Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Two years of job searching, unfulfilled

Today marked two years since I officially left the employ of CTVNews.ca, part of Bell Media.

Since then, I’ve been persona non grata in the Canadian journalistic workforce, in terms of being offered a staff gig.

This extended bout of job-seeking and unemployment comes after about 27 years as a journalist, a time interrupted by two serious medical problems and three downsizings plus the coup de grace of the Bell Media layoff.

I refer to it as the coup de grace because a Globe and Mail colleague warned me when I was jettisoned from Bell Globemedia Interactive in an early 2003 mass downsizing to pick my next job carefully, because it would be my last one. I was a stripling youth of 43 at that time (I’m 56 now). His prediction did not shock me. So far, it’s turning out to be remarkably prescient.

I had brushes with ageism before. Back in the 1990s, I’d attend Canadian Association of Journalist conventions where senior editors would go on about why the j-biz loved younger reporters — and where they would respond with a very uncomfortable “sure” when a man appearing to be in his 60s had the temerity to publicly ask if they would hire a guy like him.

Everyone in the room knew that “sure” was bullshit.

Did everyone in the room know the clock was ticking on them too? Hard to say. If they were in a unionized gig with a seniority-based contract, it ticked a little quieter. Chances are they’d make it to the finish line of 65 years of age. In a non-unionized gig? Things get riskier.

In 1997, at the age of 38, I was fishing around for a job after a mass downsizing and had an informational interview with the managing editor of a major western newspaper. He told me I was “getting old to be a reporter” and suggested copy editing (ultimately, I wasn’t hired there*). But in my news jobs subsequent to that, I won some national awards (prior, I was a finalist for a Southam fellowship). It’s insane that hiring editors see only age and not achievement.

* Afterthought: I never did get another reporting job with a daily newspaper.

Flash ahead to 2004. By now, I had a staff job with CTVNews.ca (took eight months to land the gig after leaving BGMI; in the interim, I’d worked as a casual at CBCNews.ca and at CTVNews.ca. I should note that earlier in my career, a three-month gap between staff jobs was a long time).

To get to work, this meant taking the subway to Kennedy station, the eastern terminus of Toronto’s subways, then the Scarborough Rapid Transit Line north to the Scarborough Town Centre, then a bus to CTV’s Agincourt offices.

The relevance of this was every working day had me passing a poster in Kennedy station with the stark headline: Over 45? Out of Work? By this time, I had turned 45. It was a grind looking at that poster, knowing I was now in the danger zone.

The years at CTVNews.ca rolled by. A crisis erupted in early 2011 when I developed clinical depression. This kept me out of work for more than four months before I returned on a graduated basis. However, I never fully recovered and by Feb. 10, 2012, was on long-term disability.

On June 1, 2013, I was off the CTVNews.ca payroll.

I applied for every journalism gig that I considered myself qualified for, feeling the clock ticking the whole time (one news article suggested that if you weren’t rehired within six months of a downsizing, you might never be rehired. I personally thought it would take up to a year to land a new gig). It took until early 2014 to get even a screening interview — and what an interview it was!

During my elevator summary of experience, I started out by saying, “And in the 1990s, I worked as a …” which caused the interviewer to interrupt and say, “You worked in the 1990s?!?!” Later, when I told him what my final salary was at CTVNews.ca, he responded with a disdainful “Pffttttt.” I dare say that was unprofessional.

Needless to say, I got an email two days later saying I was no longer a candidate for that position. Who likely got it? I don’t know, but the interviewer told me that virtually the entire staff was in their first or second job. I’m guessing they wanted yet another kid.

Another telephone interview wouldn’t come until the fall of 2014. That ultimately led nowhere, as did a real interview in early 2015 for a gig that was ultimately filled by an inside candidate. Them’s the breaks.

But in two years, that’s been it for interviews — a whopping three.

A local newspaper was looking for a breaking news writer. I’d been writing breaking news for CTVNews.ca for about a decade. How did I not qualify for even an interview? Why, when I heard of who did get certain gigs, did the successful candidate turn out to be someone in their 20s or early 30s?

Listen to the words of Gerry Nott, a senior executive with Postmedia, when asked at a Canadian Journalism Foundation event in late January 2014 if there was a future in this business. There was if you were 22 years old, he said.

So what to do if you’re 52? Should one take inspiration from a TV ad I saw? “I used to be a journalist in Iran. But now I drive a school bus!” exclaimed the perky, young, hijab-clad woman in the ad.

That’s a bit of a downer, thinking that the only thing you’re considered useful for are low-paying, menial jobs* when you’ve hit your 50s. But it seems to be the case. I can think of one unemployed person over 50 I know who got a professional-level gig. Everyone else is struggling. The relatively happiest people seem to be those who buckled down and managed to retire early.

* Remember the Target department store closures in Canada? One person I saw interviewed about losing one of those $11 per hour gigs was an ex-Ottawa Citizen copy editor.

If I could do it over again, I would have been laser-focused on trying to meet the “Freedom 55” target and not assuming I’d be working until 65.

Because if you lose your gig in your 50s, you are in a jam, my friends. And if you can be downsized at that age, there’s a good chance you will be.

Mon, June 1 2015 » Main Page, Media