Let Me Out So I Can Come Back In Again
The quote generally used to explain the odd behavior of dogs who scratch at the door to go out, only to take a few sniffs and about-face to the door and scratch again to come back in. It’s comical and confusing to humans.
Confusing, that is, until we start doing it, too.
As part of this “Great Resignation”, unpaid, underappreciated and overworked journalists are scratching at the door, contract on hand and contractual lawyer in the other, begging for any way to get outside of the business. Some are six months into their career, some are six stations in. It has taken over headlines throughout LinkedIn for months. November saw a record chunk of people walking away from whatever job they once held so dear.
But there’s a rip current under this wave of resignations. People who are at the door, either peeking or pounding to get back in.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Every person who is desperate to get out has a social post somewhere bragging about this new gig that is now their gloom.
You wanted to get into TV. You studied for it. You saw a paltry pay and all the details of the contract and you signed it anyway. Maybe you didn’t look close enough at the contract. Maybe you DID get bait and switched. So many maybes.
So here you are. That $15 hour or whatever sad pay you get is still the same amount as it was one Day 1. That boss that woo’d you now has 20-60 other people to attend to in addition to your attention needs. They aren’t getting paid what they used to be either, and they are battling forces you can’t imagine.
I got into news management because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to change the world. I ended up chasing the changed minds of people above me ad nauseum. I spent more time trying to corral sales clients promised the world yet never got the news department review, much less approval, than I did focusing on actual news manager job duties. I repeatedly spend $5k of my own salary interviewing dozens of candidates that I lost over $2k in salary or $1k in moving costs. I also got the disapproving look from corporate to the corners of the newsroom for my inability to hire, despite unrealistic hiring terms. Rinse. Repeat.
I still wonder if I gave up on the job or if they job gave up on me. I just know it wasn’t serving me any longer professionally, personally, spiritually, or journalistically. I have not had that “What did I do?” moment, as I refuse to look back. I only look forward with “What will I do now?”
In the social media circles I am in, there’s that slow rip tide forming. “What did I do?”, “I am so bored?”, etc. The people who battered the frantic pace of local news now complain when emails go three days without being addressed. Even I didn’t understand over the New Year’s holiday why three companies I work for part-time took December 30th off. I thought that was just something sales people did with the excuse “Clients are in office so I don’t need to be either.” I still roll my eyes at that excuse.
Where’s the Glamour and Purpose?
Anyone who worked in local news knows it’s not glamorous from the inside. It’s an exhausting, sweaty or freezing-cold, frantic hell that becomes quite addicting. You work under harsh deadlines in a 24/7 world. People think you are “cool” because you work in news or they think you are the “enemy” because, well, Donald Trump.
No matter how much we loathed some of the duties we had, we will miss that clout when we leave. People who would normally respond to me in seconds for vetted information now question who I work for, why I am asking, where till this be, where’s the media kit for that site?
Reporters and anchors who hated being recognized in the grocery store, generally to some grandma-esque comment of weight or hair style, now loathe the anonymity of the bread aisle.
When journalism isn’t what you do – it’s who you are – you do leave a good chunk of yourself behind when you leave. That either opens the path for a BETTER you, or a longing for the old you.
The Grass Isn’t Always Greener
Oh sure, people will tell us it is. We’ll see their happy hours we can’t attend, and weekend Super Bowl parties we can’t go to because we have “all hands on deck”. We see the friendships and connections that seem to be so Instagram-worthy.
Yet, when the underbelly gets exposed you find out that – lo and behold – toxicity in the workplace isn’t just connected to local news.
I long stand by toxic influences in the workplace are controlled by everyone as a group and as individuals. If you are part of a toxic system (complaining, refusing to do work correctly, ignoring emails, making fun of the boss) in a newsroom, you’ll join toxic forces anywhere.
I was excited to have the first time of my adult life to enjoy weather without being at work. Severe/winter weather was the one time I hated being the boss – I wanted to be out in the storm. So, when we got the first snowfall here I planned to sit home and enjoy it. I ended up taking 5 Shipt orders so I could travel the streets and provide data to the National Weather Service and local meteorologists I admire. Old habits die hard.
Know Who You Are Before You Make Any Change
No change of career is going to matter if you don’t do some searching and prepare for adaptions. You’ve learned what boundaries are unacceptable. You can now set them on your own.
