How Do Laid-Off Journalists Reinvent Their Careers?

It's not exactly breaking news to report how the newspaper industry has suffered immeasurable damage during the rapid migration to the Internet, made all the worse by the Great Recession, with lost advertising revenue translating into the shedding of jobs at an alarming rate.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, newsrooms have lost 9,700 jobs from 2001 through 2009, representing a 17 percent decline from 56,400 to 46,700.

With stacks of newsroom employees having been laid-off or forced to accept buyouts from their companies; a large restless battalion of reporters, copy editors, layout editors, and news researchers find themselves out of work, looking for new careers or ways to reinvent themselves in a new competitive technology-based environment without knowing which way to turn.

It can be a frightening, to be sure, not knowing what the future holds in a labor market with unemployment stuck at a grim 9.7 percent, with limited jobs available, especially within the media industry.

Typically, the sage words given to newsroom employees on their way out the door is to find a way to reinvent yourself.

Splendid advice. But unless you're Houdini or David Copperfield, it can be quite the challenge for someone in their late 40's 50's, or even 60's for example, to find ways to reinvent themselves.

But before raising the white flag and crying uncle, there are plenty of resources available online, offering video tutorials, webinars, and career tips to those out of work newspaper employees' trying to acquire new skills and become more marketable.

The Poynter Institute, a school and resource depository for journalists, located in St. Petersburg Fla, offers a variety of journalism courses through their News University website from journalism basics to photo journalism, producing news with your mobile phone, and variety of other ways to develop new skill sets.

Many of these offerings, moreover, are free. And during the coming year, Poynter will begin offering entrepreneurial courses for journalists and citizens interested in creating their own start-ups.

An often overlooked organization that offers a treasure of training tools is the Special Libraries Association (SLA), a professional organization for librarian information specialists working in media, government, law and non-profit organizations.

Membership is $185 for those making between $34,000-75,000 a year. However, if you are unemployed or underemployed, and make less than $18,000, an SLA membership is only $40.000. Membership then gives you access to SLA's online programs, which offers a number of online tutorials, including social networking training, how to create podcasts, setting up your own Wikipedia, converting your articles and text into Adobe, and searching public records.

One major hurdle many former newspaper employees are finding by going it alone on their own websites and personal blogs is they are without many of the handy tools they had in the newsroom, such as Nexis and Factiva. Searching through Google News and the New York Times historical archives, can only carry you so far.

If you are under a tight budget, buying a subscription to Nexis is practically out of the question.

Thankfully, however, there are some options worth pursuing.

LexisNexis and MediaBistro have partnered to offer access to Nexis' archives, a perfect tool for independent journalists. Once establishing a membership with AvantGuild, Nexis archives, which includes thousands of national and international sources, are available to members for $59.00 a month.

Even if this package is still too rich for your blood, a spokesperson from Nexis said the company "will work with independent journalists directly to try and put together a package that makes sense for their unique needs.''

Aside from offering Nexis archives, MediaBistro also features a variety of online courses taught through their ``On Demand Video'' which offers hundreds of tutorials on using social media platforms or building a media business through user content and engagement.

Yet another alternative available to independent journalists and news researchers looking for news articles is through NewsLibrary, where millions of full-text articles nationwide are available for $19.95 a month or $2.95 per article.

And for those hard to find news articles, Newsbank Inc. additionally offers News in History, featuring news articles from all 50 U.S. states published from 1800 through 2000 and searchable through a single database. The subscription is $9.95 a month or $69.95 for an annual membership.

But even with all these new online searching tools, photo gadgets, and social media platforms saturating journalism, and being embraced by newspapers, seasoned professionals caution that news professionals shouldn't neglect the basics of being a good reporter or a sound news researcher.

Contacted on her cell phone, Dana Canedy, a senior editor at The New York Times, whose job responsibilities also include recruiting, tells me "despite the painful time the industry is going through, we shouldn't forget that whatever the medium and whatever kind of delivery system, whether it be through the Internet or print publications, the same principles apply, the same skills sets still apply.''

While all the bells and whistles of the new journalism (twittering, social networking, capturing images with your cell phone are certainly an added bonus to any newsroom); Canedy thinks they are only part of the package of what most newspapers are looking for from their newsroom staff.

It was reporters fluent in French, Canedy points out, that became indispensable to editors with the Haiti earthquake; and strong vivid concise reporting skills that led to staffers being dispatched to Iran that became important, more important than podcasts and social networking.

Colleen Eddy, Director of the Career Center at Poynter, tells me the most common attributes editors' tell her they are looking for are those individuals who are "adaptable to change, able to learn on the fly, have technical savvy, and know the value of teamwork and collaboration.''

And for those out of work journalists who think they are being pushed aside by a younger breed of tech journalists, Eddy says, forget about age. Instead, focus on your value by getting a career coach who will help you list your most transferable skills and market yourself. "Network, network, network! and stay young at heart'' Eddy stresses.

Who can argue with staying young at heart?

-Bill Lucey