Archive for the ‘Career advice’ Category

I wish journalists weren’t learning so many important lessons from losing their jobs. But, as long as so many journalists are losing their jobs, I’m glad some of them are sharing the lessons they’re learning.

I blogged recently about the turmoil in Canadian media, which resembles what U.S. media have also faced, including various companies I’ve worked for.

I’ve shared lessons here before (links below) from my job losses and job searches, but in this post, I want to call attention to posts by two Canadian friends who have blogged their own lessons.

Melanie Coulson, whom I met in a visit to the Ottawa Citizen in 2010, lost her job there a couple years ago. This week more Citizen journalists have lost their jobs*, and Mel blogged about four lessons she learned since losing hers. I recommend reading her entire post, but here’s a passage that stood out to me:

Stop thinking of yourself as a journalist with specialized skills that won’t transfer to other jobs. I’m telling you — they are so, so in demand.

Words are your super power — but to others they are kryptonite.

You have other amazing superhero skills: You ask the right questions, ones that others are afraid to ask.

This is something you’ve done that your whole career.

Update: And now Mel has a new gig:

Earlier this month, Kim Fox shared nine lessons from her own job-loss experience, including this one:

Say yes to every meeting  –  even when you’re feeling low, or aren’t sure about fit. IMHO any interview is good practice; it’s just as important to learn what you DON’T want.

*Update: Drew Gragg notes in the comments that the most recent departures at the Citizen were voluntary buyouts. I don’t know the particulars of the Ottawa situation, but I do know that every round of buyouts in the news business includes some pressure to accept a buyout before some people may want to end their careers. Sometimes the pressure is an attractive package, sometimes the pressure is an explicit or implicit recognition that the company may cut jobs (with a less attractive severance package) if it doesn’t succeed in reducing the newsroom enough with buyouts. And some people are fed up and ready for retirement or another career and jump at the package. I know some happy journalists who have moved on with not problems after a buyout. I know others who have dealt with and still deal with many of the issues discussed in Kim’s and Mel’s posts, though the dynamic is definitely different if you had a choice in the matter, even a choice under pressure.

My links on losing jobs and looking for the next one

I should note here that you don’t always start looking for a job because you just lost one. I’ve lost two jobs in my 45-year journalism career. Other times, I moved on because a great opportunity arose while I was enjoying a job. Sometimes I started looking for work because I could see the current job situation deteriorating for reasons varying from personal relationships to economic turmoil to changing strategy. Along the way, I learned a lot.

Here are previous posts I’ve written about dealing with the impact of a job loss and looking for the next one (the first one includes excellent advice from colleagues):

Job-hunting tips: Spread the word, network, be patient and persistent

Prepare for your next job hunt while you’re still working

What is your advice for job-hunting journalists?

Tips on landing your next job in digital journalism

Job-hunting advice for journalists selling skills in the digital market

Use digital tools to showcase your career and your work

Confessions (strategies) of a branded journalist (or a journalist with a reputation, if you prefer)

Your digital profile tells people a lot

Enduring lessons from being fired 20 years ago

Bitterness is like wreaking revenge on yourself


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I led a webinar Wednesday for the Society of Professional Journalists on job-hunting for journalists (but non-journos are welcome, too):

I just hit some highlights from my many blog posts on job-seeking, but those links are below. I’ve updated the top of this post to add my slides and to turn the post from future to past tense. From here on, it’s Monday’s post, which was seeking advice from other journalists. Thanks to all who send advice. That advice (from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and email) is shared in the slides above.


Here’s what I posted Monday, seeking that advice:

To stimulate your thinking, I’ll share a few tips here from previous posts on the topic, with links (I’ll suggest this post as further reading for webinar participants) and questions (in bold, to facilitate skimming here) to stimulate your thinking:

Prep for the job hunt

If you have a great job and you’re lucky (and want to) stay in it, I hope you stay where you are for many years to come. But the sad fact of journalism is (and always was) that you could lose your job abruptly, with little warning. I lost a job with no warning once (told on Friday to clean out my office that evening) and last year I got three months’ notice. Other times you feel like you’re ready for a move up that’s not likely to come in your own newsroom. Or you can’t stand your boss or your company or you want more money or a different beat. The reasons for starting a job hunt are plentiful. But your path to the next job starts while you’re happy and secure (or at least still welcome to come in every day, if no one feels secure any more) in your current job.

