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.


  1. An America without local newspaper reporters scares the hell out of me, too.

  2. You did a great job, Mike. We're a lesser paper without you. A lot of talented people, just like you, have been cast aside all over the country. It sucks, but it's the reality we have to deal with.

  3. Thanks a lot, Brant. I'm not the first, nor the last, person in the world to lose my job. It sucks, but oh well. I made a lot of good friends at the O-R, and wish you guys nothing but the best. Good luck, and take care. Oh, and how sweet was it when Kyle Busch backed it into the fence Saturday night at the Firecracker 400? Definitely one of the highlights of my 16 years of watching NASCAR.

  4. And the fact that my favorite driver, Tony, sent him there made it all the sweeter. Let me know if I can help in any way with the job search. Be glad to give you a glowing recommendation.

  5. Mike, I will miss your local racing reports. I learned of your demise when I found your "Racin' " blog missing.

    Having been down the same road many years ago, I see you have some of the same questions. But, I learned quickly: Forget the questions, quit trying to figure it out, push aside any anger or resentment, or bitterness. The bitterness will eat you alive, and does not advance your cause. Take the situation you find on your plate, and work with it. Listen to those who have realistic comments and advice, and block out those who tell you "... you will have no problem finding a job," or "... you will get a new job quickly." Neither comment may be true, and only serves to create false expectations. Those making the comments mean well, but ....

    Apparently you are young. You have had a few years of experience in one career. This gives you an opportunity to step back and look more objectively (I know, hard to do) at your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses, your skill sets, future of the industry, and your career goals. Maybe what you thought to be true 6-8 years ago really isn't so true after all, or not true in Summer 2009. This event provides a useful interruption that may prove to be a time to make slight (or major) changes in your path. Your "About me" tells us that your immediate sights are set on doing the same thing, in a different setting. Maybe those words you wrote there are a bit too strong and decisive.

    The key is to get out, get out anyplace where you interact with people. Undoubtedly you are an outgoing, easy talking person. That is a huge advantage over others who are more reclusive and reluctant to engage. Don't rule out any contacts, even though a name might sound very obscure. You never know where a simple conversation might lead. Regard the job search as you job right now. Devote nearly as many hours each day to the search as you might a regular job. Sitting back on the couch or on the lounger on the porch (or pool) isn't going to cut it. YOU are the one to make it happen; it is an individual effort. $20 spent on a package of 500 business cards with contact information is invaluable. Hand them to anybody, even if they are reluctant to take one. Yes, many will end up in the trash barrel, but just one may fall into the right hands.

    I wish you well.

  6. Roger, thank you very much for the advice. That is valuable information that certainly will help with the job search.

    The bitterness and anger quickly disappeared after a long weekend in Daytona. Funny how NASCAR and beaches can change things, huh? By the way, what did you think of the ending to that race?

    I've sent my resume and clips to one company, and plan to see if there are any PR jobs out there. I have a couple leads and am contacting everyone I know to see if there are any openings out there. Who knows what the future holds, but thanks for dropping by on my new blog.