Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why did I choose this path?

Questions inevitably follow a layoff. Could I have done more to secure my job and why did management choose me? But the main question I keep asking myself is what pushed me to become a journalist in the first place? It's a question I'm having trouble answering, considering the obvious problems in the newspaper industry even eight years ago when I enrolled at West Virginia University. The easy answer is that I should have known better and studied chemical engineering.

But any serious reporter will tell you they love their job because of the important purpose it serves the community. Ever since the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail hired me for my first professional job in August 2005, I have worked to reveal ugly and dark secrets that would have gone unnoticed without newspapers. You don't make very many friends as a reporter, and a quick flip through my telephone voicemail is proof of that. It's important for reporters to remain neutral and not become overly friendly with sources, even the ones you respect and like. That can make reporting a lonely profession. You are nobody's friend and, at times, everyone's enemy.

What else troubles me is that a reporter is a "jack of all trades, master of none." Sure, we can write and interview, but what's the point of that if no one wants to read anymore? It was a challenge to learn new issues (municipal government, natural gas drilling, high-voltage power lines, etc.) and a task I took seriously. So although I studied many issues to better serve our readers, I'm no more qualified to work for a drilling company than flip burgers.

It saddens me to see the diminishing role newspapers are serving in the community. Without journalists, people who do wrong have no fear of public shame. It was, after all, a local newspaper reporter who found South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford walking off a plane arriving from Argentina. Newspapers shed light on dirty secrets, and all for the cost of just 50 cents a day. So despite losing my job, I would not change my career choice, because I feel confident that I somehow made a positive contribution to the community.

But without newspapers - without reporters - what will our society become? That scares me more than unemployment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A walk in the park

Rarely do I go exploring new places on foot. But I found one of the best kept secrets in Allegheny County, and it's just a couple miles away from my home in South Fayette, Pa. The dog walk zone at Fairview Park is a place where canines can run free without leashes while their owners keep a close eye on their pets. No one was around when I went up there this morning, but it turned into a relaxing stroll.

Tractors cut wide paths into the high grass, leading to a spectacular view of nearby Bridgeville, Pa., and the tops of the USX and BNY-Mellon buildings in Pittsburgh. I kicked off my shoes and walked around the paths, stopping for a few minutes to enjoy the scenic skyline and wheatfields. I snapped a couple photos with my cell phone, but can't connect them to my computer. But you can bet I'll be returning to this park in the near future and will take more pictures with a digital camera. I would highly recommend any walkers out there to check out this unique place.

Cleveland: We're Not Detroit

Back by popular demand, here's the second Cleveland tourism video. In fact, it's so effective, I might just take a drive up the Turnpike to check out the ole mistake by the lake. Just don't slow down in East Cleveland, or you'll apparently die.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tour Cleveland

Found this hilarious faux tourism video on the YouTube about Cleveland. Every person from Western Pennsylvania will appreciate this cinematic masterpiece. The sequel will be posted Monday. Enjoy...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weddings, family and Daytona

Maybe the silver lining to this stuff is that it probably couldn't have happened at a better time. I'm going to a wedding today in Wexford, Pa., with some old buddies from the WVU Drumline. Nothing beats getting drunk, hitting the dance floor and blasting "Living on a (bleeping) prayer" by Bon Jovi. That'll get the spirits up.

Plus, a bunch of my relatives are coming in town this week for my birthday on Monday. I planned on hanging out with them after getting home from work, but I don't have to worry about that anymore, now do I? It'll be nice spending a few relaxing days and bouncing a few job ideas off them.

Finally, it's race weekend in Daytona Beach, Fla. Nothing beats the Firecracker 400, and I've carved a sweet handlebar mustache into my face so I can fit in with my redneck kin at the beach. So this is turning into a nice vacation. But the real fun will begin July 6 when I return to Pittsburgh and start looking for a new gig. Unfortunately, the mustache will have to go for job interviews, or will it?

(Photo by Greggers Tarr)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 1

Hangovers aren't fun, but two bowls of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios cleared that up really quickly... kinda. It turned out to be a gorgeous day in Pittsburgh (who says the sun never shines here) and I made a couple phone calls to test the waters. There are a couple promising job prospects, including a local newspaper. But I'm not sure if I'm ready to go that route again. Thursday was a new day, and it's time to quit the whining and moaning, and move on.

My roommate returned from his job at around 5 p.m. and we discussed the unemployment life. His former company, a mortgage agency, laid him off in September, but it might have been the best thing for him. He wallowed a few weeks, but found an even better job in downtown Pittsburgh. The most interesting tidbit he offered is that the days start to blend together. Is it Friday or Saturday? Well, everyday feels like Saturday, now. Regardless, I looking forward to starting my summer vacation.

Unemployment: The Aftermath

No one thinks they're going to get laid off. I certainly didn't when I walked into the O-R newsroom Wednesday morning. But the financial struggles of newspapers across the country hinted problems were ahead. The employees at the newspaper have been through a lot the past six months, with buyouts, layoffs and furloughs. But we trudged on despite the whispers about problems, although I can't deny it affected my work.

I was stunned when my supervisor asked to see me for a minute in the back office. Having seen others get axed, I knew this was my turn. Trying to add some levity to the situation with my supervisor and company owner, I quipped that "I guess I'm not getting a promotion." As they explained the situation, I stared out the window, thinking about where and when I would work next. After signing the severance, I went to my desk and stuffed all my belongings into a cardboard box. That box still sits in the corner of my house, Pirates bobblehead and all. We'll see when I unpack my belongings, but it probably won't be until I'm settling into my new desk at my new job.

Walking papers

My name is Mike Jones and I worked at the Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter for nearly three years. There, I reported on municipal government, state issues and crime. Due to the cascading financial problems with the newspaper industry, I lost my job Wednesday morning, along with 11 other employees at the newspaper. We received a month-long severance package and I have since applied for unemployment compensation. While I am upset I lost my job, I still would like to thank the Observer-Reporter for the opportunity. There are a lot of good people that work there, and I wish them the best.

I hope this blog will explain the story of unemployment and the journey of finding a new job in this environment. Hopefully, this blog won't be operating too long! I also want to connect with others who have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own. Feel free to contact me by posting comments or e-mailing me directly at wvhones@hotmail.com.