Faith in the unemployment line

Like hundreds of thousands of other Americans, I’m being laid off from my job. Not right now, mind you, but in about six weeks. My colleagues and I get to walk the gangplank toward unemployment for another 46 days – or so the newsroom countdown clock proclaimed yesterday.

We’re one of three newspapers on the verge of closure by our corporate parent right now, the latest chapter in a book of newspaper failings, newsroom reductions and news-hole shrinkage. The paper I work for, as well as the fighting Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle PI, are all up for sale, but any journalist worth his or her press credentials knows it will take a miracle along the lines of parting the Red Sea to keep these papers open. Here in Tucson, the fact that our company is being so fervent in its helpful gestures (Job placement counseling! A primer on unemployment benefits! A shoulder to cry on!) is clear sign to naturally skeptical reporters that the “sale” is less than serious.

So we huddle in small groups to pass around job tips and meet in larger ones to discuss how to build Web sites to host our clips and resumes. As panic grows around us (no jobs in journalism, of course, but no jobs ANYWHERE?) we keep working: We gather the news, sit down at our computers with notes resembling a cross between Sanscrit and cave drawings and turn out a news story someone will read over her morning coffee or after his dinner. It isn’t changing water into wine, but sometimes – translating government documents into intelligible prose or reporting on city budgets or telling the story of a small child dying from an incurable disease – it sure feels like it.

Someone recently told me to “have faith” that everything will be OK. Maybe in our lives, but some of us have less faith that journalism will be OK. Will this vocation of ours – one critical to a functioning, free democracy – disappear althogether? In a online world where anyone can become a “citizen journalist,” what happens to (dare I say it?) real reporting? What happens to analysis and thoughtful commentary in a landscape of 250-character Tweets? What happens when making money is more important than making sure there are multiple professional news outlets keeping the public informed?

Oh yeah, those news outlets close down. And their employees do things like resurrect (no pun intended) religion news blogs. Check back for updates or, easier on you, become a follower of the blog by using the button located to the left and below the news feed and archives. For your bad religion tidbit of the day, check this out.

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