Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Laid off? What are you going to do about it?

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 9, 2010

Image credit: swanksalot on Flickr

New research by the University of  Central Lancashire on job opportunities for journalists, released this week, makes grim  – if predictable – reading.

Laid Off (pdf), a survey conducted by Francois Nel, in partnership with journalism.co.uk concluded that there are now between 30%-40% fewer jobs available for journalists than there were in 2001. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolling on journalism courses has gone up – it is currently at its highest number and its highest proportion of all undergrad courses.

It was figures like this which prompted me to write Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism in 2010, a downloadable e-book with advice on looking for opportunities among the bad news.

Chapter 7 of this week’s report asks “what are journalists doing next?” – and this is what makes the grimmest reading. Of all the 134 respondents, 23% had found full time work again, 42% were still looking. Of those who’d found more work, the majority were freelancing.

The one phrase that doesn’t appear at all is ‘starting my own business‘ or ‘becoming an entrepreneur‘. Not one of the respondents had any intention, it seemed, of using their journalism skills to plug an information gap and provide a new product or service to an audience. (It may have been that they were not asked about this either).

Thing is, the more I look around, the more I see there being a real need for people like this. The number of niches out there, and verticals within those niches, is almost countless. And if anything, it’s becoming cheaper and faster to do it than ever before. Rarely easier, but cheaper and faster.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, the majority of people in the world are happy just to observe and let others take the lead. There’s a shortage of people who see opportunity where everyone else sees a threat; willing to take the initiative, to enthusiastically accept responsibility for solving a problem which isn’t necessarily their’s to solve. “Initiative is a rare skill” Godin says, “and therefore a valuable one.”

David Parkin could have been like the majority of journalists, when he left the Yorkshire Post in 2007. He could have gone into education, or PR, or maybe tried to get a job at a national newspaper. Instead he decided to become a leader to a community, to create something new and take responsibility for a problem. He founded thebusinessdesk.com, a unique news service for regional businesses in central and North West England.

This week, thebusinessdesk.com signed on its 50,000th subscriber and David is now in charge of a thriving, and growing, company.

Sadly, just one or two laid off journalists might read this, and be inspired to launch their own business. The majority though, will look at whether thebusinessdesk.com is hiring.

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