December 8, 2020 (Updated )
Journalism is a stimulating business where no two days are the same, and it’s filled with hard-working, passionate people. It moves at a frenetic pace, meaning you can advance quickly. But it also means that, sometimes, things may not go to plan.
According to Bloomberg, journalism jobs are being cut at a rate not seen since the last recession, with more than 3,000 people laid off in the US in the first few months of 2019. Since lockdown this year, companies including BuzzFeed, The Guardian, Vice, and The Economist have all made cuts to their staff.
Even before the pandemic hit, the media industry was facing continuing change – still, largely thanks to the digital age. As a result, both journalists and the people who employ were not only given opportunities but challenges. And, a large number found themselves without a job. We spoke to three of those people to find out what it’s like to be suddenly jobless in journalism, and how to bounce back.
What’s It’s Like To Be Let Go In Journalism?
Of course, we hope that no one reading will ever have to go through losing a job. But if you do, it’s important to be able to recognise what emotions might be coming your way. Angela*, a freelance journo from London, has been made redundant not once but twice. “I worked at an ad agency and the European branch went under,” she tells Journo Resources. “We lost all our clients. It wasn’t a shock, to be honest, we knew it was coming, however, it was supportive because everyone was going through the same experience together.”
Despite this, Angela was still knocked for six by losing her job. But, just two months later, the same thing happened again, and she was made redundant by another agency. Alongside the inevitable sadness, Angela also felt that her role in the company was unrecognisable from where she started: “My job title had changed completely from the job I originally applied for. The experience was horrible and embarrassing, I cried at work when they told me and I felt I was treated unfairly by my bosses when I gave the job my all.”
“Over the course of the 18 months I was there, the priorities were always changing. After a while, my bosses agreed that it couldn’t continue any longer.”
Matt, Freelance Journalist
Matt*, a London-based freelance journalist, also recalls the feeling of changing goalposts – ultimately leading to his departure. “The company had placed a lot of emphasis on the kind of things I could produce when I started there,” he says. “But, over [time], the priorities were always changing. There was a high rate of staff turnover and new people always brought in new ideas which made my job less important.”
It was this and a poor work-life balance which led Matt to become depressed, which affected his output. “It was my first job after graduating, so I found it hard to cope with the constant change and the high-pressure environment.” He also found that working at such a young company meant support “tended to fall through the cracks” and coupled with a few personal losses which took a toll on his work, after a while “my bosses agreed that it couldn’t continue any longer.”
Anger, Anxiety and ‘A Twisted Sense Of Optimism’
Once the dust settled, the initial feelings of shock and sadness can often become more complex, and it’s important to remember that everything you’re feeling is valid. Angela remembers “mixed feelings of sadness and anger”. “In the immediate aftermath, it threw me into extreme anxiety and survival mode”, she adds. “I was worried about money and how I was going to pay rent and make a living, I was worried about having jumped from employment to employment on my CV and worried about having too long of a gap while in-between jobs.”
Jem’s Top Five Tips On Surviving Being Let Go
Journo Resources’ founder Jem Collins has also experienced the uncertainty of unemployment, after the organisation she worked for pivoted away from video. Here are her top five tips:
1️⃣ “First off, give yourself time to be sad, angry, nervous – whatever it is you need to feel. The day I found out I wasn’t being kept on, I called my best friend and got him to come around with a big crate of cider. It was what I needed.”
2️⃣ “It sounds dull and scary, but start by making a proper assessment of your situation. How much salary or payout will you get? How much will your bills cost? Once I added it up, I actually had longer than I though to find something new.”
3️⃣ “Start reaching out to people for opportunities early on – I applied for a range of jobs, freelancing opportunities, and just got in touch with people I knew to see if they had anything coming up. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help or leads.”
4️⃣ “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I’d never considered freelancing before, but was actually a really enjoyable year of my life, where I tried out all sorts of stuff like video reporting, writing travel guides, and social media reporting.”
5️⃣ “This is perhaps the hardest, but do try not to panic. You’ll get much better results from well thought out applications and outreach emails than you will rushed messages.”
