There was a lot of hoopla last week about the massive layoffs at Nielsen, including the dismantling of venerable brands Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Review. E&P even managed to be a top five trending topic on Twitter. Everyone was aghast that it was shut down, and after over 100 years!
Really? I'm surprised either magazine lasted as long as it did.
Business, like anything else, evolves. I'm sure there was a time in history when being a typewriter or encyclopedia salesman was a great way to earn a living. As technology changes, so does one's employment options. I would hope no one on staff at either of those publications was surprised that they suddenly didn't have a job. Both publications reported on shrinking, if not dying industries. Half of E&P's stories over the past two years were about the closing and downsizing of newspapers. Did they not think that eventually the downsizing would come for them? To not have seen this coming would mean they were totally asleep at the wheel.
Similar outcry emerged when Gourmet folded a few months ago and when Conde Nast shuttered a few bridal magazines as well. These, again, were not surprises. Whenever I've needed a recipe for something, I've looked online. Same with wedding needs. Why spend almost ten dollars on a magazine when there are outlets such as TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com? You can even connect with other local brides and swap stories about vendors, locations and crazy in-laws. Dead trees can't do that.
A more telling moment came out of The New York Times this week when great reporters such as Jennifer 8. Lee chose to take a buyout rather than stick around. When seasoned reporters think leaving is better than staying, you have to wonder about the health and the future of the industry. And you can't ignore it or think you're immune.
At the risk of stating the obvious, today's job market is not like is was in years past. It's not enough to just go in everyday, do your job, collect a check and assume that as long as you don't sexually harass someone, your position is solid. To not have an exit strategy, a back up plan or even a serious emergency fund is just irresponsible, especially if you're working in print.
I've seen the importance of being adaptable in my own life. For the first twenty-five years of his career, my father worked for companies that sold fabrics wholesale to designers and clothing manufacturers. He even had his own import/export business in the late 1980s. As the domestic mills here in the States closed he had a choice: either start working heavily with the manufacturers in China and overseas, which was a huge drain on his time and resources, or find a new line of work. He was an experienced sales and marketing guy, he loved the trips to Paris for the shows that the job entailed, but he chose to leave. In 1990 -- at the age of 50 -- he transitioned to selling computer systems to companies and schools, when suddenly everyone needed desktop computers. It was a wise choice and he was able to put all three of his kids through college. On any given day he'll tell you as much as you want to hear about fabric or his glory days on private planes, entertaining clients. But he knows that was a different, long gone era.
Even I was laid off from E&P in April 2008 as their web editor. I, however, sensed the winds of change months before and never spent a day unemployed. Less than a week after leaving I started a new and much more lucrative career in Manhattan real estate, and I never looked back.
Instead of filling up the internet with laments about the death of two quaint publications, perhaps this can be a teachable moment for everyone, not just journalists who are quaking in their boots over losing their jobs. There is an entire sector of jobs that is dissolving every day. It would be wise for those involved to accept it, move on, or else plan to spend a lot time unemployed. Some sort of Employment Darwinism is certainly at play now, but no one can say that they didn't see it coming.