By: Elaine WIlliams
A survey of 75 ex-Los Angeles Times staffers not only found, unsurprisingly, that leaving the paper had a negative effect on their finances, but also revealed the former journalists’ opinions on the paper, their post-Times lives, and the future of their struggling former industry. The unique survey was conducted by the Journalism Shop, an online resource matching former L.A. Times staffers with organizations seeking freelance journalism, corporate writing or design work.
“When I started the survey, I thought it’d be really helpful if I knew what people needed or what they were looking for,” says Journalism Shop co-founder and former L.A. Times staffer Brett Levy. With site co-founder and former Times reporter Scott Martelle, he began compiling questions.
More than half of the 124 people who received the link participated, Levy says. Results show that almost three-quarters of those surveyed (most of whom were between the ages of 51 and 60) were laid off, and an additional 21% left with some sort of buyout, either voluntarily or after being encouraged by their superiors. Since leaving, only 11 out of 75 former staffers have managed to land full-time jobs, and though 57% are working either part time or freelancing, 28% aren’t working at all.
Some of the respondents’ difficulties after leaving the paper extend beyond finances and a feeling of security. Twenty seven percent reported some sort of health problem, and 14 respondents have suffered from either depression or nervous anxiety since leaving the paper.
While all but one of those surveyed has some sort of health insurance to help handle those problems, many are relying on spousal benefits or government programs such as COBRA, which continue a previous employer’s health coverage for an average of 18 months after an employee leaves. Many of the ex-staffers are now facing the end of that grace period, and have few other options for health care.
Levy points out that some of the comments made by survey respondents showed that not all of those who departed the newsroom were in a hurry to find a new job. In fact, more than a third have stopped sending out resumes at all. “A lot of them aren’t rushing out to get jobs because they’re enjoying their kids and their life for a little while,” says Levy. “They’re older, and they have severance packages that haven’t run out yet.”
When asked about the future of both their former profession and their own careers, many of those polled are cautiously optimistic. While 64% would like to stay in journalism, almost 6 out of 10 respondents believe that the L.A. Times will eventually shut its doors for good, and roughly half have low hopes for the future of the industry as a whole. Many of the ex-staffers are considering jobs outside of journalism in fields such as communications, web management, teaching or furthering their education. Despite the less than high hopes for their former paper, 42% said that significant journalism will continue, though likely in a non-traditional form.
Levy said that the survey has drawn thousands of new visitors to the Journalism Shop’s Web site. He hopes to eventually find a way to open up the Web site to laid-off journalists not from the Times who have been asking to join the site and get access to its resources. For now, though, Levy said that the increased visibility of the Journalism Shop offers hope for unemployed journalists.
“One of our goals is reaching higher education, businesses and marketers,” he reveals, “because those types of people still have money and hire at real pay.”