Journalism's Great Depression has meant the loss of many thousands of jobs: 16,000 in 2008 alone, according to estimates cited by the Columbia Journalism Review. These departures are characterized and paid for on a scale that goes from lucrative buy-outs to firings with virtually no severance. Overwhelmingly, the cuts represent a break from expected career patterns with resulting personal and family upheaval. Not surprisingly, a fin de siècle gloom tends to hang over newsrooms these days, especially in the once-proud metropolitan dailies and in many magazines.
But there is another emerging strand to this narrative. It certainly does not off-set the magnitude of contraction, yet is well worth noting. Newsroom refugees are reinventing themselves in a variety of ways as entrepreneurs, authors, free-lancers, teachers, public relations and communications specialists, and presumably, craftsmen and women of various kinds.
Last week, the Columbia Journalism Review (where I am vice-chairman) announced the first CJR Encore Fellows, four eminent journalists who will write for the magazine and cjr.org over the next nine months. They are Lisa Anderson, who was the New York bureau chief and a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune; Jill Drew, who was an associate editor at the Washington Post; Terry McDermott, most recently at the Los Angeles Times; and Don Terry, who was on a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times and now contributes a column to the Chicago Sun-Times. The group will also spend time at The Poynter Institute and at Columbia University at what are intended to be sessions about how to take advantage of their transition from high-profile jobs to the next phase of their careers.