Feelings of failure also plagued Matt early on. “I felt like I let everyone down, especially as it was a small team and I hated being seen as the weak link. I had regrets about not seeking help or alternative employment [and] being my first job since university, I felt like I needed to succeed there to set myself up for later in my career.”
However, he also describes feeling a “twisted sense of optimism” after being let go. “It felt like my time there had been for nothing but, in time, I came to be grateful that it played out the way it did because I had the opportunity to fix things and reset myself.”
‘Be As Proactive As Possible – But Don’t Panic’
The day you lose your job is bad enough, but what comes afterwards can feel worse if you’re not mentally prepared for it. In an age when so much of our identity is tied to our work, waking up on a Monday morning with nowhere to go can be tough. The key, according to our interviewees, is to be as proactive as possible, while still acknowledging your limits and being kind to yourself.
“I panicked initially and applied to as much as I could in the first month, just wanting to get back in the saddle as soon as possible,” admits Matt. “I just carried on working and powered through it all [by freelancing]”, says Angela. “but, looking back now, I wish I’d taken a step back and a breather on what I really wanted to do because at the time I was really struggling with my mental health.”
“Looking back now, I wish I’d taken a break to [work out] what I really wanted to do. At the the time I was really struggling with my mental health.”
Angela, Freelance Journalist
This was something Matt found out the hard way. “When I got a few more tough interview rejections, I hit another funk,” he says, but it was also this that encouraged him to explore different opportunities, working on himself, learning new skills and trying his hand at freelancing. While he admits he found it hard without extensive contacts, he managed to secure several major commissions.
Angela also remained freelance – though she’s now taken on a steady part-time gig to give her some security. She admits, looking back, that she is glad her redundancies happened when they did. “It made me a stronger person, [taught me] to be more protective of my time, to appreciate my self-worth more and to be more selective of the projects I want to do. In fact, I’m happier than ever.”
Matt, too, managed to see the positive side to his situation. “During my sabbatical, I had a lot of time to reflect,” he revealed. “What I realised was that I’d been blindly chasing my childhood dream of being a journalist without due consideration for who I’d become. I realised I probably wasn’t cut out to be a staffer and that was okay because there were other areas of media I could explore.”
Getting Back On Your Career Journey
So, what should you do if this does happen to you? You’re likely to get a lot of well-meaning advice from friends, family and former colleagues, but remember that what works for someone else might not work for you. One tip worth listening to, though, is that it may help you to reframe redundancy as an opportunity rather than a punishment.
Similar, Angela stresses that going alone is the last thing you should consider. “Reach out to other freelancers, old colleagues or others going through the same thing,” she advises. “It’s important to talk about what’s happening rather than bottling everything up inside to try and solve your own issues.”
She also has shrewd financial advice for anyone who might go through what she went through: “I know it’s not always possible, but make sure you try to budget enough money for the dry spells for when you don’t have work – it makes life a lot less stressful.” Equally, Matt adds that it’s always worth looking at what benefits might be available or getting a part-time job outside of the industry to support you. “It doesn’t make you any less of a journalist to accept help when you need it,” he says.
“It doesn’t make you any less of a journalist to accept help.”
Matt, Freelance Journalist
David Wiecek, a professional career coach and CV writer, adds: “Unemployment is also a great opportunity to learn new skills, volunteer, and spend more time with friends and family; to do all the silly things you said you would do if you had all the time in the world. Well, now is your chance.”
When advising his clients, David also hammers home that what happened to them could just as easily happen to anyone.”Layoffs litter the news on a near-daily basis. You can’t control the volatile job market, but, ultimately, you decide how you’ll react — with fear, grudges, and procrastination, or with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.”
In light of this, David also recommends that you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture of what goes on outside of your work-life. “Step away from the job search and career development process once in a while. Sometimes, we need to step back from our daily lives, zoom out, and see the bigger picture. Often, we wait until tragedy strikes to snap us out of our routines, but you can actually do this intentionally, right now.”
Whatever you decide to do, just know that, if you face redundancy, it’s far from the end of the road. Many journos who go through it still go on to have great careers and you’ll be no exception.