Before my friend and former Cosmo colleague, Jillian Mackenzie, and I created the private Facebook Group, After Magazines, we were both members of another group: What’s Your Plan B? The group is a community of, and for, former print journalists and is overwhelmingly made up of folks (now more than 15K) who spent their careers in print newspapers. And while the issues covered in that group were similar to those Jillian and I were dealing with (quarterly layoffs, declining salaries, ageism, recasting traditional journalism skills to new careers ….), we realized it’d be even more beneficial to create a smaller group just for people like us: former (or soon to be former!) print magazine editors.
From the start, we tried to focus on the positive: to celebrate the glory days of magazines (what an awesome ride!) and to encourage the sharing of success stories of former editors who had moved on to other exciting, rewarding, and even surprising careers. (If you are a member, I encourage you to go back to the early days of the group; those personal vignettes are priceless.) As the group has grown to 1200+ over the last three years (note that to keep the posts relevant, we only allow those with three or more years on staff as a print mag editor), the conversation set point seems to have fallen somewhere between acute nostalgia and hopefulness for our future.
Even though I spend waayyy too many hours on After Magazines, I am still a member of What’s Your Plan B? That is where I read this story about a new study, Cutting Deeper: U.S. Newspapers Wipe Out Jobs and Alter Career Identities, by Scott Reinardy, Ph.D., a professor and associate dean at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Reinardy, a former newspaper journalist himself, interviewed 350 newsmen and women about what it was like to watch their jobs at local papers disappear, what new careers they have moved on to, and how they identify themselves now, after leaving journalism.
My first thought was, Only 36%? I had a feeling that the After Magazines community would have something to say about that. So I set up a survey via Google. Let me say right now: I am not a professional researcher or academic pollster, nor is our Facebook Group a perfectly representative sample of the former magazine industry (for one, we are mostly women). Nonetheless, the results were fascinating: A whopping 96% of former magazine editors who have moved on to new jobs still identify as editors or journalists. In a subsequent comment thread, a few respondents chimed in to explain:
[I was] a fashion director/editor for nearly 20 years. Now I work in television as a wardrobe stylist, which is entirely different. But I will always be an editor by nature.
When I have to fill out government forms, insurance docs, financial papers, and the like, I struggle to come up with any other word for my occupation than “editor.” Somehow “Director of Content” or “Content Strategist” will never have the same ring to it.
I want journalist written as my occupation on my obit even if it kills me to stay in the industry until my dying day.
Every now and then, I think of doing something else. And it makes me too sad to contemplate. This is me.
I decided to give Professor Reinardy a call. I asked him about his study and why we journalists just can’t let it go. “It’s a very personal job,” he said, explaining that journalism is “a form of art that has some element of science to it and brings all these aspects together to intellectually create something that has a purpose and social responsibility. There aren’t many professions that bring all those things together. It becomes a part of you.”
I totally can drink his Kool-Aid, but just to be devil’s advocate (and hello, a journalist) I probed a bit more. I mean, What about other industries where whole careers have disappeared? What about the travel agents? The stock exchange floor traders? The block ice delivery folks pushed out by electric fridges? (Kidding. Sort of.) Reinardy made a good counterpoint: “If you ask a travel agent, ‘What did you lose when you lost your job?’ They may say, ‘I liked helping people. Or I miss the salary.’ Journalists will say: ‘I lost a part of myself.’”
Thump. I felt that one in my gut. Probably because I have, like so many people in the editorial community, wanted to be a writer or an editor or some combination of both since I was a very young girl. I started a diary at age 7 with poems and short stories and created my own magazine, the Purple People Papers, in the fifth grade. Reinardy says this is true for many of the journalists he talked to (he has also written a book Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms). And he says that the childhood dream is part of what makes it harder for us to shake loose the “editor” or “journalist” identity. I guess this could be true of floor traders, ice delivery folks, or travel agents. But it does seem less likely, doesn’t it?
Another thing Reinardy says we former journalists have in common: Bonding. Journalists are social folk. Our jobs are built on relationships, communicating, and storytelling, so it makes sense that After Magazines and What’s Your Plan B? have become such popular resources. Reinardy explains that online communities like these are important to move us forward, and to help us rebuild our confidence. “We forget that we have these skills,” he says. “Average people can’t do what we can do. The editing and writing and producing of content with visuals is something we understand in a way others don’t.”
Yes! We do have a lot to offer the world (again, go back and read those early posts from mag editors who have transitioned to be PR execs, social workers, bakery owners, UX specialists, nonprofit comms leads ….). The way I see it, the trick is two-fold: 1) learning how to transition those skills to a new career and 2) having the confidence to do it.
Reinardy and his colleagues at the University of Kansas are tackling the first part of that equation with a new course offering next fall. The first of its kind (or at least the first that I’ve heard of), the J School will be offering a Certificate in Content Marketing tailored to former journalists. The plan is for it to be a four-course certificate at the master’s level (a bachelor’s degree is required), which will cover topics such as writing for marketing communications, relationship marketing, podcasting, video, and infographics, project management for communicators, and online inbound marketing and SEO. The best part? It might even be available online! Reinardy promises to share more info as he has it (and I’ll share with you; and in the meantime, you can start with this Content Marketing Terms Guide.)
As for part two of that trick? The confidence part? Well, we can give that to each other via our drinks out, our magazine reunions, and our online communities. The more of us who move on to new careers in new roles must continue to report back on what we’ve learned out there in the world, mingling among all the non-journalists, building “content,” connecting with consumers (rather than readers), and otherwise sharing stories to make the world a better place.
Even though we will always be Magazine Editors at heart.
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in the content and media space. She also offers personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career.