EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - This week, I'm going to bring this blog back down to earth to meditate a little on my own current status within the increasingly troubled, insecure, blurry world of journalism---not to mention within the current job market in general.
As some of you may have heard: a few weeks ago, the higher-ups at The Wall Street Journal decided that it was finally time to consolidate all the news operations and locate them all in New York. Thus, all the bright and wonderful people that I know in my old stomping grounds at the South Brunswick office at the copy desk and pagination departments---among many others affected by this decision---were basically laid off in one fell swoop. Even worse: if some of these people want to stay within the company, they would have to apply for 24 newly created positions, all based in New York, and wait until mid-August to find out if they have gotten these positions.
Jeez, might as well turn this into a Survivor-style competition while they're at it.
In the midst of my recent traffic-ticket and health troubles (yeah, I've had a couple of minor health scares; I'll only reveal them if any of you readers are, er, dying to know), my mother has recently hit upon a new piece of motherly wisdom that she repeats to me over and over: "don't worry." Basically, she thinks I have a tendency to worry too much during times of trouble, and that I dwell too much on negative aspects of a situation. She probably has a point (most of the time, I hate to admit, she does have one when she offers her "advice" to me, especially because I have always considered myself a low-expectations kind of guy---expect the worst, sometimes hope for the best). Anyway, I've been thinking about hope and worry recently in light of what happened to the copy editors, some of whom have been working there for a long time, some of whom have families to take care of, others of whom have to deal with rent and all those other headaches that come with living on one's own. Now they're hit with this piece of anxiety-inducing news and are forced to be kept in dire suspense as to whether or not they will still have a job with Dow Jones come September. I can only imagine what must be going through their minds during such a time. How would I react? Fearful? Apprehensive? Or more numbed by indifference? I can't even bring myself to contemplate the prospect at this point. (I've chatted with a few people at the copy desk since the layoffs were announced, and while most of them try to put a positive spin on their situations---what else can one do at this point, really?---one of them did describe the atmosphere over in South Brunswick right now as something perilously close to a sense of devastation. "People are scared," she said.)
All of this can't help but make me reflect on just how lucky I have been so far in dipping my toes into The Wall Street Journal. Four months into my stay at the (late) monitor desk, I was already emailing the chief of the copy desk, asking him if I could come back to the desk---only to be told that there weren't any more spots for me, at least with the resume I had. (Not that he actually saw my resume, but let's put that aside for now...) At the time, I regretted not going for Rutgers journalism-school credit with my Dow Jones Newspaper Fund copy-desk internship last summer (I had thought I couldn't do if I was getting paid by the company, but the Rutgers journalism school's internship director later told me that, as far as he was concerned, I probably could have done so). I could still be copy editing right now---checking facts and grammar, struggling with headlines, etc.---and not still stuck looking for small production-level flaws and obvious grammar and spelling mistakes in my proofreading, I thought, with a wince, at the time. Now look at the bullet I just dodged!
Sure, there was a month-long stretch during which none of us who were left at the monitor desk had any idea what was in the future for us, or if there was even a future for us within the company. Of course, I did what anyone faced with job insecurity would do: look for other jobs inside or outside the company and apply for them, not pinning all my hopes onto one prestigious, good-looking candidate. And yet, somehow, I never got the sense that my job was on the verge of termination---I took the insecurity in stride and soldiered on, taking an attitude of eagerness to see what would be next for me. Now that I'm firmly ensconced (for now, anyway) at the Global News Desk and taking on new challenges---I'm now doing some photo-caption and refer-box writing, and I recently even decided to try a minor reporting assignment---I can only count my lucky stars and think: maybe there's something to the "things happen for a reason" or the "it'll all work out in the end" clichés after all.
And yet, the reality remains: in the American job market, genuine good news can seem dreadfully difficult to come by. Recently, my father was cut off from his partnership with Canon after serving them for years, and now my mother---who is a postal worker, with the USPS---is in the midst of scary layoff talks at her organization. Maybe it's just our collective bad luck to be working in fields that are arguably falling by the wayside: print journalism, non-digital camera repair, physical mail delivery. Are we just working in analog professions during a predominantly digital era? It's amazing how things just come into vogue and go out of fashion, and all the while time and history just keep progressing along, watching it all with seeming objectivity (no comment, so to speak). I guess all that's left is to make the best of the circumstances...even if it's as little as maintaining a measure of optimism in the face of shifting trends and all the aftershocks they may bring. Aftershocks indeed.