Photo by ROBERT BUCKMAN

Panelists discuss trauma of layoffs, buyouts

SPJ Louisiana is publishing articles written by University of Louisiana at Lafayette chapter members who attended the SPJ Region 12 conference in New Orleans.

by OLATUNDE SOYOMBO

A three-member panel at the SPJ Region 12 Conference in New Orleans on April 16 addressed the reformatting, evolution and future of print journalism in an era of downsizing and buyouts.

Louisiana Pro Chapter President Sergy Odiduro, at podium, asks the audience for a show of hands of how many people had experienced a layoff. On the panel were, from left, John Wirt, Iris Mack and Kevin Allman.

The panel was titled, “What’s Next? Life After Layoffs,” and panelists answered questions from among the 49 attendees.

Journalists John Wirt and Kevin Allman, and businesswoman and Tulane professor Iris Mack, Ph.D., comprised the panel appointed to offer a diverse skill-set of experience and wisdom to their colleagues. SPJ Louisiana Pro Chapter President Sergy Odiduro moderated.

Photo by ROBERT BUCKMAN
Louisiana Pro Chapter President Sergy Odiduro, at podium, asks the audience for a show of hands of how many people had experienced a layoff. On the panel were, from left, John Wirt, Iris Mack and Kevin Allman. Photo by ROBERT BUCKMAN

Wirt, a 23-year veteran entertainment writer and critic for The Advocate, is now working as a freelance writer after being unceremoniously laid off in a 2015 during a round of cutbacks. Allman, editor of Gambit weekly in New Orleans since 2008, covered the “digital transition” and downsizing of The Times-Picayune and chronicled the events of that dynamic shift in Newhouse-owned Advance Publications.  Mack, a former international finance executive and now a finance professor at Tulane and blogger, whose career has included weathering the Enron financial storm, offered a business-like approach to the panel.

Mack reminded attendees that they should not put all their eggs in one professional basket and that everyone should have a “side hustle.”

“The nation is side-hustling;” Mack said, reminding the audience to diversify and adapt with the changing publishing landscape. “UBER is a side hustle.”

“We went from one daily paper to having a competitor,” said Allman, referring to Advocate owner John Georges’ buy-in to the New Orleans newspaper market by establishing the New Orleans Advocate.  “Now the two papers are kind of going after each other for a diminishing pool of print advertising, and as far as I can tell, neither one is winning.”

The Times-Picayune went to three-day-a=week home delivery in 2012, but The Advocate has seven-day delivery.

Wirt said he has capitalized on his name recognition and experience to carry him in the freelance market, but harkens to a day when work was steady.

“It’s like being hit by a bus going 60 miles an hour,” Wirt said. “It still hurts.  A lot of us in journalism, we have an avocation—we love what we do and we’re passionate about it.  It’s not just a job to us—it’s a life.”

Allman and Wirt spoke at length about the sea change that occurred in the New Orleans publishing and media markets with strategies such as downsizing, devaluing tenure and experience and overloading coverage areas with staffers.

“After 23 years, that job was gone,” Wirt recalled. “Again, it’s devastating, because I’m one of those people whose identity is wrapped up in what I do; it gives me purpose; it gives me meaning.

“And, again, I think a lot of journalists feel that way about their jobs.  Hopefully you just carry on and find something else to do that’s as interesting as journalism— as great a profession as journalism.”

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