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Circa’s staff are now going through something a lot of journalists have gone through for more than a decade. Layoffs and shutdowns happen at legacy organizations and they happen at startups. At Poynter, we’ve written both about those layoffs and shutdowns and how the journalists involved recover. I asked some journalists who have been through this themselves if they had any advice for Circa’s staff.
Here’s what they said. If you have advice of your own, please add in the comments below.
You gotta grieve
Mathew Ingram was among the staff who had to find a new job earlier this year when the tech blog GigaOm closed down. Ingram is now a senior writer at Fortune. His advice for people facing a shut down really depends more on the person, he said in a phone interview, and where they are in their career. Some staff at GigaOm had to get a job right away, they didn’t have money saved up or a working spouse, so they couldn’t afford to take time and look.
“So for them, just taking whatever came along was probably good advice, although that’s not what I would normally tell someone to do,” he said. “Obviously the best advice is to start thinking about that before your company goes under.”
Most people who go to startups do so because they care about the work and the place, he said, and so it can be hard to have a plan B. But you should. Keep in touch with people. Be aware of what else is out there. It can be hard to be pumped up and committed to your job and also be aware that it might not work out, he said.
“It’s like being super in love but also wanting a prenuptial contract,” Ingram said. “At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do. Thinking about the worst-case scenario is something that you should theoretically be doing.”
There’s also a grieving process that you have to go through, he said, “just like someone dying. It’s hard to short circuit that.”
Many journalists, wherever they work, are emotionally committed to their jobs.
“You join these things because you’re committed to them as an idea, not just oh, hey, this would be a cool paycheck and maybe I’ll get some equity out of it,” Ingram said. “It is a lot more like a relationship than a job.”
Don’t just send off your application
“First is to make sure your tribe knows your outlet has shut down and that you’re looking for work,” said Meena Thiruvengadam, now an editor at Yahoo Finance, via Twitter. Thiruvengadam was among the journalists to lose her job when Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome shut down.
Treat job hunting like your full time job, she said, and “DON’T just send out applications. If you’re not out there lunching, having coffee and networking IRL, you can be doing more. That’s the biggest thing I hear from people. ‘I sent out so many resumes and got no response.'”
Her question is always “have you tried running into them? Journalists can be surprisingly easy to find IRL & IRL is one of the best ways to look for that next job.”
Keep in flight
Every time someone asks Rob Hart this question, he wants to tell them what John White told him “on our last day as he hugged me and said, ‘keep in flight.'”
Hart, a photographer and adjunct faculty of photojournalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, was one of the photojournalists laid off from the Chicago Sun-Times two years ago.
“The better answer is tell people to stop allowing news organizations to undervalue you,” Hart wrote in an email. “My assistant Monday made more in 4 hours than you make in an entire day working for a national newspaper. It’s a market just like anything else. You have to find places where your talents are valued and where there’s a scarcity. You might think what you’re doing is a public service and you will surely take a pay cut to keep being the voice for the voiceless but you can bet the CEO and VP’s know they’re gonna make what they’re worth.”
In his first year after the layoff, Hart found 20 percent of the money he made came from editorial assignments, but it took up nearly half of his shooting time.
“The market was showing me that if I wanted to stay in business I had to find clients that could pay more. The transition from ‘newspaper photographer’ to ‘photography business’ means I had to reevaluate everything. If I want my kids to go to college I can’t keep being a visual sharecropper for these huge media companies.”
He misses that work a lot, Hart said.
“Monday night I told my Medill students about the lessons I learned from John H. White at Columbia College years ago. About being a visual servant, being in tune with the heartbeat of humanity, about service to others. And I’m finding ways to continue using my passion and storytelling skills to make money and do things I believe in. I’m still shooting photos. I’m making more money and I’m happier as a freelancer. I should make a ‘life gets better’ PSA for laid off journalists. But you gotta get up every day and try to keep in flight.”
Don’t take it personally
Jim Brady, the founder and CEO of Billy Penn, has been through all this before, too. Brady was the editor-in-chief of Digital First Media and announced he was leaving in April of last year when Thunderdome announced it was shutting down. He’s also a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.
His advice: “Don’t take it personally.”
“I think that’s a hard thing to do, since you are the one being let go,” Brady wrote in an email. “But at a place like Circa, where the intent was to try something new and innovative, the risk was always going to be high. So be proud of what you’ve learned, and know that other places will look very positively on the fact you worked at a place that was trying something different. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a tough business right now, and no one expects anyone to spend their entire career — or even more than a few years — at any one place anymore…”
Correction: Mathew Ingram’s first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It has been corrected.