What you can’t get is a perfect world. You can’t have a boss that pays attention to you, but doesn’t give negative feedback. You can’t complain you want to get better without being able to take that feedback. You have to stop believing is is your God-given right to get promoted. You can’t talk about how you don’t trust your boss and then go behind their back to break a contract, then complain when the News Director finds out because someone “backstabbed” you. I saw one post that said “How can they expect me to live off less than $60k?” I cringed knowing many people reading that were making half that. If you can’t find a way to live off $60k in an average American city, re-evaluate lifestyle. We all want the six-figure job, but nationwide the average rests around $50k.
Every job is going to ebb and flow with times to reap and times to sow. Are you just as invested in reaping as you are sowing? Can you determine if a job is a “bad environment” or just going through some rough changes?
I recently saw someone post a question that they had applied for a job, let’s say in Meat Packing just as an example, their question was: “I have no experience in meat packing. What can I do to get this job?”. This is someone who feels entitled to any job they want, not someone who knows boundaries or limits. How mad have you been when someone was hired in a newsroom with little to no experience and “it’s not fair” you have to train or take more of the burden?
Something has to give in this search for the perfect work/life balance with enough stress to make it fun, but to stop the stress at the exact moment you don’t want to deal with it when everyone has a different breaking point.
I once worked at a station where, during a major snowstorm, we had 2500 emails of people complaining about unplowed streets. The reporter who spent a whole hour looking for those people came back in a fit, threw their gear down, stormed off and complained that nobody would talk. Not a single person in that room was on the reporter’s side. I tripped over 3 people on my way home complaining about snowy streets. No job has the magical “It all happens at the right time” juice. The juice is, however, worth the squeeze.
I’ve seen people who now work in communications berating reporters who want interviews “right now” with comments like “I can’t just drop everything on their whim” when years ago they were the ones demanding interviews.
If anything good is happening from the Great Resignation, it’s that we’re seeing a side of side things we haven’t experienced before, making up better able to judge exactly what is we want. Why couldn’t we have done that in the first place?
I’m not suggesting you quit or don’t quit. I say YOU DO YOU. I did what I thought was right, and I’m learning a whole new world of adaption. Once I was the final say on all writing, now I sometimes have three levels of people contradicting guidance on my writing. This gave me a great perspective on how reporter’s felt during their script approval.
However, I’ve also gotten dedicated clients and a bump up with one employers to do more management work. I’ve written about growing fields of work through 2030, giving me a look at some options that might be out of my normal wheelhouse. I’ve had time to thoroughly research stories instead of regurgitating this week’s mask requirements. I’ve trained and certified in SEO. I learned about B2B and B2C marketing.
Don’t Burn a Bridge On the Way Out, You Might Want Back In Again
I am a strong believe in don’t burn bridges, in general. I have also become a strong “torch that sucker” if the bridge is a horrible person or company. I do that with the knowledge anything I burn can come back with scars, because a horrible person to me might be a muse to someone else I need down the road. So, I burn carefully and with caution, but do whatever I can to simple re-route from ever crossing that bridge again.
Anyone who is at the pivot point, I beg you to seek mental health counseling. It’s not admitting you are broken. You get someone specially trained to help you deal with what’s limiting you. Your friends and parents are always going to be on your side. That’s not always helpful when it comes to a gut check. I had a Chief Meteorologist once who every time he disagreed with me (and it was often) cited OTHER meteorologist who agreed with him. That meant nothing to me. His people in his tribe thought he was right. THEY SHOULD. Now, find me three other News Directors or television viewers who agree and we can talk.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Your Final Answer
Even if you choose to leave now, you don’t have to make that your final answer in life. It wasn’t until the last 2 years of my career I realized this roller coast ride wasn’t for me. I matured, evolved, innovated, and adapted to what is right for me. Can I say I’ll never set foot in a newsroom again? No. But I CAN say right now I have no desire to do so. I have wounds to heal and trust issues to work out.
Magic can happen anywhere when you open your eyes to it. On New Year’s Day in Lincoln, icy roads and all, at 8 am, I went to do a Shipt order. Of the 10 total people in the store, one of them was a data journalist doing research for a hyper-local project. That could be an open door for me. Look around, opportunities are everywhere, not just listed on job sites.
Most of all, I need to know what it right for ME. I pray you know what’s right for YOU at your core.