July 29, 2015

Last May, Russ Kendall learned that another friend and journalist had been laid off. Linda Epstein, McClatchy-Tribune Wire’s senior photo editor for 15 years, would lose her job in July when the company shuttered its wire service. By July 21, Kendall launched a closed Facebook group. Here’s what he wrote on the page’s first post:

What’s Your Plan B? was created to be a forum for journalists who have been laid off and those who haven’t been laid off yet, to share ideas, business plans, anything that might give hope and help to those who need it.

Two days later, Jim Romenesko reported that the group already had 400 members.

Now, more than 2,670 people are part of What’s Your Plan B? (including me. Kendall reached out last month after I wrote “Advice for journalists who’ve lost their jobs from journalists who’ve lost their jobs.”) People share job openings on the page. They share news of impending layoffs. And many of them share how they’ve moved on from journalism.

It’s like a wake, a jobs board and a support group all in one place. And Kendall started it because he was sick off all the layoffs and wanted people to know that, like him, they could find life after journalism.

Russ Kendall on assignment for The Anchorage Times in 1991. (Submitted photo)

Russ Kendall on assignment for The Anchorage Times in 1991. (Submitted photo)

‘I feed people now.’

Kendall spent his life as a photojournalist at several newspapers, including the The Anchorage (Alaska) Times, The (Denver, Colorado) Rocky Mountain News and the Bangor (Maine) Daily News.

“And life was good for awhile, and then the layoffs started to come and come and come and the pay cuts came and the furloughs came.”

Journalism didn’t feel fun anymore. The people left were demoralized. Kendall, who loved to cook, knew he needed a plan B. And he knew it would involve food.

He grew up learning how to cook from his grandfather, a professional chef. Kendall often cooked for his newsrooms. At his Portland, Oregon home, he built a wood-fired pizza oven in the backyard. It would be cool, he thought, to drive around with a wood-fired oven on a trailer making people pizza.

Kendall’s last job in journalism was as photo editor at the Bellingham (Washington) Herald.

“I started my business while I still had a job at the Herald,” he said, “and it felt great. It really felt like a good fit. And in fact the business did so well that I didn’t wait to be laid off.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, when the next round of layoffs came, Kendall heard rumors that someone from the photo department would be on the list. So he stepped down first. During Gusto Wood Fired Pizza’s first year, he catered between five and seven events. This year, he has more than 75 events booked. He’s making twice as much money as he did as a journalist, he said.

“And my blood pressure is lower. I love the work. I feed people now.”

Russ Kendall is now the owner of Gusto Wood Fired Pizza. (Submitted photo)

Russ Kendall is now the owner of Gusto Wood Fired Pizza. (Submitted photo)

‘That could have been me’

When he started the group, Kendall had one request to members— keep it for journalists. He started with 15 people, asked them to invite 15 people, and it has grown and grown since. Once people join, Kendall asks them to tell their story.

Do they have a plan B? Are they looking for one? How can the group help?

Over time, he has seen a lot of plan Bs put into action — one journalist went to medical school, another started a coffee shop. Jamie Rose left photojournalism after years of freelancing for organizations such as The New York Times and The Global Fund. Rose, who was an early member, loved working with nonprofits. She co-founded Momenta Group in 2008 with photojournalists Chris Anderson and Seth Butler. Through Momenta Creative and Momenta Workshops, they train journalists how to work with non-profits around the world. She also runs Jamie’s List, a jobs blog for creative professionals.

“I would be lying if I said that for the first couple of years it wasn’t painful in some weird ways,” Rose said of leaving traditional journalism. She felt bittersweet in 2009 when she realized her White House press credentials had expired. But she doesn’t miss being in daily news.

“I’m not really a look back kind of a person. I’ve found that if you build your career around a lot of the things that make you passionate and surround yourself with people who are passionate as well, then you’ll find that you don’t look over your shoulder as much.”

Jamie Rose photographs refugees fleeing the latest outbreak of violence onthe Congolese-Ugandan border in November 2008. (Photograph by Glenna Gordon)

Jamie Rose photographs refugees fleeing the latest outbreak of violence onthe Congolese-Ugandan border in November 2008. (Photograph by Glenna Gordon)

Benet Wilson was invited to join the group after writing about a round of layoffs for All Digitocracy. Wilson, now working as an editor for the site, is an aviation journalist who was laid off from Aviation Week Magazine in 2011. Her plan B didn’t involve leaving journalism, but building a freelance career for herself. Members of the Plan B group gave her great advice on starting an LLC, she said.

Screen shot, Twitter

Screen shot, Twitter

The page offers resources and support, and it serves as a reminder for people who haven’t yet had to find a plan B that just having one is probably a good idea these days.

“Every time you see a layoff, everyone kind of gets that little shiver,” Wilson said, “and they’re like, ‘Oh, that could have been me.'”

Epstein also recommends people go to the page and start thinking ahead.

“I’m sending them there saying look, you just don’t know in this industry what could happen.”

About a month after her layoff from McClatchy-Tribune, she finally commented on the group’s page. Though she started working as a freelance photo editor at The Washington Post a few days after her last day with the wire service, she still had to process the loss. In her first post on Plan B’s page, she encouraged people to give themselves time to mourn for what they’d lost.

Getting laid off is horrible, she said, “but it’s nice to know there are other people out there.”

‘None of us are only what we do’

How can I join?

Want to join What’s Your Plan B? on Facebook? It’s a closed group, so you have to be invited by a current member. Email Russ Kendall at russkendallphotos@gmail.com with your press affiliations and he’ll send the invite.

There is life after journalism, Kendall said. It’s hard to change tracks, but the skills journalists learn can translate into other careers. He still writes. He still makes photos. He still designs. Now, he’s doing it for himself.

“None of us are only what we do,” Kendall said. “We’re all so much more than that. The things that make us good at our newspaper jobs will help us find our plan B after newspapers.”

Kendall has thought about turning the Facebook page into something bigger, but for now he’s happy with how it has grown on its own. And he’s pretty sure it’s not going anywhere.

“Sadly, I wish there was no need, and I could shut this Facebook page down,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll be able to do that any time soon.”

Business is still great for Kendall, by the way. He’s so busy that he’s looking into buying a second pizza oven.

Poynter pull quote (40)

Previously: One year after 28 Sun-Times photojournalists were laid off, where are they now?

How mass layoffs in 2013 changed the lives of former Plain Dealer staffers

1 year after Project Thunderdome closed, most former staff have pretty great jobs. Here’s why.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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