The fateful call from the largest newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I worked as an editor, left me unprepared. It was the same for the other 17 people who were laid off this year, almost all of whom, like me, were over 40.
It felt as though a door had been slammed in my face.
On the bright side, I was no longer tied to an industry long in decline.
And because most companies need communication help, I figured my luck would soon change, especially after I scored so many interviews. Many of these were with agencies who recognized my high score on the state exam for public information officers — a position that journalists often transition into.
But while I usually advanced to the final round of interviews in both the private and public sectors, nothing worked out.
Aspirations at the copy desk
There was plenty to like during my career in newspapers. I found the work exhilarating, and the communication with writers and assignment editors was rewarding. And then there were the readers, who relied on truthful news in a world of conspiracy theories.
But I will never forget what I learned at newspapers like Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Tokyo-based newspaper run by the U.S. government for American troops.
Being a full-time newspaper editor also came with the benefit of a steady paycheque and the feeling of doing something important. After all, it was journalists (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) who uncovered Richard Nixon’s backroom dealings in the White House. I wanted to be like them.
But many of the newspapers that uncovered such stories decades ago have disappeared, leaving uncertainty and an alarmingly small workforce in their wake. I worked for several small dailies in California that went out of business. At another newspaper, my copy desk chief was escorted out of the building mid-shift, never to be heard from again.
Finding a freelancing specialty
I had dabbled in freelancing during my newspaper career, so I knew the work could be sporadic. But with copy desks downsizing, I decided to set aside my initial reluctance.
Deciding to freelance edit brought about its own challenges. While journalists know a little about a lot, freelancers are often the opposite, honing in on strengths such as law or science.
Initially, I felt as though I had no such focus. And then it struck me — I did specialize in an essential skill: using qualitative and quantitative research to fact-check articles and prevent the need for the kinds of after-the-fact corrections that have become so prevalent in the news media.
I also have years of experience covering sports and, more recently, helping authors polish podcasts on topics such as true crime.
In fact, editors with a journalism background are a kind of jack of all trades, able to rewrite articles when necessary and knowing correct grammar and style.
The next step will be to build my own website and begin marketing myself. Networking is key. It’s not just about staying in contact with people through LinkedIn, but looking for others in places you hadn’t thought to look. Authors Brittany Dowdle and Linda Ruggeri explain the concept well in Networking for Freelance Editors.
They say that uncovering such leads is where the gold lies. And this “gold” is derived from doing something you truly enjoy while making a decent living and helping others.
And I’ve created a small mastermind group of like-minded individuals from my region who want to learn from others about freelance editing and discuss goals. One person comes from a background in academia, while another worked as a developmental editor.
The key to freelancing after a layoff is taking one’s transferable skills and applying them to a new field.
At times, I am left with the feelings of self-doubt that afflict many people moving to something new — a condition known as imposter syndrome.
The answer: focus on career successes and see failures as a way to grow.
I’ve experienced setbacks, none bigger than being told that my services were no longer needed in San Francisco. But I have also had my share of accomplishments, from leading a team of 14 copy editors at a medium-sized newspaper to joining the press corps at events including the Olympic Games and the World Series.
No longer being tied to the journalism industry is a great way to say goodbye to the past while shedding older technology and adapting to advances.
And now I feel the stirrings of excitement that come with the start of a new career.
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