Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You Can Learn A Lot In 12 Months

The original premise of this entry was going to be about me lamenting that I have been out of work for nearly a year. For those of you keeping track, April 24 will mark the anniversary date of my entry into journalism free agency. Then I figured that would only open the door to more negative and disappointing thoughts. That’s not why I created this blog.

Instead, I’m going to share with you some of what I have learned over the last 12 months. No one ever stops learning. I hope you learn a little something from this as well.

I’m learning a lot more about how traditional media is fading away. More and more of my friends, both working journalists and “civilians,” are getting their news online. That’s not necessarily new to most of us, but the number of people I know personally who no longer buy newspapers or watch the evening news is staggering. Nearly everyone I know is getting his or her news via links on the Web. For some, it’s through links on Facebook. For others, it’s through links or messages on Twitter. For others, it’s relying on friends who shoot them emails or texts. But the days of people picking up the paper are quickly coming to an end. It’s sad for me, a guy who still loves to pick up a paper, scan the headlines and read the content. I’m not saying I’m scared of all this. But I hope that people that are getting their news online only are being cautious about where they get their news. Sure, someone can post a tweet about someone dying in a car crash or about a rally happening downtown. (Or in news I don’t care about, which celebrity was caught sleeping with someone that wasn’t his or her spouse/significant other.) It’s important to get the news, but I hope people are still interested in getting the right news. I also hope my fellow media practitioners are not sacrificing “getting it right” in favor of “getting it first.” That’s a tough balancing act, folks. As much as everyone says journalism is easy, trust me when I say it’s not, especially if you care about what you’re giving to the public. By the way, most journalists DO care about what they put before you, no matter what your skeptical friends think.

Making a clean segue into the next topic, I’m learning that making a Web site, regardless of what it’s about, is not an easy job. My formal education in this comes courtesy of the Website Development Certificate program at Gateway Community College here in Connecticut. Seeing as how I have so much free time on my hands, it makes sense to try to do something more than just look for work and watch television. So for up to three days each week, I make the trek from my home to the Gateway campus in North Haven, Conn. to learn about what goes into making the Web sites so many of us visit. I know more about the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that affect the looks of pages that appear on the World Wide Web. By no means am I an expert and I’m not sure how I’ll use this to re-enter the full-time workforce as a news or sports reporter. But as my brother always told me, more education never hurt anybody. Besides, the courses – and books - are paid for thanks to Connecticut’s Workforce Investment System, which is intended to get people the skills they need to get jobs. With journalism not having as many opportunities as before, I may just find myself using these skills sooner than later. (By the way, you will be seeing a Web site by this author really soon, hopefully by the end of the year. I’ll keep you posted.)

I’ve learned I really care about sports more than other things. This does not mean I am not paying attention to health care reform, the H1N1 outbreak, the rise of the Tea Party movement or even the dire economic situations many states are still facing. These are topics we should all have some knowledge about and keep tabs on, but I care about sports a lot. I watch or listen to more of Mike Francesa’s radio program on WFAN radio in New York than I really should, even when I vehemently disagree with the host and/or his callers. I flip to ESPN frequently in the mornings whenever CNN goes to commercial break. I’m watching every damn New York Rangers hockey game until the end of the season to see if they can make it to the NHL Playoffs, even though I’m fully prepared to accept them not making it because it seems like they only decided two weeks ago to play with a sense of urgency. I’m still wondering why the Syracuse University Orange basketball team played so awful in their regional semifinal loss to the Butler Bulldogs, thus making everyone who said they didn’t deserve to be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament feel better about their thoughts. (No matter that only one of the four top seeds in the Big Dance made it to the Final Four.) Plus, I’m looking forward to the start of baseball season and will be glued to the TV on the night of April 4, when my beloved New York Yankees begin their quest for a 28th World Series championship against the rival Boston Red Sox. I also know that, despite me having to be careful with money, I must fulfill my Yankee fan obligation and get a new Yankees fitted cap for the season. (I get one every two years. You can’t break with tradition, can you?) Hard news will always get my eyes and ears when it’s important, but that love of sports is hard to shake. I hope it never fades away, especially since I would like to write more sports in the future.

I have learned that getting fresh air and being around others is very good for you. Even if it’s a trip to the gym, a night at the movies or a walk along a nature trail, being out is good. Staying in the house all the time feeling down about your lack of a job, that bill you can’t pay or that company that didn’t call or email you back about your application can drive you crazy if you let it. It’s imperative to get the hell out the house, if only for an hour or so. Even if you are working, do a little something to change your scene for a second. Take a walk. Read a book for pleasure. Take a friend out for dinner or go along if he or she invites you. Sometimes, you need a departure, even if it’s for a moment. The job search and freelance assignments through the Valley Independent Sentinel have offered some escapes. Freelance work and interviews have taken me to places I otherwise would not have traveled to, including Great Barrington, Mass., Hyannis, Mass. (that's in Cape Cod for those who may not know), Boston, Putnam, Conn., and Mahopac, N.Y. None of the trips has landed me a new job, but it’s taken me away from my place for a bit. The interviews have also given me a chance to wear a suit – and I do look good in a suit, if I do say so myself.

Finally, I have learned that you realize who your true friends are and who cares about you the most in difficult times. This is for the people who call every day or week to see how you’re doing. The ones who send you little candies or other trinkets to brighten your spirits, even if you're already feeling jovial. The people who go beyond an email or a post on your Facebook wall when your birthday or a special holiday rolls along. Not saying that the last two aren’t appreciated, but there’s more of a personal touch when you tell someone in a phone call or a visit or a card that you care. And I am not big on cards, but you tend to think that someone really cares about you when they send you a card or a letter as opposed to doing something electronic. So thank you to my friends and my family (especially my older brother) for checking in on me and making sure things were all right, even if I was busy watching a game or doggedly preparing yet another job application. Along those same lines, I have learned that young children REALLY care about just having you around. I visited with my old college friend's two youngest children when their birthdays rolled around. As happy as they were with the cakes and the gifts they received, they were more than happy when “Uncle Melvin” dropped by to play games or just to act goofy with them, albeit after pulling me away from their father and grandfather and interrupting mature conversations. (Note: his older kids also appreciated seeing me, just as I did seeing them. Both of ‘em are soon to be heading to college. Man, those kids grow up fast. Too fast.)

One other thing to add to the things I’ve learned: That I still love writing. This entry was not supposed to be this long. But I could not help it. Then again, you probably figured that out since you bothered to read this far, right?
Maybe I’ll learn a little more about you because of it.

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