It’s not a ripple, it’s a wake

[what follows is a reposting from the FOLIO: MedioPRO
social networking site:]

That was the tag line in my response to someone’s question here. The question was about whether or not the current (euphemistically named) “economic downturn” was affecting our industry.

My first response was, “you don’t work in this business, do you?”

In the news today was notice that McCann Erickson was laying off 3% of the company, and Playboy was essentially closing its NY production offices (“’a small number’ of licensing, editorial and other publishing positions” would relocate to Chicago – the positions, mind you, not necessarily the people who currently hold them).

That was just this morning. That was just New York City.

My magazine folded and I was laid off a week before my wedding. It was, at the time, one of the better things to happen to me.* It was less than three and a half years ago.

*(Getting laid off, I mean, not the wedding. Not that getting married wasn’t great – it was – it was better. Please don’t show this to my wife.)

I would have been closing an issue right up until the big day. They were doing me a favor. In addition to offering me (as I remember) 3 months’ severance, they gave me the option of the job I currently hold. There were a slew of freelance opportunities to be had. My choices were steady income for a little while, and the opportunity to make money on top of that, or back at work on Monday. No one faulted me for choosing the former.

It afforded me the opportunity to work at a few other, big name titles, to meet and get to know more people in the business, to see how everyone else does things. What did it teach me? 1) that I really do know what I’m doing (though I remain terribly insecure); 2) there are many people I still need to learn a lot from; and 3) this business is really small – everyone knows everyone else.

Of the people I know that do what I do, many of them are happy to be getting a regular paycheck – the ones that are getting one. People I used to freelance for are now freelancing themselves, some less than they’d like. A temp agency I once dealt with years ago at my last job (I hired one person for a few weeks who wasn’t terribly talented) is now calling me monthly, in the vain hope that someone may have fallen under a bus (perish the thought!) and I might have an open position. The job posting boards that were all Production, Production and Production, long enough after I accepted my current job to make me wonder if I’d made the right choice, now only list the occasional Photo Researcher. (I had a kid on the way, and a regular check and health insurance seemed a good idea.)

Our printer laid off more than 500 people while I was at one of their plants two weeks ago. There were whole football field-sized rooms of presses not running. It is no longer a matter of performance, but of cost cutting. That’s why many people like me are scared. No one wants to be rendered redundant.

Not just redundant, but irrelevant.

While freelancing, I turned my nose up at jobs that needed an “expert” with Quark 4 on Mac OS 9 – both of which I am, but who wants more experience with those skills on a résumé? Now I’m in a similar position, but on the other side of the fence. See, we just got the Adobe CS2 suite last year. Yes, CS2. And yes, CS4 is entering into the work stream now. Every tip, trick and how-to site I frequent is now rife with gushing reports on the new CS4 features, though they’re still full of their mainstay CS3 solutions. Solutions, many of which, I can’t use, because I don’t use that version every waking minute. Once the go-to guy, the guru, the expert, now I’m the one with the disadvantaged skill set.

(I’m not even going to mention all of the software I’m getting to make my job easier that doesn’t work on my OS X 10.3 system. Nope, not going to mention it at all.)

While my particular title is doing well, the company just laid off 100 people just before the holidays. As much as I’ve convinced everyone there’s tremendous benefits to upgrading that go beyond bolstering my skill set, they’ve stated they have no current plans to do so.

Of course, all of this assumes we’re printing anything on paper in the next 10 years. They’re already talking about the “Death of the Newspaper” like they were talking about Obama being president back in October.

I’m not adverse to change. I went to school for film, got a degree in English, got a job in video post production, which turned into web production, which turned into rebuilding servers, which, naturally, lead to a job doing page layout. The universe has always pointed the way for me in the past to get me to where I am now (not too shabby, so far) so I guess I’m looking for the sign post that’s going to tell me what new skills to pick up and which to drop. It’s not that I don’t want to move, just that all my stuff is here, and I know I can’t take all of it with me (especially as I’ll likely be moving to a cheaper place).

So, tell me, what’s the next big thing? Better minds than mine are still climbing all over themselves trying to figure that out.

I’ve thought about teaching. You know, if you can’t beat ’em, train ’em. I really do enjoy sharing what I know (sometimes even with people who don’t care to know it). One thing there’s still no shortage of is schools churning out scores of youngsters ready to apply for my job – people with no kids or mortgages who can move on to the next industry the way I used to move on to the next bar.

My dad used to have a bumper sticker that read, “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.” Maybe it’s time I start playing dirty.

Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 3:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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