I wrote a blog post last year on preparing for your next job while you’re still working. One of my tips from that post: “you should always be learning new digital skills.”

What are some things you’ve done, before you started a job hunt, that helped once you started trying to find your next job (whether voluntary or by necessity)? 


One of my tips in the blog post on preparing for the next job hunt (and most, if not all, of my posts relating to this topic) is to build your professional network. In a 2010 post about job-hunting tips, I noted that Jeff Sonderman and Mandy Jenkins contacted me as soon as I got hired at TBD, before I had posted any job openings. They both eventually got jobs on my community engagement team.

What are your tips on building a network and using that network to help land your next job?

Digital profile

I blogged in 2009 about building and tending your digital profile and in 2012 about using digital tools to showcase your career and your work. Perhaps my most important advice from those posts: Google yourself so you will see yourself as prospective bosses see you (in a 2013 post, I advised editors to check job candidates’ digital profiles).

If you think you’ve showcased your career and your work effectively, please send me a link. I may use your profile page as an example in the webinar.


We will cover resumés briefly in the webinar. My key pieces of advice: Keep it to one page, but hyperlink to a page that gives more detail about your career and to actual examples of any works you cite in the resumé. (I included more resumé tips in that 2010 post).

Do you have any resumé tips? Or a resumé you’re proud of that I could share in the webinar and on the blog?

The Pitch

We will discuss how to pitch for a job. This will include the cover letter, of course, but also other ways of connecting with a prospective boss and making your pitch. As noted in that 2010 post, I made my initial (successful) pitch for a job with a direct message on Twitter.

Do you have a great cover letter you’d like to share (I could omit your name, if you prefer, but if it’s not your cover letter, I want permission from the sender to use, with or without name)? Or tell me how you pitched effectively other than through a cover letter.


Prep is helpful in two phases of the job hunt: researching the person, job and organization before you even make your pitch and doing even more research before your interview. Another point in that 2010 post was that candidates scored points in my interviews for TBD jobs with their knowledge about our people and strategy and what we had written about our plans.

The interview

Of course, you have to nail the interview. In a 2011 post, I shared a tip from Justin Karp: “Don’t be afraid to be bold when you meet someone.”

How have you nailed an interview (or screwed one up)? How have people that you interviewed excelled or stumbled? If you’ve been the boss doing the interviews, what are some important questions you ask?


Unless you get offered the job during the interview (that has happened to me, but it’s rare), your work is not done when the interview finishes. In a post from last year, I noted that I helped land my job with the American Press Institute by spending my flight home writing up my strategy for pursuing the job I’d just interviewed for. I emailed my prospective boss the strategy when I got home and within a week, I got an excellent offer that I accepted.

How have you followed up an interview effectively to help you land a job?

Don’t feel limited by my questions. I welcome your advice, whether in response to my questions or just from your own experience. Share a tip or tell a story about what worked for you or what didn’t.

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Steve Buttry interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev

An interview with Mikhail Gorbachev was one of many memorable stories for the Omaha World-Herald. Photo by Kent Sievers.

I left the Omaha World-Herald for the second time 10 years ago. After sharing some lessons earlier this year from my much shorter time at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, I started reflecting on my time at the World-Herald and what I learned there.

I spent longer at the World-Herald than anywhere else in my career, 10 years, four months in two hitches of roughly five years each, 1993 to 1998, and 2000 to 2005. I was a reporter the whole time, though I was also a writing coach the second time around.

Here are some lessons I learned in my two tenures in Omaha (or lessons I had already learned that were underscored or relearned):

Get back to work

This was my World-Herald file staffer mug. I  think Jim Burnett shot it. I was much younger then.

This was my World-Herald file staffer mug. I think Jim Burnett shot it. I was much younger then.

