Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

After 30 years, it’s now -30- for this ex-journalist

Thirty years ago today, I started my first paying job as a journalist with the The Record, a weekly newspaper in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. I was 26 years old.

That nostalgic fact leads to today’s announcement — I am now going to describe myself as an ex-journalist.

To a certain extent, that’s moot — I likely became an ex-journalist when I left the employ of Bell Media, where I was a digital journalist for the CTV Toronto website — on June 1, 2013. I was downsized while still on long-term disability for severe depression. I was 54 years old when that happened.

Since then, I’ve been unable to find a staff gig in journalism, resulting in the longest stretch of unemployment in my life. At this point, it seems clear I never will get hired for a staff job again. Too old, out of the game too long. The common wisdom is that being out of work six months might doom you when it comes to getting another job, regardless of the field. That seems to be true.

Last year, I wrote about my job-hunting difficulties in a post called Two years of job searching, unfulfilled.

By then, I’d had one real interview and two informational ones. After that, I had two more real interviews in the summer of 2015. I’ve had no others since. Three real interviews in three years.

The last two were instructive. One was for an online copy editing position, the other for an online writing job. The copy editing job went to someone who had more previous experience with the organization than I did (“It was very close,” the managing editor said).

In the writing interview, I started developing a feeling of doom shortly after it started and never really recovered. At one point in the telephone interview, one of the three people conducting it had obviously been reading my resume. She blurted out, “He’s been out of work two years.” Her colleague echoed, “Two years …” And in my head, I sighed and told myself, “‘You’re screwed.'”

The jobs eventually went to the two casuals doing the work. The HR person who telephoned me with the news said I had interviewed strongly — something I thought strange, because I considered it a fairly flat interview performance on my part.

Those interviews were with CBC. What I found interesting was that in the aftermath, this taxpayer-subsidized operation started calling for “recent experience” in job ads, without defining exactly what that meant. I just know I never got another CBC interview.

In any event, two of the three jobs at which I seemed to have a legitimate shot went to inside candidates who were already employed. In the third case, I don’t know whether the successful copy editing candidate was currently employed at the time he interviewed or not.

Employment is for the young

Certainly, if you want a job, it pays to be employed when you’re looking (the last time I was offered a job was in September 2011, when I was still employed and a youth of 52) — or young. Or both.

When I went to Online News Association mixers at various Toronto bars (hello, Handlebar!), one thing that stood out for me was my age. I was easily the oldest person in the room, time after time. The only ones close to me in age were in management gigs (a lack of management background hurt me on a couple of job leads).

I wasn’t management, but I perked up the CTV Toronto site when I started working on it in September 2008 (the site, staffed then by two 20-somethings, was “languishing,” according to my bosses). After two years, its audience size had grown by just over 200,000 uniques per month. It became the most-trafficked site in CTVNews.ca’s stable of affiliates. Pardon me for kidding myself into thinking I had some skill at making news websites grow,  especially given a competitive marketplace like the GTA.

If it was an accomplishment, it was a pretty empty one from an employability perspective. The job offer I mentioned earlier was for a 12-month contract position. The staff job went to a 20-something.

One thing I told my younger colleagues at CTVNews.ca was that basically, employers want the best 15 or so years of your life, say from the time you’re 25 until you’re 40. After 40, they don’t much care about you unless you’re a brand-name star or are on a management track. I’ve been described as an “accomplished journalist” by a CTVNews.ca boss and an “excellent journalist” by a one-time Globe and Mail editor-in-chief. Big deal. I’ve won some awards! Repeat: Big deal.

In this discussion, however, we must remember that the traditional news business has been shrinking as audiences and advertisers move to digital and mobile platforms (I’ve worked in the digital medium since 1997). This disruption has lead to job losses in the thousands since 2008, the year of the Great Recession. It has affected stars as well as worker bees like myself, some of us trying to clamber back on the sinking ship.

There’s still some hiring going on, but it’s primarily the young being picked up. I can think of a few examples that differ from that trend. My old employer, CTV News, hired senior journalists Joyce Napier and Glen McGregor to fill spots opened in its Ottawa bureau by the departure of Robert Fife and Laurie Graham.

However, generally speaking, the economics of hiring people at entry-level wages in a time of tight budgets is pretty enticing for stretched managers. And it’s not necessarily a picnic for those being hired (see this 2013 Jan Wong column).

I told one fellow about to graduate in 2014, and uncertain about his prospects, that the top 10 per cent or so of students should do okay (he was in that ranking). But I feared the less-gifted ones would struggle to get a foothold in the business.

I just wish I could work until I’m 65. That’s not going to happen in journalism.

What about non-j-jobs?

It might not happen outside of journalism either. I’ve applied for non-journalist gigs, and have yet to land an interview, let alone a gig.

Part of the issue is that for communications jobs with the city of Edmonton, for example, you need a journalism or communications degree just to apply. Even the job of web content writer requires paper credentials, although it’s something I’ve done for more than a decade.

For those who would argue that a journalism degree isn’t needed to get into journalism, be warned that it might be essential to getting a job outside of journalism when the craft is done with you.

I have a B.Sc. in Forestry from the University of Alberta (1982). That, plus my journalism experience, will likely qualify me for a fast-food or other menial, low-paying job. And in the Alberta of spring 2016, out-of-work economists consider themselves lucky if they get a menial gig in this economy.

Oh well. As social critic Barbara Ehrenreich told a 2009 graduating journalism class of the University of California at Berkeley, “Welcome to the … working class.”

Additional reading

April 17 – Forget Millennials—Why You Should Hire Someone Over 55

April 13 – Paper cuts: Is working in journalism still worth it?

April 12 – When it comes to age bias, tech companies don’t even bother to lie

March 16 – The Willy Lomanization of middle-aged U.S. journalists

Feb. 21 – More pointers on recovering from journalism job loss

Feb. 5 – Some useful advice for the recently laid-off journo

Nov. 16 – What does a veteran sportswriter do after he’s laid off?

Fri, April 15 2016 » Main Page, Media

4 Responses

  1. Mark Levin April 17 2016 @ 12:27 pm

    Hi Bill: Sorry to read this. I left journalism in 2002, not entirely by choice, and now deliver mail. Not what I had in mind, but it works for me and is good exercise. Good luck to you!

  2. Anne Murphy April 18 2016 @ 6:55 pm

    Say it ain’t so, Bill. I’m no longer in journalism, but I’ve used those skills in my career as a librarian. There’s a job out there with your name on it.

  3. Bill D April 18 2016 @ 9:11 pm

    Hi Mark: I’d take a letter carrier’s job right now. :) Sorry you had to leave the craft back in 2002, which I remember as a volatile time. All the best to you. Bill D.

  4. Bill D April 18 2016 @ 9:16 pm

    Hi Anne: Hopefully there’s a job available, but it won’t be in journalism. That ship has sailed. Bill D.