The Recession Diaries: Read all about it! Five tips for laid-off media pros

For those not familiar with the "The Recession Diaries" as it appeared on the Chicago Tribune's Web site, I used it to achieve two purposes: share tips for economic survival and thrift, and report my own stories from the home front as I wrestle with debt, financial choices and spending discipline. Those stories, so my readers told me, supplied both knowledge and encouragement, the comfort that we're not alone in this.

In that spirit, I begin my first Recession Diary entry on Walletpop by passing on five tips for a group of people very hard hit by the current recession -- media professionals.

By the end of 2009, the total job losses in the media since the beginning of 2001 will likely pass 14,000 -- roughly 25% of the industry's news workforce lost in nine years, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.Gordon Mayer, Vice President of the Community Media Workshop at Columbia College Chicago, suggests that out-of-work writers, photographers and graphic designers from the world of journalism look to the non-profit sector -- where skilled storytellers are always in demand. Here are his five tips for making inroads there.

1. Market your media savvy. Smaller non-profits with budgets under $750,000 usually lack a communications staff. If you can fill several roles, such as editor-writer, let them know. "They may not know how to take advantage of your skills right away," Mayer says. "You may have to hang around for a little while to figure out how you can slot into a nonprofit's workflow."

2. Follow the growth. As news outlets shrink, many nonprofit groups are actually investing in communications despite the economic crisis, according to a recent study by Chicago's Arts Work Fund. "Nearly three-quarters of all nonprofits had a Facebook page," Mayer adds.

3. Get your foot in the door as a volunteer. "Getting in, especially at smaller nonprofits, need not be hard," Mayer says. "They may not be able or willing to lay out cash or commit to a paying gig upfront ... but we bet that once they see what you and they can do together, they will pay for performance."

4. Shop around via informational interviewing.
"Non-profit folks are very sensitive to where journalists are at right now, and would like to help," Mayer stresses. "Their leaders are comfortable with the format of the informational interview, in which you're not asking for a job but learning about the other person's needs and what they have to offer. Plus, non-profit folks talk to each other a lot -- almost as much as journalists at different news outlets do."

5. Pick an issue you're passionate about. "Non-profits can be fat and happy or small and scrappy," Mayer says. "When looking for a nonprofit to connect with, be mindful of a good fit -- and don't volunteer where you get the sense during the informational interview that the boss is a jerk."
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