Monday, June 18, 2007

Just in case I'd forgotten about the necessity of that emergency fund

Anyone with an interest in the media landscape has probably seen the headlines about what a dire economic state the journalism industry is in.

Virtually every major newspaper has undergone drastic layoffs, longstanding chains are being sold and dismantled, and even the industry's pinnacles are under assault. A few years ago, most people would probably agree that the top four papers in the country were the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times. Since then, the Washington Post has been dinged (though not decimated) by downsizing, the LA Times has had its highly regarded top editorial management tossed out so the Tribune Company can have freer reign with its cost-cutting, and the WSJ is widely viewed as likely to be sold, either to Murdoch or whatever white knight can be found to keep it out of his hands.

Those white knights don't tend to work out too well. It's deeply sad to look at how many names in the newspaper industry, names that once represented great journalistic franchises, now stand for cautionary tales. The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Star-Tribune. The Baltimore Sun. The Santa Barbara News-Press. Reading Romenesko (the venerable blog tracking media-industry news) these days is like flipping through the obits.

And last week, I got a reminder that my little pocket of the media world isn't as immune as I'd thought. My magazine's parent company implemented a big restructuring. The dust settled with half my magazine's staff laid off, with the brunt of the cuts falling on our most senior and most experienced staff.

I'm still employed, but my job and daily work environment are a whole lot different than they were a week ago. It was also a reminder that mine is not a career to grow old in. Journalism eats its elders; skill and acclaim are no protection. One you've been around long enough to command a significant salary, you basically have a target painted on your forehead.

Which means I'd really better step up those savings. My only protection against catastrophe down the road is having enough savings so that my financial infrastructure isn't dependent on paychecks from a career that could easily collapse.