The Day Print Journalism Died

25 10 2009


My passion is cultural journalism.  Admittedly, I’ve taken a roundabout approach to actually working in this field, but I’ve always known in the back of my mind I should really be pursuing a career in writing.  Now, knee-deep in this recession with a resumé that doesn’t reflect my ability or potential, I embark on a job search in what some people say is a dying industry.  

Four years ago, classified ads for entry-level editorial gigs looked like this: 

Editorial Assistant

Duties: Copy-editing, fact-checking, some light administrative duties and the opportunity to pitch your ideas to editors. 

Qualifications:  B.A. in English, Journalism, or related field.  Strong written and oral communication skills.  College newspaper experience a plus. 

Compensation: low 30’s

Today, they look more like this:

Editorial Assistant

Duties: Support and expand growing website with online marketing and communications efforts, edit and upload content, including text, images and videos to our page, manage our social networking efforts through Facebook and Twitter, write weekly e-blasts to our subscribers and maintain online database of subscribers.

Qualifications:  B.A. in Communications, Journalism or Marketing (M.A. preferred), at least 2 years experience developing content for a major website,  experience with Quark, InDesign, HTML, Photoshop and CSS web-based content management systems, exceptional oral and written communication skills and a strong social media presence. International work experience a plus.

Salary: $8/hr., no benefits


It’s only been four years since I graduated college, and I already feel outdated.  Magazines and newspapers are steadily laying off, moving online.  Job competition is stiff.  It’s nearly impossible to get an interview in D.C. right now without a connection, and even when you do, the employer will go out of his way to let you know that you are one candidate of many.

A few days ago, I dusted off my suit and trekked up to Rockville for what I thought was going to be a traditional magazine interview.  The staff at a well-respected history magazine with a sophisticated readership had reviewed my resumé and writing samples and wanted to speak with me about an editorial position.  Perfect!, I thought, they’ll focus on my editorial skills instead of my proficiency with Photoshop.

I was mistaken.  After waiting in the cramped “conference” room for half an hour, the editor strolled in, took one look at my resumé and said, “We got a lot of resumés for this position.  How did you get in here?” 

“Well, I have an M.A. and some strong editorial internships.  I also write a daily blog…”

“Most of the other applicants have more relevant experience than you,” he interrupted, “We have people with stronger history backgrounds, more IT experience, more marketing experience…”

“Well, I’ve been working in communications for Island Press, a non-profit book publisher, so that did involve online marketing…”

“Right,” he interrupted.  “My wife used to work there.  I think non-profits like Island Press are just an excuse to raise money.”

I was taken aback.  “Actually, they do put out some great titles,” I countered, “And their mission is noble.”  This was clearly not going well.

“You went to UVA?” he asked.  I nodded my head, and he said, “My wife went there too.  She hated it.” 

I had no response to that, so I just glared at him as he scanned my resumé again.  

“We’re not exactly sure what this position is going to be,” he finally said, breaking the silence.  “It’s kind of editorial, but it is also kind of a marketing position.  And it’s very technical.  It’s actually going to be a huge, important position, if we ever get the money to pay the person a salary.  I mean, I picked a really terrible time to purchase this magazine… print publishing is nearly dead.  We need someone to build us a website, but we don’t really have an online department yet, which is why I’m interviewing candidates myself.  But I’m not sure that you have the right kind of experience.”

“This is a paid internship, right?” I asked, reclining in my chair.


“And… you’re looking for an editorial person with a history background, technical expertise and significant web marketing experience?”

“Yes, ideally,” he said, “And hopefully, if this grant that we just applied for comes through, we’ll be able to pay that person.  Eventually.  I mean, this magazine used to be headquartered at Rockefeller Center.  Now we’re on Rockville Pike.  These are tough times.” 

“Right,” I said.  “Well I’m sure you have a lot of other candidates to interview before you make a decision, and I have to catch a bus to New York at one.  It was nice speaking with you.” 


Magazine 1, Me- 0.  Only during a recession could a nearly bankrupt publication whose primary readership is over the age of 65 find an extremely experienced marketing/editorial/IT savvy historian to build their website for $8/hr and no benefits.  

It’s a crazy world out there for aspiring journalists.  You want to be an administrative assistant at Nursing Home Weekly?  Better have a Twitter account, some web-design experience and a working knowledge of HTML!  (PhD in Systems Engineering preferred…from MIT, if possible, but Harvard would also do.)

