On Friday, about two dozen of my former Star Tribune colleagues walked out of the newsroom for the last time.
Today will be the first Monday in years — decades, in some cases — that they won’t be showing up to chronicle the life of the community in which they live.
I know what that feels like. Not quite two years ago, I was in the first batch of 25 who took a buyout and left the newspaper shortly after the McClatchy Co. sold it to the current owners, a group of Wall Street investors who thought they could flip it for a short-term profit.
There’s a big difference between those who left two years ago and those who are leaving now. The majority of the first group were closing in on retirement age. They were leaving after 20 or 30 years with a healthy buyout, a pension and Social Security right around the corner.
The view looks different for the current group. It’s mostly people in their working primes, people who can’t ease into retirement but must start anew in the most challenging economy in generations.
I can tell them that it’s likely to be a tougher transition than they think. Working in a newsroom is fun. It’s a self-contained world, with a culture hard for outsiders to understand.
It’s raucous and loud, irreverent, fast-moving. You make decisions on the fly as best you can and move on. Newsrooms are also famously tolerant of oddballs. If you’re good at your job, you can be weird. People might roll their eyes, but they’ll respect you if you get the work done.
Most of the people who leave now — not just newspaper employees, but TV and radio people, as well — will likely wind up somewhere in the communications world. They might find themselves in PR, advertising or marketing. Instead of laying out the pages of a newspaper, they might be designing brochures or Web sites. Instead of figuring out which bloc holds power in the City Council, they’ll be figuring out how to deliver a product message to outdoorsy people ages 18-34.
Many of their skills will transfer nicely. Great writing, photography and design — both Web and print — are valued across a wide range of businesses. The ability to research a topic and summarize it succinctly is always a plus. The connections forged from regularly meeting community and business leaders are tremendously valuable. And the sense of urgency born of years meeting daily deadlines can make one stand out in corporate America, where more rather than less deliberation is often the case.
New skills needed
But they’ll have to develop other skills that often aren’t honed in newsrooms. News people are independent, used to sizing up a situation and making decisions on their own. In the corporate world, clients and colleagues will have much more say over anything you propose.
Planning is another area where there might be some culture shock. News organizations, for the most part, live day to day. The business world runs on plans: monthly plans, quarterly plans, annual plans.
A front-line news person is like a hunter: go out, make the kill, drag the carcass home and do it again tomorrow.
A corporate communicator is more like a farmer: plant the seed of an idea, tend it and grow it, and wait for it to blossom some months later. You’ll be accountable not just for the final product, but for many intermediate benchmarks along the way.
We at Fast Horse would like to offer our help to anyone in the Twin Cities media who’s either making the jump out of the news business or contemplating it. A “Life Beyond the Newsroom” session at our office will feature several recently departed news people; they’ll answer questions about their own experiences and offer advice to anyone who’s interested, whether you’ve already made the jump or are teetering on the ledge.
“Life Beyond the Newsroom” will be held Thursday, Jan. 29, at 5:30 p.m. at 240 North 9th Ave., in North Loop, Minneapolis.