As I’ve noted before, I was fired as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992. In terms of getting my career back on track, it didn’t matter a lot whether I was fired because I screwed up (I didn’t) or fired because the company was cutting costs to prepare for a sale (it was). I was without a job and without a paycheck and the newspaper job market was tight (newspapers were in much better shape than today, but closings of afternoon newspapers had resulted in lost jobs and it felt like a bleak time). Even though I was willing to take a step back to resume working, many employers were reluctant to hire me for a downward move. And no one was interested in me for a step forward. In my late 30s, my career was in jeopardy, and I was exploring jobs outside journalism as well as some newspaper jobs. (more…)

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I can’t believe it’s been five years since I left Iowa. In some ways, my adventure at the Cedar Rapids Gazette seems like it was only a year or two ago. In other ways, it seems a lifetime ago. But it ended five years ago today.

My departure from the Gazette was awkward. More on that later. But the circumstances inhibited me from reflecting at the time on lessons from a job that was simultaneously one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences of my career. But maybe distance gives you better perspective on those lessons anyway. So here are those belated reflections.

I want to keep the focus positive here: sharing lessons that I learned or relearned in challenging times. Because the lessons are not all positive, I want to make one thing clear: I have no regrets about the Cedar Rapids experience and I applaud my CEO there, Chuck Peters, for attempting innovation at a time when most of the newspaper business was shamefully timid.

I’ll share my lessons in these categories: career, newsroom leadership, disaster response, leading innovation, managing upheaval. (more…)

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Mark Briggs

Mark Briggs

If you want to give your career a boost, I can’t think of better advice than Mark Briggs gives in a Quill magazine article to work on side projects.

I encourage reading Mark’s Quill piece before reading my advice. He has had more success on side projects than I have, and provides excellent advice. My point here is to endorse and elaborate on Mark’s points.

I’ve been pursuing side projects for more than the past two decades. I didn’t get paid for them all and I can’t claim success in all of them. But I think they have boosted my career at least as much as the work I’ve done on my actual job responsibilities.

I’ll share some advice on pursuing side projects, but first, I’ll make four overall points about your real job, your life and the side projects:

  1. The primary job is your first work priority. You need to give your primary job responsibilities at least full-time attention. If side projects start causing you to shortchange your primary job, before a project is ready to support you and deserves full-time attention, that could harm your career more than your side projects help. I spent a week visiting Mark’s newsroom in Tacoma in 2007 and could see that he was tireless in his primary work and respected by his colleagues.
  2. The side project can be part of your primary job. As Mark notes in his piece, some of Google’s most successful projects started in the company’s requirement that employees spend 20 percent of their time developing ideas that aren’t part of their regular job. When the bosses are seeking volunteers for new projects, be eager to jump in. Or take the initiative by proposing something you can work on, either full-time as a short-term project or on the side for the longer term. The Des Moines Register hired me in 1998 and the Omaha World-Herald hired me in 2000 primarily for reporting positions. But in both cases, I negotiated to spend part of my time as a writing coach, a regular side project that eventually would propel me to a new full-time job.
  3. The side project can be completely separate. Let your bosses know what you’re doing and work out reasonable agreements about what you can or can’t do, what might be a conflict of interests and how much you can or can’t mix work with outside projects. An outside project or how you pursue it should never be a surprise to your boss.
  4. Family comes first. I like how Mark mentions working on side projects around family responsibilities and even involving his children in one. When our sons were home, I did most of my side-project work in the early morning, before they were awake. My side projects took off in our empty-nest years, and Mimi frequently comes along for travel related to my side projects, so the extra time I spend on them at home pays off with fun together (such as trips to Italy the past two years).

Now for some advice on pursuing and managing side projects:

Make daily progress

My side project from the early 1990s — a novel — was not a success, judging from the rejection letters I received from agents and publishers. It was never published and never will be. But I learned an important lesson in writing it: Daily progress pushes your project along.

If I had planned to write that book on weekends or occasional bursts of activity, I never would have finished. And when I tried to work on it in the evening, I was never getting around to it: dinner, kids’ activities, TV, end-of-the-workday collapse all pushed it aside.

I started making progress — and finished the first draft in six months — when I decided to wake up an hour early each day and write for a solid hour while the family was sleeping before hopping into the shower to get ready for work. The hour of progress that I made each morning propelled the project along (and the momentum from that daily progress pushed me to do more writing in evenings and weekends).

