I’m not sure why I wasn’t more worried or frightened — beyond the intial sheer panic at the news I was being laid off — when I lost my job. That said, I’m a little surprised at the fatalistic pessimism of some of my former colleagues when faced with the same search — and many of the same worries re: lack of financial cushion + mortgage and need to eat; and slim pickings in the job market.
Because some of those people, who shall remain nameless but are quantifiably better journalists than I ever was, should see that finding a job is not unlike writing a decent piece of investigative journalism.
It all starts with an idea for a story — or in this case, the need for a job. What do you do when you get an idea? You check the obvious sources — classified ads, Jeff Gaulin, job websites. They’ll tell you the same thing they’re telling everyone else — that there’s no story here folks, move along.
But since you’re a red-hot, butt-kicking journalist, whose entire raison d’etre is to get to the bottom of things, you don’t stop looking just because the official spokespeople tell you there’s nothing. That’s when you go deep, focus on figuring out who the best sources would be — in this metaphor, talking to people you know who might know something, checking Twitter, LinkedIn, investigating the employer you’d most like to work for, or the employer most likely to be able to give you a job that you’d be happy with. And then when you have your homework done, figuring out ways to get to the prospective employer (networking, people, it’s all about networking!), and to get them interested in being part of the story. Or at least get them to give you a clue where to look next.
I did an honours thesis for my journalism degree on the differences in reporting in the Soviet Union before and after Glasnost. One guy said before Glasnost, reporting on the Soviet Union was a matter of following threads, investigating the holes where things should have been (I’m paraphrasing), finding the logical fallacies and following up on them (and some reporters were so good at this that the government frequently hauled them in and accused them of spying, demanding to know where they got their information). After Glasnost, he said, the government started releasing so much information it was almost impossible to see the story when it happened — they’d hide the story amongst the daily dross. It was hard to be a journalist in the USSR before Glasnost, but it was harder to be a GOOD journalist there after Gorbachev initiated his policy of openness.
So journalists on the job search — go be good journalists. Some days the press release will give you all the information you need — there will be an ad to which you can reply and you will get the job. But most days you’ll need to be out there reading the entrails, finding the threads and following them. It’s not pretty, and the payoff isn’t immediate (how long did Woodward and Bernstein work on Watergate? How many times did Woodward have to meet in the underground parking lot with Deep Throat before it paid off?) but the rewards are there for the journalists with the fortitude to look.