For much of my first five or six years on Twitter, I tried to convince other journalists of its value. I’d assure them that you didn’t have to tweet about what you had for breakfast and that it really helps you find sources, report stories, etc. I’ve pretty much stopped doing that.
If you’re a journalist not using Twitter in 2014, you’ve chosen to be less skilled, less relevant, less visible and less connected. That’s your choice and I no longer care much about changing your mind. I can think of a few times in the last month that I’ve encountered journalists who were defiantly resisting use of Twitter and I just smiled, if I acknowledged their defiance at all.
But here’s one last try: You might get fired at any time. Every journalist knows that, especially these days. When you get fired, Twitter is an incredible source of encouragement and even job leads.
I’ve been fired twice in my career: in 1992 when I was editor of the Minot Daily News and Wednesday when Digital First Media announced that it was shutting Thunderdome and told me my job would end on July 1.
I had support from friends, family and colleagues in 1992, but it was one of the worst days of my career. Wednesday was another difficult day. But it was still one of the best days of my career. I will always remember it fondly for the warm embrace of friends, especially on Twitter.
Word of my firing spread pretty quickly in Minot in 1992 (for 1992). I told my staff pretty soon after the publisher told me. Then, after telling Mimi, I started the long process of calling family and friends (if I could even reach them by phone).
The publisher put a notice in the paper that Sunday (she had fired me on Friday) saying that I was gone. The Associated Press wrote a story on my firing, so the wire spread the news at least two or three days after my firing. Outside North Dakota, I doubt anyone published it, but journalists read those things, so a few people started calling me with words of encouragement and support, offering to let me know if they heard of any opportunities.
The contrast Wednesday was amazing. Three stories posted late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning had told different parts of the story, most notably Ken Doctor’s detailed analysis. Though none of them identified me as someone being fired, my morning Twitter feed was filled with messages of good wishes and encouragement. That accelerated after Andrew Beaujon reported that I was among those leaving.
— JanetCoats (@JanetCoats) April 2, 2014
It continued all day. I had more than 300 mentions on Twitter Wednesday, the vast majority of them tweets of praise, sympathy and/or encouragement. Many were from dear friends, but casual acquaintances and people I’ve never met in real life joined in by the dozens, too.
The outpouring was strong on Facebook (more than 100 likes, comments, shares and wall posts), email, gchat and even Google + and LinkedIn. And some phone calls. But nowhere was it stronger than on Twitter. That 300+ figure doesn’t count all the retweets of those tweets or favorites of one of my tweets or of a mention.
I was assured I would “land on my feet” so many times that I started joking about my ankles.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) April 2, 2014
The encouragement just kept coming and coming and coming:
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) April 2, 2014
— Charitable Words (@tcallinan) April 2, 2014
— Deb Gersh Hernandez (@DebGH) April 2, 2014
— Cheryl Sadler, MLIS (@sadlercheryl) April 2, 2014
— Rob Tornoe (@RobTornoe) April 2, 2014
— Jenn Smith (@JennSmith_Ink) April 2, 2014
— Thomas R. O’Donnell (@IowaScInterface) April 2, 2014
OK, I won’t post all 300+, but you get the drift. That’s the feel-good part, and feeling good on that day meant the world to me.
And to my colleagues. People contributed more money Wednesday to a bar tab for my Thunderdome colleagues than they contributed last month to change the name of my blog (take that, Gene Weingarten!).
Thanks, everyone, for the bar tab donations to @DFMThunderdome. Rest assured, they are going to a noble cause.
— Mandy Jenkins (@mjenkins) April 2, 2014
The first time I got fired, it was a lonely day, even with my family and my ex-colleagues physically hugging and comforting me. But this time, the embrace was multiplied again and again. I wasn’t just embraced, I was uplifted.
I must repeat profound thanks for everyone. I couldn’t keep up with all the tweets Wednesday (and they continued Thursday and Friday), and I wish I could have thanked everyone directly. But the feel-good value of sympathy and encouragement can be short-lived. When you’re fired, you have to find a job.
I was a good journalist both times I got fired. And my price tag for my next employer was notably lower in 1992, even after adjusting for inflation. But it took me six months to find my next job in 1992, more than five months to get my first offer. We had signed a deal to sell our Minot house on January 31, 1993. And when January started, I still didn’t have a job offer. We were 31 days from being homeless.
That was a long and difficult slog that tore at my patience and my confidence.
This next part is going to sound like boasting, so I’ll apologize for that up front and try to keep it pretty straightforward. And I’ll note that the response was similar for my Thunderdome colleagues, many of whom use Twitter better than I do.
The encouragement contrast between the two times I was fired actually paled in comparison to the job-prospect contrast.
As I confirmed on Twitter that I was affected, then blogged that I had been fired, people started tweeting, DMing, emailing and Facebook messaging about job opportunities for me and for my Thunderdome colleagues. I even got the best reference I could ask for:
My spreadsheet of opportunities, all but a couple initiated by the potential employer or a third party, many of them in tweets and DMs, has 22 entries, and I’m planning to audit my tweets and emails this weekend, because I know I’m missing some.
I’ve sent still more opportunities along to colleagues. And I know they have lots more opportunities that didn’t come through me. The same outpouring of both encouragement and prospects that I felt was multiplied by 52, because Thunderdome was one of the most accomplished teams anywhere at using Twitter and a host of other digital tools.
— Mitch Pugh (@SCMitchP) April 2, 2014
Some of the prospects won’t pan out (I bet some of the ones I’m interested will choose Thunderdome colleagues who will be better fits for those jobs). But I got more legitimate opportunities for the next phase of my career on Wednesday than I did in six months of job-hunting in 1992-93.
I’ve already talked by phone, email and social media to several other potential next bosses: startups, universities, digital news operations, even a couple newspaper companies. I don’t know what my next opportunity will be, but I’m feeling confident about this job search.
I know that I have been fortunate and that many journalists who have eagerly learned Twitter and other digital tools have endured long and frustrating job hunts. Some have lost patience and left the business. Others will.
I don’t minimize the experience of being fired, even when you do get other opportunities swiftly. Beyond the financial uncertainty and setback, it’s a blow to the ego and a time of anxiety, even when you can see the opportunities. You know you’re going to be parting ways with (and perhaps competing for jobs with) dear friends.
But I’ll tell you this: I’ve been fired before I could use Twitter and I’ve been fired when I was active on Twitter. This is better.
About my blog name: Yes, I have a ridiculous blog name. It’s temporary, and it’s for a good cause.