Mark also tells of writing his books, starting with Journalism 2.0, in the early-morning hours. He started writing two hours before it would be time to start waking up kids and getting ready for school and work.

Getting up an hour or two early might not be the key for your side project, or may not work (you might have to collaborate on your project with people who aren’t awake yet or interview sources working normal hours). But the point is important: Find a way to commit daily time and make daily progress on your side project.

I still do most of my work on my blog (more on that shortly) early in the morning before I turn to the responsibilities of my day job. I regard the novel as a huge, if unpublished, success because it taught me how to make daily progress on other projects. On the side projects that are part of my job, I try to make an hour or two of progress early in my workday, too.

Learn to promote yourself

Journalists tend not to be promoters. We tend to think our work should speak for itself. But your side projects might require some promotion. I encourage you to recognize the need to overcome your reticence and learn to speak up for yourself.

Promotion did not come easy to me, but my career as a journalism trainer never would have happened if I had not learned to promote my work, pushing past my personal tendencies and wishes every step of the way. I developed a flier (amateurish, I can see in retrospect, but it helped land my first few gigs and I got better), created a website, touted my services in conversations on a list-serv of newsroom trainers and published all my workshop handouts on the No Train, No Gain website, for which I volunteered to become content coordinator.

My willingness to learn promotional skills and take on something that didn’t feel natural propelled me from obscurity to prominence in newsroom training. I was learning and growing as a trainer and making good connections, but I couldn’t have moved to a full-time training position with the American Press Institute without doing the promotion as well.

Don’t undersell yourself

Pricing your services on a side project, such as consulting or freelance writing, can be a huge challenge. Your work has value, and you should charge clients in a way that reflects the value. But it takes a while to develop and learn the value, and to understand your market.

I started out charging $250 per day for writing and editing workshops in 1997 and ’98, probably less than my services were worth even starting out, but I needed to break into the market, get some experience and prove my value. I raised my rates steadily as I gained experience and prominence and was charging $1,000 a day (and getting more work than I got at $250 a day) by the time I joined API in 2005.

At API, our basic fee for a full-day on-site seminar for a news organization (usually on topics such as leadership, rather than writing and editing workshops, and often involving more trainers than just me) was $6,000. I worried about who would pay such high prices. But I found that I was able to line up plenty of clients by delivering strong programs, measuring the results and showing those results to clients. Meanwhile, I raised my rates for writing workshops on the side to $1,500, and the demand continued.

When we launched Newspaper Next, our president, Drew Davis, set the price for a one-day N2 seminar at $11,000 (or $18K for a two-day seminar). I was initially skeptical that we could book much business at those prices. But we had developed a good product that the newspaper business wanted, and an effective seminar to help organizations understand and use the product. I was able to book several dozen seminars for news organizations. The demand was stiff enough that Steve Gray, the full-time leader of N2, couldn’t handle all our bookings, and Elaine Clisham and I had to handle several seminars.

(On the other hand, after a busy 2007 presenting the seminars, demand waned and we could no longer continue booking at that cost and that rate.)

You can’t charge more for your services than the market will pay. But don’t undersell the value of your services. Test the market and adjust as you need to. But don’t apologize for charging for the value you deliver.

Understand the value of free

While I was learning to price my services, I also learned the value of generosity. When I was publishing all my workshop handouts on No Train, No Gain, clients occasionally would ask me how I could afford to give that work away. My response was that I couldn’t afford not to give it away.

I could have put all those handouts into a book and charged for it, and probably wouldn’t have made enough to cover my costs of publishing the book. And my book would have become outdated the next month when I developed a new workshop. Giving the materials away built my reputation and promoted my paid services much better than advertising in an industry magazine or website would have.

At the same time that we were charging $11K for a full-day seminar for newspaper companies, API sent me to dozens of press association conferences for just $100 plus expenses, to present a one-hour Newspaper Next overview. We were essentially giving away a glimpse of the program (and the full N2 report was available free). But those nearly-free promotional appearances resulted in most of those five-figure paid gigs.

