Former <i>Seattle Times</i> Reporter Takes Buyout, Becomes University Lecturer

During a time when the news industry is frantically searching for solutions and new directions, journalists' lives have been disrupted by cutbacks and job changes. Poynter Online wants to help by sharing stories of success seekers. We are offering how-they-did-it snapshots from people who faced employment challenges and found some measure of success.


Age: 42

New job: Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. I teach multimedia journalism and communication classes to undergraduates. My course load varies. This quarter I'm teaching three classes.

I'm also a freelance reporter for KPLU-FM. I file primarily arts-related stories to this NPR-affiliate. Reporters produce their stories, and we're also responsible for shooting photos for the Web.

Old job: Reporter. I worked 14 years for The Seattle Times in both the news and features sections. My beats included race/immigration, the environment, night culture, TV/radio and general assignment.

Biggest change so far: I have more energy and enthusiasm because I'm trying new things and really enjoying it. But there's more stress because my schedule is crazier and I'm trying to carve out time to freelance while teaching. 

I left because: I took a buyout in May 2008 because I wanted to try different forms of journalism.

I was out of work for: Zero days. I wanted a change from writing stories but not from storytelling. I was willing to retrain myself and I knew I didn't want to leave journalism entirely. So I reached out to both the university and to KPLU.

I had taught occasionally at the University of Washington so I knew the department chair and was brought on part-time. I had already taken some classes (local film school) to learn some new tech skills. The department thought having a journalist who was in the process of reinventing herself would be valuable for students.

I decided the best way to learn audio was at a public radio station. I connected with KPLU about interning (for free), but luckily the station secured some grant money for a special project so I came on for that, did some multimedia work, learned how to report for radio and have turned into a freelancer ever since.

I relied on: Three months' pay from a buyout, and on my spouse, Glenn Nelson.

This new gig is: I'm working more hours (editing papers takes forever) and earning about 60 percent of what I used to earn. And yes, that change in income can be stressful. But I'm more engaged in my work and happier.

One thing I miss about my old job is: The luxury of a long lunch.

One thing I don't miss is: A morose newsroom.

I'm lucky that: I have the best of both worlds. I can still report and create while getting to mentor and learn from my students.

The hardest part was: Not having an identity for a while. I wasn't immediately reporting, so not being able to say "reporter" was a really weird thing.

I learned that: People (bosses; potential employers) will reject you. But then there are always other people who are willing to believe in you and give you a shot. I had zero radio experience but KPLU was willing to train me. That support was a great motivator and it allowed me to create other opportunities for myself, including shooting a short documentary for the station.

The department has trusted me with developing new classes, and I've also been able to pursue other opportunities, such as teaching multimedia to high school students, this past summer.

My advice:
Connect with people doing the work you want to do and offer to intern. Find mentors and learn from them. Take advantage of the many available training opportunities out there to learn new skills.

I was pretty much a "lifer" at the paper and I had never spent much time thinking, "What's next?" And then I fell into a slump; I wasn't motivated and I felt disillusioned. But I did some serious thinking, took some classes, figured out an end-goal and then tried a few things.

I've failed and I've been rejected along the way, but life is also always full of (good) surprises. Reporters are inherently skeptical and we tend to be our own harshest critics. But this is really the time to cheerlead ourselves on.

If you have a transition story that might help other Poynter Online readers, please e-mail Joe Grimm at You can also e-mail him with your journalism career questions.
  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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