July 8, 2021

This story is part of a series. You can read other stories from Some Personal News here.

William E. Ketchum III was searching for stories from his Brooklyn apartment one morning in mid-April 2020 when he got a call from one of the heads of the company he worked for. His job as deputy editor at Vibe magazine was being eliminated in response to the coronavirus. 

He was being laid off.

“I was startled, but I wasn’t afraid,” Ketchum said. “To not be afraid was a big deal for me.”

At the time, the seasoned music and culture journalist was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Creating more cause for concern, he learned that his small team was also being laid off. Vibe, he said, was where most of them had built their professional portfolios.

“You know how you have a fire drill, to basically let you know what to do if some things turn left? That’s like more or less what I have now when I lose a job,” Ketchum said.

Ketchum carried more than a decade of experience covering everything from music to pop culture and race. Because his job at Vibe was not the first he had lost (he had lost two before), he developed a protocol for how to handle layoffs. He saved important contacts from his work email. He contacted his mentors for advice and asked them to read over drafts of his social media post announcing his job loss. Then, he hit send — sharing his personal news with the rest of his nearly 18,000 followers on Twitter.

“I’m immensely grateful for my time at VIBE, and I have no complaints,” he wrote. “I’m open for music, entertainment and culture writing positions and freelance opportunities. If you’re aware of something that matches my skill set, feel free to reach out to me via DM or email.”

***

Ketchum began working at Vibe in June 2018. Founded in the early 1990s by music and film producer Quincy Jones as a print publication, the magazine is known for its coverage of hip-hop, R&B and Black culture.

As deputy editor, Ketchum oversaw feature stories and also helped with daily coverage. He worked with a small team and assigned work out to freelance writers. It was at Vibe where he secured interviews with artists like Lupe Fiasco and Cam’ron, and a rare interview with Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def). When he first started at the magazine, Ketchum covered a listening party where he saw Kanye West and Nas play Nas’ album, “Nasir,” for the first time. Just months after starting at the magazine, he wrote his first Vibe cover story on record producer Swizz Beatz.

“It was truly a dream job,” Ketchum said.

When he lost jobs in the past, he was mainly upset about the loss of income. But this time it was different. 

“I was more upset because I felt like I had just found a groove with my coworkers,” Ketchum said. “We had just begun to do a lot of work that we were proud of. We had just discovered our voice, and it was with Vibe, which is a publication that I had grown up reading. From that perspective, it just sucked to lose a job that I loved so much.”

***

Ketchum wanted to slow down for a minute before actively looking for another job. He wanted to take some time to recover after getting sick. But he also recognized the power in sharing the news of his layoff on social media.

“As a journalist, I think that there are some periods where everyone is watching but in general, I know that as a journalist I need to make people care about what I do,” he said. “It’s my job to make you invested in what I’m doing. I need to make it appeal to you somehow. When you lose a job, it’s one of the times where people care about you more.”

Ketchum acknowledged that many people may feel embarrassed to be laid off and need time to emotionally recover. He didn’t expect other journalists to have the same optimistic attitude. Making the announcement was an opportunity for him to put his skills out there.

The reaction was almost immediate. 

Former coworkers, editors and other journalists in the field began privately reaching out to Ketchum. They wished him well. Many told him he’d be OK. Some offered him freelance assignments in music and culture — his wheelhouse. Others he met while at Vibe also reached out. 

“I really can’t emphasize enough the amount of support that I had,” Ketchum said. “I had editors reaching out to give me assignments. I had other editors I knew that were sending me money. It was a lot. It was just a lot of love.”

Ketchum noticed the support was greater after this third journalism layoff. He thinks this job came with a bigger profile, and it happened during the pandemic when he said there was general empathy for people who were losing their jobs.

Over the next year, Ketchum focused on freelancing. He racked up bylines in GQ, Vulture and Entertainment Weekly. He was happy to see his former colleagues at Vibe land back on their feet.

At one point, he was recruited for a job that didn’t end up working out. He felt defeated. Then Ketchum heard about a job at Mic. He pondered on it and applied.

Almost a year from the day he was laid off at Vibe, Ketchum became a senior culture editor at Mic, where he now oversees the culture vertical.

Ketchum said it’s been weird starting a new job remotely and building relationships with colleagues he’d never met until very recently at a dinner.

“It’s been great,” he said. “The main thing that took a lot of work was adjusting to having a full-time job again.”

This story is part of a series, Some Personal News, that shares experiences of people who were laid off from their journalism jobs or left the news during the pandemic. We know thousands of people lost their jobs last year, and want to capture the stories of journalists, printing plant employees, ad sales people, news researchers and anyone else whose employment by newsrooms ended or was altered because of the pandemic. You can tell us your story here.

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Amaris Castillo is a writing/research assistant for the NPR Public Editor and a contributor to Poynter.org. She’s also the creator of Bodega Stories and a…
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