Clawing Back After Going Bust

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Back to the future: SFSU 30 years later
Out goes the old Royals and Trash-80s: Computing in the digital age

Profile photo of Peter Erikson in Tokyo in 2003

Peter Erikson, left, holds daughter Sarah as son Noah, in stroller, and brother in law pose in downtown Tokyo in 2003. Photo credit: Peter Erikson

Essay: I am returning to San Francisco State University after 30 years to earn my degree in journalism. I left school three classes shy of a BA and, though I embarked on a news career that took me from California to Tokyo to Honolulu and back, I am now paying the price for my educational shortsightedness. I currently work part-time for a Bay Area news organization, but my future job prospects appear grim. I’m learning the code to which our textbook refers, but it’s a struggle when you were weaned on Radio Shack “Trash-80s” like the author, as well as IBM Selectrics and old Royals.
Back in 1981, jobs were plentiful. Employers put more stock in skills than schools. If you could breathe, you could work. Visits to the doctor and prescription drugs were cheap, homes could be had for a pittance of what you’d pay today and companies offered pension plans and retirement gold watches. “Furlough” had an entirely different connotation. One person did the work of one.
Fast-forward to 2011: One person now does the work of three. Here’s a job description from
“The Santa Barbara News-Press is seeking a full-time copy editor/designer. The successful candidates will do copy editing, be able to produce news and feature layouts and inside pages, select wire stories, write excellent headlines and challenge and improve local copy, complete layout and design on deadline. … Must be willing to be part of a collaborative team, take the initiative but also follow directions and must be willing to work nights and weekends.”
Other newspapers have merged in bunches, meaning drastically earlier deadlines (from 11:30 p.m. to as early as 5:30 p.m. in some cases) because of staggered editions. Training has been slashed: You learn on your own and sweat it out.
With the job market so competitive and positions so scarce, the “education” segment of your resume is as important as “experience.” I can’t begin to count the number of jobs I’ve missed out on over the last two years. Yahoo told me to “come back” once I had my degree. Chevron threw my resume into the circular file for similar reasons. So did AOL and a science company in Hercules. I surely meet all of the other qualifications ─ a journalist with more than five years’ experience who has excellent news judgment, grasps many of today’s technological advances and writes engaging headlines on deadline ─ but I am also a Rip Van Winkle emerging from the forest with scribe hat and notepad. Only when I graduate will my real experience come into play. Only it won’t, as most of the skills I’ve learned are now obsolete.
I’m presently fixating on jobs with Yahoo Home Page and AOL’s Patch. These are precisely the kind of positions I’m cut out for, and an online media job is where I see myself in five years.

Job Listings:

1. Yahoo! Home Page Sports Editor (Contract), Santa Monica or Sunnyvale

2. Yahoo! Home Page News Editors (Contract), SF, NYC, and Santa Monica

3., Local and Regional Editors, California

I also may forsake journalism and choose something like technical writing and editing. The U.S. Department of Labor, in fact, estimates the demand for such positions will rise exponentially as companies see a need to clearly explain how things work. To a true journalist, such jobs ring hollow, like public relations, as they don’t allow one to dig deep. They also require an expertise in the sciences and health care.
I just hope I can hang on.



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