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Journalists: A ‘Dying Breed’ or an ‘Evolving Species?’

by Shari Finnell

During a recent conference, I ran into an old colleague from my newspaper days. He had a vague look of disbelief written all over his face – one that I have become all too familiar with whenever I run into print journalists. I wasn’t at all surprised when he told me he lost his job in the latest round of massive layoffs at Gannett newspapers.

More than likely, he’d known it was coming: These days, holding on to a newspaper job is a more challenging proposition than grabbing a greased pig in a state fair contest.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of newspaper jobs declined from about 460,000 in 1990 to somewhere around 255,000 jobs about 10 years later. And the bleeding from this industry is showing no signs of slowing down.

There’s even a Newspaper Death Watch website with a morbid fascination with what’s happening to the newspaper industry. The latest fatalities reported on the site included the Oakland Tribune, the Alameda Times-Star and the Daily Review. They’re among 11 California newspapers that will be consolidated into two regional newspapers later this year. As a result, 120 employees, including 40 editors, will lose their jobs.

The Business Insider puts it rather bluntly when talking about the newspaper industry: “It’s over.”

But is it “over” for former print journalists?

Absolutely not. There’s definitely life after print. There are six of us working full-time here at Slingshot SEO — editors and writers — who are thriving after making the transition from producing content for newspapers and magazines to producing content for Internet sites on behalf of our clients.

Several of my friends also have landed jobs delivering content online, including one for a newspaper’s site. Here’s their feedback: They love what they’re doing.

However, for those who have spent their careers in newspapers, making the transition to online content production could be as awkward as landing in a foreign country where everyone is speaking a different language.

I saw this confusion among the attendees of a blog conference in Indianapolis several years ago. The audience consisted of business types, college students, stay-at-home moms and, yes, a sprinkling of print journalists. Most of them seemed to be newbies to the virtual world. After a series of workshops and panel discussions, they asked question after question in an attempt to figure this blogging thing out.

A former newspaper editor who had taken up blogging finally spoke up with a note of exasperation. “Look,” she said. “Blogging is just another name for writing.”

You could see a wave of relief sweep over the audience. While there are plenty of tricks and trade secrets behind the art of blogging effectively to gain an audience, her statement clarified ‘what blogging is’ by reducing the verb to its core activity. It’s writing. Really good writing that makes people want to come back for more.

If you’re a print journalist who just found out you’re out of a job, more than likely you have that question looming in your mind: What do I do now?

The bottom line? There will always be a need for your skills and talents at communicating to the masses. The most significant difference is the medium.

Whether newspapers survive or not, good writers and editors will always find a way to put their skills to good use. The need for engaging and reliable information — and the people who can produce it — isn’t going anywhere.

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