by Regan McMahon
Back when I had a full-time job, I remember watching people on the TV news taking about how long they’d been out of work. Top Silicon Valley executives, experienced engineers, municipal water district employees, teachers and bricklayers would preface their remarks with “I’ve been out of work six months” or “It’s been 18 months” or “I haven’t been able to find anything in almost a year.” I’d hear that and think they mustn’t be trying very hard.
Last fall, when I wrestled with the decision to take the voluntary buyout  my offered by the newspaper where I had been an editor, book critic and feature writer for many years, I figured that the severance lump sum and unemployment checks would carry me through for almost a year, and there was no way it would take me that long to find a job so I’d make a tidy profit. I’m a hustler, used to taking on freelance work above and beyond my day job. I’m an optimist, too. I knew I would tackle this challenge the way I tackle a Page One story: with in-depth research, intense focus and indefatigable energy. I’m a go-getter who would just go out and get a new job.
However, as I detailed in my series of Off Ramp posts  about taking the buyout and the emotional aftermath  of the decision, when I took my leap I landed in the tightest job market since the Great Depression. And, as it turned out, it wasn’t only the economy that was in trouble, my entire industry was on the ropes. I was bombarded with virtually daily news stories—in my own paper and on news and media websites I subscribe to or browse—about the death of newspapers and the shrinking magazine market, with young upstarts and media heavyweights alike outdoing each other to declare the cause of print journalism’s demise, naming and blaming those responsible.
So I got a double dose of bad news each day when I logged onto my computer: finding nothing in the barren wasteland of the job boards (Craigslist, Monster, CareerBuilder plus all the journalism job sites) and being hit with incessant obituaries of my profession itself. And it wasn’t just print publications that were hurting. Websites—where I figured my future lay—were cutting jobs, too.
“Oh, the skills you have are easily translatable,” friends would tell me. “So many people don’t have good writing and communication skills. But you’re both a writer and an editor. That makes you really valuable.”
I’m also a book critic, a longtime copyeditor and production editor and a published nonfiction author. But publications and book publishers are all in downsize mode, with layoffs and hiring freezes rampant. Even where there are openings, veterans are not what they’re looking for. When a fellow buyout taker, a brilliant and experienced magazine editor, noticed an opening at a magazine where she used to work, she asked an inside connection if she should apply (despite the fact that it felt like going backward). Her friend told her she asked the publisher, and he said that even though he knows my friend is well qualified, he’s looking for someone “young and cheap.”
Online publications seem to value youth over experience, too, and many operate on a shoestring. I got a call back for a job at an online magazine only to learn that the salary was what I got paid in my first journalism job, right after grad school. That won’t cut it for my family of four with one kid in college.
Some friends and successful execs say I should forget about sending electronic applications and concentrate on networking. Either way, I can’t give up. I never expected to be out of work this long, and the pressure is on to find something before the health care coverage in my severance package runs out.
Read the previous installment: A Stay-at-Home Mom at Last .
Read the next installment: A Job Search: The Trouble with Networking .
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .