Every couple of months, I get a call from an old friend or former colleague facing a newsroom buyout—or concerned that one is in the offing. Their request is always the same: "Tell me there's life after [insert newspaper name]."
My answer is always an emphatic "YES!"
Leaving the cozy confines of a newsroom and journalism career is traumatic. But change can be highly beneficial and even lucrative. Sure, you can look for another journalism job. But odds are that you won't find one that matches what you gave up. Instead, look at the talents you brought to journalism and think about how they can be used in other endeavors. You'll find a much broader array of options.
It turns out that a lot of the skills that make you a good journalist are highly valued in other fields. Indeed, they may be even more highly valued. Newsrooms tend to take good writers, reporters and editors for granted—they've got an excess of supply, in fact. But other businesses are crying for those same talents, and appreciative when they can find them. For instance:
* Writing, editing and storytelling: A dozen years ago, after I'd left journalism for a Silicon Valley company, a consultant came up to me and said, "I've been reading your memos. They're very well written. You've got a hidden talent there." I thanked her and pointed out that I'd spent nearly 20 years writing for The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and others. "Ohhh," she said. That's how rare and valuable writing talent can be in the business world. The ability to quickly write clear copy has applications in everything from writing business plans to creating PowerPoint presentations (nothing more than a good story outline) to even coming up with the architecure of Web sites (a form of visual storytelling). A friend who recently left newspapers for a (more lucrative) thinktank job says her new colleagues are amazed at how quickly and well she can write—much to her amazement.
* Reporting: When you do a story, you apply prodigious research and analysis skills that have great value in the non-journalism world. Your ability to dive deep for information and ask tough questions is a real asset. When I spent time on the corporate side of The Washington Post, the bosses liked to send ex-journalists in to do due diligence on possible corporate acquisitions. Turned out we were far more fearless about asking hard questions than any MBA. Or you can follow the changed career path of a friend of mine who became a high-end private investigator. Your curiosity, resourcefullness and analytical abilities can have many interesting uses outside journalism.
* Management and organization: If you've successfully run a copy desk or a daily or weekly section, you've probably got organizational skills you don't fully appreciate. Complicated businesses appreciate those skills, however. The same talents that make you a precise and exacting editor and manager probably will hold you in good stead as a corporate product or project manager, pulling together diverse tasks and people to bring a complicated project in on deadline. Oh yeah, deadlines: journalists live by them. That's often a novelty in the business world.
You get the idea. The skills that you use every day to commit journalism have uses you can barely imagine. If you're looking to leave a newsroom and start a new career, you don't have to worry about massive retraining. Just examine what you already know how to do and think about how you can apply it elsewhere.
Alternatively, you don't have to stray too far from journalism; just try a new, modern form. Writing, reporting and editing skills are very valuable in the world of the Web; it's no secret that newspaper Web sites are hiring even as their print counterparts are cutting back. Non-journalism Web sites also need these talents—which is obvious if you merely read some of them. You'd think copy editors would be able to write their own ticket on many sites!
Or you can try to go it alone: Start a blog. Pick a specific topic about which you have a great deal of knowledge and passion, and start blogging about it. Over time, you may be able to create a following that can lead to consulting or job offers. There are successful examples of it all over the blogosphere.
It used to be that if you left journalism, public relations or freelancing were pretty much your only options. But today there are many more possibilities, if you approach a career change with an open mind and confidence in your existing skills and abilities.
These are scary times in the newspaper business. But there is, indeed, life after journalism.