I charge my full fee for most of my workshops and appearances, but I occasionally waive (or discount) my fees for nonprofit groups. I may do it for the promotional value or just to contribute to an organization I want to support. I’ve never regretted generosity, and I’m convinced that the services I have “given away” have helped my market value and my income.

Develop a distinctive voice

I have never been paid a nickel for this blog. But it may be the best — and best-paying — side project I’ve ever done.

I started blogging when I was a reporter at the Omaha World-Herald more than a decade ago, and continued blogging at API, then launched this blog in 2008 as editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and have maintained it through three more jobs since then. Through that time, I was never hired to be a blogger and it was never my primary job. It was either a side project of my primary job or a side project outside the primary job.

This side project gave me a voice in discussions about where the news business was heading and how journalists needed to pursue the future. I used the voice in social media as well, and in guest pieces for several journalism magazines, reports, books and websites (each guest piece being a mini-side project in itself).

That voice I developed in the blog and other side projects propelled my career (including some nice pay raises) beyond what I could have achieved just from my primary jobs.

Personal note

Chemotherapy is my side project for the first half of 2015, so I have canceled speaking engagements and am curtailing other side projects. I will continue this blog (and worked on this post in the hospital), but blogging might also be sporadic.

What’s your advice?

I welcome you to share your experience with side projects as well, either in the comments here or in a guest post (email me at stephenbuttry at gmail dot com). What projects have you undertaken? How did they boost your career? What did you learn from your successes and mistakes?

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You can’t wait until you need a job to position yourself for the job hunt.

Yesterday I posted some advice on looking for a job in journalism when you lose your job. Today I’m making the point that your next job hunt starts in what you do while you’re employed and feeling secure and happy with your job (as I was for nearly all my time at Digital First Media). While working, you need to build the brand, accomplishments and connections that will become essential in your job hunt.

Your job hunt might start with losing your job in a corporate staff reduction, as happened to my Thunderdome colleagues and me in April. Or you may be frustrated with your current job and decide to move along. Or you may want to pursue your dream job. Someone may come courting you when you’re pleased with your current job (that happened to me in 1998 and I left the Omaha World-Herald to join the Des Moines Register and it happened in 2012 and I came very close to leaving Digital First Media). In any of those situations, it’s important to position yourself for future opportunities in the job you’re doing now.

Do good work

Quality work often isn’t enough, but job-hunting success always starts there. You can do good work and still not succeed in a job hunt because you didn’t do the things I discussed yesterday (or just because job-hunting is hard). But no amount of digital sophistication, networking or other techniques discussed here is likely to help if you don’t do quality work. I apologize for what will amount to boasting here, but the point is important to make.

My new job as Lamar Family Visiting Scholar at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University stems from a string of good work I’ve done over the years. In 2009, when I was finishing some work on a grant for some ethics seminars for the American Press Institute, Jerry Ceppos was dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. We might have met before at a conference, but we didn’t know each other well. Jerry brought me in for the seminar, which examined the ethical issues of digital journalism. If I hadn’t delivered a good seminar, that would have been the last time I had worked for Jerry. But I did a good job and he remembered me. (more…)

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My own job-hunting experience, along with occasional hiring experience, continues to give me firsthand perspective on hunting for jobs in today’s journalism marketplace. Updating posts from 2010 and 2011, I offer tips for job-hunting.

I apologize (just a little) for any boasting in this post. Seeking a job in the competitive market requires honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve tried to carry through in that here. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had throughout my career. I know that luck has played a role, but I also know that my own efforts have played a role, too, and I’ll try to share lessons from both.

I’ll also share advice from former Thunderdome colleagues Mandy Jenkins, Tom Meagher and Ross Maghielse and from Kevin Sablan, who recently left the Orange County Register.

I’ll do a separate post tomorrow on things to do while you’re employed that will help when you start looking for work, whether you lose your job or are seeking your next opportunity. But for today, here is advice for your job hunt:

Spread the word

Losing your job is a blow to the ego, even if you have a lot of company. We all like to believe we’re indispensable. So your first instinct might not be to tell the world you’re available. But tell the world.


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