I am in a much better position right now that gives me happiness, stability and freedom.
That wasn’t the case when I left the University of Toronto as a journalism grad and went on to write the news.
I did very well as a newspaper editor, running the whole show of a weekly newspaper that had around 16 pages. I managed one freelancer.
I won a few awards including one for Best Business Writing.
To illustrate the point, here’s a journalism taboo
I’m going to do what my chief editor told me not to do: quote from social media.
Take a look at some of the things I see on social media from all corners of the world.
less than two years ago when the company launched. less than half the journalists pictured are still there pic.twitter.com/OH9pL7D5lP— dustin godfrey. (@dustbobgod) January 30, 2023
welp, I’ve been let go from my job out of the blue and am back in the big bad world of freelancing again 🙃 If you’re looking for a consultant, copywriter and journalist lmk I cover food, travel, lifestyle or anything weird! hmu on: email@example.com (that’s three i’s)— Angela Hui 許紫恩 (@angela_hui) February 28, 2023
I have some news… pic.twitter.com/lTe3Rs0kOA— Lisa LaFlamme (@LisaLaFlamme_) August 15, 2022
“Do more with less”
Every year, I saw people getting laid off.
Granted, I was probably working in the most embattled segment of the news industry — newspapers.
Yes, the newspaper industry has been in decline for a long time.
The rise of digital media and the internet has led to a decline in print newspaper readership and advertising revenue, which has affected the financial sustainability of many newspapers.
A three-person newsroom could potentially become a one-person newsroom over the course of a few years.
Because of financial constraints, I could no longer attend city council meetings. Instead, I was instructed to call the city hall and ask them what happened.
I ended up doing the newspaper’s layout, photography, web, videos and stories. In fact, as time wore on, a bigger part of my job ended up being the web metrics.
As far as I was concerned, it was quite difficult to achieve the ideals of journalism that I was taught at journalism school.
Finding the strength to leave journalism
I saw the writing on the wall and decided to leave my job as a newspaper editor.
It wasn’t easy. I have built relationships with people in the place where I reported. I was paid an OK amount of money. I ran a newspaper that saw major improvements in quality under my watch.
But five years after leaving journalism, I can say that I have more freedom, better financial stability and my future is much brighter than if I stayed in that industry.
It wasn’t easy. When I left my job, I didn’t have another job lined up. I did some freelancing, tried a few jobs and the ended up working in communications.
It took nine months to get to this comms job. I’d say the comms job was a fantastic experience that taught me about corporate communications.
Why was my comms job fantastic?
I loved it because I was treated with respect and everything was predictable. Granted, I didn’t do media relations, so your experience might vary if you still have links to the media.
The low pay in journalism also meant I was getting paid more than what I made. It made accepting the job much easier.
What you can do to prepare yourself
The good thing about being a journalist these days is that you will have a bunch of digital skills. I left journalism and found my niche outside journalism using my technological skills.
Forget about your AP/CP style. The only acronym you need is SEO.
If you intend to do any writing as your next job, you can forget about your AP/CP style and instead focus in on SEO.
SEO has become a key skill for me. I recommend people to read a guide on the different aspects of SEO, especially keyword research.
A very good guide to SEO is Ahrefs’ beginner guide. Pay particular attention to their keyword research chapter.
Since you were a former journalist, you can probably write. Just remember that when you write for SEO, you aren’t really writing to journalism standards, which is something like:
- Write a balanced article
- Include multiple sources
- Get some quotes from sources
Instead, your goal is to get your readers’ attention and try to keep them on page, all the while encouraging them to do what you want them to do. For example, sign up to a mailing list.
If you can already write an interesting article, you’re already halfway there. With effective keyword research and a nose for what your site will rank for, you will have the skills necessary to find your after-journalism job.
Strengthen your graphical skills
When I left journalism, I made a big effort to strengthen my graphical skills.
As I stated in the beginning, my niche involved being technologically savvy, so knowing how to do photo manipulation, banners, business cards, posters, etc. really helps.
Knowing how to use the Adobe Creative Cloud suite really helps. To this day, I pay $800 a year for the software because it really represents a cornerstone of my toolkit.
Here’s where I think you should put your time into, in descending order of importance:
- Premiere Pro
- After Effects
Knowing how to use these software, even if only at a basic level can really help you out when your boss suddenly wants you to do something.
For example, one day my company wanted to produce a podcast. They looked at me to go hunt for the gear and stuff. Then I was tasked to edit them too. Luckily, I knew how to edit audio with Audition.
I actually am struggling with specific recommendations to learn specific Adobe programs. I believe any beginner’s course on LinkedIn Learning would help. Your library might have a subscription with them so you don’t have to pay. I believe most big-city Canadian libraries do.
I’d also recommend attending Adobe MAX every year to see what kind of new techniques are out there.
AI evolves very quickly. I wrote this guide about how you can use Photoshop and Stable Diffusion to generate graphical assets, but I expect there to be an even better method in a few months post-publication.
AI’s march forth can’t be stopped. You might as well know how to use it.
Some tools that have really helped include:
Stable Diffusion beginner’s guide — if you don’t know where to start with AI image generation, start there.
Adobe Podcast Speech Enhancer — this helps you clean up noisy recordings
The following video was also quite inspiring in finding uses for ChatGPT that will supercharge your ideation and work efficiency.
Web design and development
By far the most important skill that will boost your career prospects involves web design, development and other programming-related tasks.
There’s a bit of a difference between web design and web dev, so make sure to understand the difference if you like design but can’t code or vice versa.
However, both aspects pay very well, has great prospects and affords you a dynamism which no other skill listed will come close.
In 2018, I started learning how to program simple HTML and CSS website. Today, I have created an app for a client and have built many labour-saving tools that automate away simple, repetitive tasks.
Here’s what I used to learn:
Learn HTML and CSS with Interneting is Hard — this website is not the most up-to-date but it provides a decent way to start learning how to use timeless and fundamental elements that make up a website.
I believe once you are done with that course, you can do Googling to augment your knowledge for things that you don’t know and don’t understand. You can also email me.
More freedom. More happiness.
You will be happier, more financially secure and feeling like you’re making a difference to your own life once you take the leap of faith.
With the skills that I have built post-journalism, I am able to do freelance work. I don’t believe the market for freelance journalists is as abundant.