This time last year, I was losing a lot of sleep because I was debating whether to take a buyout offer from The Denver Post, the newspaper where I’d worked since 1983.
The newspaper had made earlier buyout offers that I didn’t even consider. But after a hedge fund company bought the paper and began making draconian cuts, emphasizing profits over news and service to our readers, the job I loved was becoming a ghost.
I talked with former colleagues who’d left the newspaper, looking for those who had figured out how to improve their new circumstances. Some were still professional writers, cobbling together freelance writing and photography contracts. One former editorial writer is happily working in sales at an outdoor store – a job that wouldn’t have occurred to me — while still writing freelance, and that helped in making my decision to take the buyout. I realized writing didn’t have to be a full-time job!
I had written extensively over the past few years about the issues facing the aging, as well as elder policy — a field ripe for growth, thanks to the swelling number of maturing Baby Boomers (including me). I wanted to come up with a way to combine my love of travel and my growing interest in the things that affected aging populations.
I met with my tax accountant to consider my savings and obligations. Fortunately, both of my daughters are adults on their own; I doubt I’d have taken the buyout if they were still in school. As for health care, the Affordable Care Act was critical in easing my concerns. Thanks to an investment when home prices were more reasonable, I had budget-friendly housing. With those needs accommodated, I could risk a big move like this.
First, I researched (just like writing a story!). I found progressive-minded organizations and individuals who wanted to change the existing culture of assisted-living facilities, and I checked out the in-house publications many of them are doing. I took certification courses in elder care, and — because I’ve been a part-time instructor at our local YMCA — in exercise for the aging. I asked questions of anyone who would put up with me about how aging affects travel, medical issues during travel, and other related concerns.
So, one of the first things I learned was that furthering my education in some way – attending workshops, reading about the field, asking questions of people already doing what I wanted to do — can make a big difference in the long run.
That leads to my second lesson: Networking is likelier to lead to something than just firing off story pitches. I looked for unique ways into an in-house publication, such as asking public relations people who were running press trips if they knew of anyone who might be interested in a story that targeted Baby Boomers. I took related workshops to bolster my background and knowledge foundation, and made sure I introduced myself to key instructors who would know of editors looking for stories.
Most were happy to help.
And finally, I learned to advocate for myself! When I meet new people, I tell them that I’m a former journalist interested in aging policy – and do they happen to know of any publication that might be a fit? I’ve called and emailed sources from my Denver Post days; along with people I’ve encountered at meetings, conferences or doing volunteer work, and asked for their advice.
When I ask for a meeting, I say, “I’m not going to ask you for a contract. I’m hoping you can share some of your thoughts on the existing resources for elders, and how those might be improved with the stories I want to write.” A conversation with the retired state director of the area agency on aging was extremely helpful in targeting potential outlets, while another conversation directly led to writing and copy-editing work.
I think, with patience, that this is going to work out in more ways than one — not to mention that it will be a great merging of my passions.
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