A Dallas photojournalist is telling the stories of others who've left the business

Gerry McCarthy's desk at the Dallas Morning News includes bits of past jobs. (Photo by Gerry McCarthy, Dallas Morning News)
Gerry McCarthy's desk at the Dallas Morning News includes bits of past jobs. (Photo by Gerry McCarthy, The Dallas Morning News)

Gerry McCarthy isn't planning on leaving his job as a photojournalist at The Dallas Morning News. But he doesn't think it's likely he'll retire as a photojournalist either.

McCarthy has worked at the paper since 2007, and in that time he has watched a few veterans retire. He knows that, unlike his parents' generation, people don't really stay in one job, in one place, in one industry anymore. He's also seen the rounds and rounds of layoffs that continue rolling through newspapers.

"I just turned 36 this year, and as much as I love the business and as excited as I am about digital ... I don't think I'll be able to retire in this business," McCarthy said. "I just don't."

As he started thinking about what else he might do, McCarthy also started a series asking former photojournalists about how they made the transition into their second careers. From the series' first part:

So what would I do? Freelance? Or maybe something totally different. Maybe I could teach. Maybe I could go back to school and learn a new trade. But how? The transition seems so completely out of my wheelhouse. Thinking about it is overwhelming, like being in the middle of a hedge maze and not knowing which way is out, or which way was in, or if they’re any different.

I’m fortunate to know several people who’ve made that transition, either by choice or by force. I decided to reach out to some of them and ask if they’d share their experiences.

"Leaving the business behind and not looking back," has had three installments so far, including photojournalists who've become a psychotherapist, a political analyst and a beer ambassador (which sounds like the most natural transition for most of us.)

One thing many of the former photojournalists shared -- they don't really pick up their cameras that much anymore.

"Instead of shooting something, I experience it. I watch it with my own eyes and soak it in," Rich Glickstein told McCarthy in the first part of the series.

That surprised him. He didn't get interested in photojournalism until his senior year of journalism school, but most of the photojournalists he knows have stories of picking up their first camera at an early age. For many photojournalists and journalists in general, the job is part of the identity, he sais.

"I think people in photojournalism have been doing it so long, and it ends up being such a part of who they are and how they see the world, that to think that that's not how they see themselves anymore is weird."

But after speaking with people who have done it, he's optimistic that it wouldn't actually be that hard. He's also learned a few things about what it takes to do something else.

1. The things that most of us love about journalism are also a part of these new careers.

"It seems like most of the people that have gone off and done something else are doing something where they're still engaging with people," McCarthy said. "In the last few years, I've kind of realized that's the part of my job I love the most. If and when I decide to go do something else, that's what's really going to inform what kind of thing I go and do."

2. It's important to start making connections with people already in the field you're considering before you try and enter it.

3. It's totally normal to be afraid.

McCarthy thinks about the things his 5-year-old is afraid of. McCarthy has done most of those things over and over, so he knows they're not scary. But he understands why they're uncomfortable for his son, who has never tried them.

'It's OK to be concerned about that and make the jump."

4. Think about everything you do, not just the journalism parts.

The people McCarthy has interviewed still draw from the things they learned as journalists. They just use those skills differently now. For the series' third part, he spoke with Jen Friedberg, who's now a prosecuting attorney.

Like in journalism, I have to think quickly and adapt to new situations, I have to problem solve on deadline, and I work with people who I care about and who are dedicated to their work. Also, like in journalism, there are days where I feel that I’ve made a real difference, and days where I’m not sure my actions are having any kind of an impact on the community.

5. While most of us have identities tied up with journalism, it is just a job.

McCarthy spoke with Barbara Salisbury, who now works in voice-over talent, for the series' second part.

The thing I miss the most about working in photojournalism is covering the news, of being there and being a part of those stories while they’re happening. For example, I covered the last election cycle, and I covered the last Pope’s visit to the States. It’s odd sitting out on the sidelines and saying, “Oh hey, I used to do that.” I do still sometimes feel a bit nostalgic for some of that, and the camaraderie that went along with covering those big stories.

But, there IS life after newspaper work! And it can be awesome and fantastically fulfilling! I LOVE what I do now.

McCarthy's latest installment was published on Thursday, and though he originally intended the series to have three parts, he now plans to continue it. So far, he's focused on people who left the business intentionally. He'd like to continue with people who were laid off and see how they've made the transition.

He doesn't think he'll be one of them any time soon, "but if I had to get a 9-to-5 desk job, I think I'd be OK."

Previously: 1 year after Project Thunderdome closed, most former staff have pretty great jobs. Here’s why. | Advice for journalists who’ve lost their jobs from journalists who’ve lost their jobs | There’s a Facebook group to help journalists figure out their plan B

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