Tuesday, June 02, 2009

No Safety Net

I was never supposed to be here this long.

Three years ago, I had it all set. I had just been hired full-time at my current paper after starting off as a two-year intern. The plan had always been to stay two years and then get up and out. By 2007, I would have some banging clips to help me find a new and better job at a more exciting paper. Rhode Island was supposed to be my stepping stone; a way to get my foot in the door and propel me to a larger market.

October will mark my four year anniversary in Rhode Island and I am more nervous and uncertain about what to do about the future than I have ever been in my life. I was never supposed to be here this long and now, I'm afraid to leave.

I didn't leave before because I didn't need to. And after years of prosperity, it was easy to ignore rumors about how much trouble the industry was in. After all, who could imagine a day without newspapers -- we were vital. Or so I thought.

That was before the Rocky Mountain News closed its doors, before the Times threatened to shut down the Globe, before Detroit stopped home delivery and the P-I went completely online.

It's easy to see all that now, but over the past three years, I’ll admit it, I was caught up in the newness of my budding career. I preferred to focus on the joy of getting a great story or share the frustration in dealing with tough sources and bosses. But all around me, it was happening. It wasn’t until the recession came to my newsroom with the split of our company, buyouts, and then finally two rounds of layoffs that I started to get the picture. This whole thing is bigger than me. And I’m not invincible.

Honestly, that’s why I had a backup plan. The only thing is that now, my backup plan is causing me more angst than ignoring the industry ever did.

Getting my graduate degree was supposed to be my safety net. I started thinking about going to get an advanced degree in law probably about 6 months ago. I'd been covering courts for a while, and then, the paper announced plans for more layoffs. I got excited about the program and my plan was to apply for the Fall 2010 class, which would allow me to save up some money and really prepare for the transition. But with my job only 4th from the bottom on the seniority list when they announced layoff plans in February, I thought it important to have a backup plan.

So I applied to Georgetown. And got in. With a partial scholarship to their Masters of Studies in Law program for journalists. It's a one year program where I would be able to take all the same classes as a first year law student, but come May, I would leave with a Master's Degree.

I'm seriously afraid to leave and I feel like a punk for it. And it's killing me that this economy has me doubting my ability to land on my feet, even with an advanced degree. When I graduated from college, I never thought for a moment that I wouldn't be able to find a job. Ever. But that was back in 2005.

So here I am, with a great opportunity on one hand, a steady paycheck in the other and a gloomy economic outlook overhead. And I have no idea what to do. I've survived two layoffs and a round of buyouts by the skin of my teeth. The idea of hitting this economy in May with stale clips and a degree isn't particularly comforting. But even if I stay, I could be among the first to go if the paper were to decide they need to get rid of more weight.

Three years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do, just that I didn't want to do it in Rhode Island forever. My disdain for municipal reporting emerged over the years, just like my love for cops, courts and legal reporting blossomed. And I worry that I'm romanticizing my time here out of fear for the unknown.

A friend of mine said that one of the bravest things a person can do is imagine a different life for themselves. I wonder if it still counts if you imagine a new life out of fear that your old one will disappear.

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Posted by T Dot at 9:26 PM | link

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