Looks like this old-school blogger (oxymoron no longer) is headed back to J-school.

The most awkward interview of all time.

23 09 2009

handshake 1

Ahhh… Washington, D.C.  Land of social handshakes, “consultants” who can’t tell you what it is that they actually do, and the ever charming “Here, let me give you my card!”  Home of the worst kind of frat boy– the post-college political frat boy!– sporting side-swept bangs and a powder pink polo bulging over his belted khaki pants as he scans the room for bright-eyed lady interns to impress.  

Don’t get me wrong, D.C. has its strong points, though it took me four years to find them.  This city is smart, worldly, progressive and even exciting at times, and there are fantastic music, arts and foodie scenes to be found for those who care to look.  But for a 20-something, quasi-alternative aspiring writer who can’t seem to find a job, carving out a life in the District can be little more than a heinous clusterfuck of frustrations.  

You might call me a professional job seeker.  I’ve applied to almost 100 positions over the course of the last few years and actually interviewed for approximately 20.  I’ve got a Master’s degree, 4 cover letter templates, 3 resumés tailored by industry, 2 suits varying in conservativeness that I keep spotless and pressed, and 1 DAMN impressive phone demeanor.  And though I currently have no full-time job, I’ve learned something very important about interviewing in this town.  Namely, almost all interviews here will fall into one of three categories:

A) The interview that feels like a criminal interrogation, complete with difficult, irrelevant questions that make you feel mentally disabled

B) The interview that resembles a creepy happy hour, minus the cheap booze (expect to be asked what you do to “blow off steam”)


C) The interview that is so unbelievably awkward and boring that you’re sure, nay, positive that you will be offered the position, and that the universe will then laugh hysterically at the tragic irony of your life.

I experienced the last kind this morning.  I drove all the way out to Arlington, Virginia at an ungodly hour to interview for a position I didn’t especially want (because, let’s be honest, I didn’t move into the city only to reverse commute to Vanilla-Burb* every day). The woman who greeted me– let’s call her Sandra, the Queen of Vanilla-Burb– is middle aged, has medium brown eyes, medium brown, medium-length hair, and was wearing a solid oatmeal colored outfit.  She lead me through the silent, white halls of the office (it’s being repainted, so please excuse the chemical smell!) and into her own single-window cubicle.  

“So did you have a difficult time finding us?” Sandra asked in a low-volume, monotone voice.

“Well, no. I mean a little, the number was not clearly printed on the building. But I was able to infer from the numbers on the street signs…”

“This job is very exciting,” she said, clearly bored with my rambling.  “We get to work with science text-books.”

She stared at me blankly, and I stared at her back, equally blankly, anticipating her next move.

“Oh,” I finally said, after about 10 seconds of excruciating silence, “Yes, science text-books. What would we do without them?”

She shuffled through a pile of papers and slid one over to me.  “Here is the job description.  I think I e-mailed it to you yesterday.  It’s mostly administrative, but you also get to do some light copyediting, which is exciting.”   When she said the word “exciting” a second time, I felt obligated to react. 

“Fantastic!” I exclaimed, looking around the room for a sharp object with which to cut myself.

She blinked twice. “So tell me. Why are you interested in this position?” 

“Yes. That’s a good question,” I replied. “Well, I have a passion for writing and editing. I have several years of book publishing experience, and I would love to be a part of an educational organization.” 

No reply, so I kept going.  “Sooo that’s why I applied… you know, for this job.”

Still no reply. I decided to let her stew in her awkwardness this time until she could come up with another brilliant question.  

The rest of the conversation proceeded in the same way.  When one of us finished a sentence, the other just sat there in mental anguish, until finally, I said, “Welp! Thank you for meeting with me!” and stood up.

When I reached out to shake her hand, she looked at my hand like it was a used piece of toilet paper and opted not to touch it.  Instead, she thanked me in return, led me to the elevator and said she would be in touch.  As the doors closed, I half considered ripping all my clothes off and peeing a design onto the floor to make up for the half hour I just lost from my life. 

I’m going to be offered this job.  I just know it.


*So as not to offend my Arlingtonian friends, “Vanilla-Burb” refers only to Clarendon and Ballston, not the entire city or county of Arlington.