am disappointed that both Scripps and the guild seemed caught off guard by the change in Colorado law that made ex-RMN staffers ineligible to collect unemployment for the period their "separation" payments were deemed to be in lieu of wages. I can't argue that we are as deserving of unemployment as other workers who did not get separation/severance. It's just that had the process been completed just a couple weeks earlier, we would have received different treatment.
From general assignment reporter Tillie Fong:
I spent a couple of weeks in Japan, traveling with my mother. Also spent some time visiting my siblings in California, and attending workshops on job seeking in Denver. But mostly, I'm finding it difficult to stop being a journalist - hence my stint with In Denver Times and Rocky Mountain Independent, even though I'm not getting paid. I will have to find a paying job soon - just not sure if I can find something that will be as fulfilling as being a journalist. In many ways, much of my identity has been based on being a reporter, and now, I'm trying to figure out if there is something else that I would like to be. In the meantime, I've been following stories and blogs about the newspaper industry with great interest, and wondering if there is still a place for me in the media business.