Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Due bills

Oct. 1 is almost here, and that means two things to me: The mortgage is due and I'm a year older. I'll talk about the added year on another day; it's the mortgage that has me more worried, as I'm sure it does many Americans.
As I've said earlier, the severance from work is now gone, and while unemployment checks continue arriving (although there was a hiccup last week), my part-time work isn't about to pay the bills. We're not in danger of foreclosure so far, but I wonder and worry about finding steady employment after seeing our checking account so low and payday for my wife not until the end of the week.
One question I've raised at the Job Connections meetings I go to and when I meet other unemployed people, is how they do it, how they keep their financial house in order. I'm sure there are daily stories out there to be told, if only a publication wanting some journalistic scrutiny and insight into these tales would pay me to tell them. I'm not talking a "Grapes of Wrath" story, but the daily life stories such as in the excellent book "Nickel and Dimed."
I'm now reading Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and have always found such nonfiction amazing reading. Newspapers have told some of the stories of people affected by the sour economy (Where's my bailout?), but not as much as I'd like to in a book, much like Barbara Ehrenreich has done. Now I just need to find someone to pay me to do it, because the bills keep coming.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Writing for the Web

One of the top goals of this blog is to show that I can write for the Web. And that includes learning how to write for the Internet. During one of the many informational interviews I've done during the past few months, someone suggested I start learning how to write for the Web since it was so different than writing for newspapers.

Writing is writing, I thought. If I can write and edit concise stories for newspapers that are full of facts and analysis, I surely can do that online. It turns out to be much more than that, and I'm just starting to learn what more it entails. Along with short sentences and stories that are about half the size of a newspaper story, they should include links, video, photos, etc. Other than that, I couldn't get much of an answer out of my informational interview friend. I'm still learning.

Some job descriptions have asked for experience in Search Engine Optimization, which I'm still trying to get a handle on. It has something to do with keyword searches and how best to get search engines to find the Web page I'm writing for. One thing I was told to do was to search "How to write for the Internet," which turned up only 25 million searches, such as this. This could take years. Decades. What I'm looking for is either a class on this topic, or better, someone who does this every day and can explain it to me a lot easier and faster. I don't necessarily want to learn HTML or how to write computer coding, just some tips that could help me get a job writing for the Internet. Suggestions? Please e-mail me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My first tri-mester

Saturday, Sept. 27, will mark three months since I was laid off at the Times. It's a milestone for me because it means the end of my severance, the end of my healthcare coverage (unless I want to pay the full COBRA cost), the start of my wife working full-time to pay for healthcare, and is longer than I thought it would take me to find full-time work. Even in this lousy economy.

I guess I was naive or at least hopeful, but three months ago I thought I'd find something by now if I worked as hard as I could in my job search. I joined one of the biggest networking groups in the Bay Area, quickly got my resume together with the help of an HR professional, and attacked the job postings by applying for jobs I thought I was qualified for. I've since learned that my resume needs to better showcase my skills and how they apply to writing or editing for something other than a newspaper. I know in the grand scheme of things three months without work doesn't seem like much time, but time crawls.

I've heard the reality: Finding a job after losing one can take a year, six months, 18 months, whatever. It all adds up to much more than three months. A lengthy study that is at least 20 years old points out that eight months after the unemployment rate peaked during the 1981-82 recession, the mean unemployment figure reached 21.2 weeks, or five months. In October 1986, 47 months into the recovery, time spent unemployed dropped to 15.2 weeks, or almost four months. In other words, today's economy isn't near a recovery yet and I'm only at 12 weeks of unemployment, meaning another two months of looking if this recession is at its peak. So take the poll at the top of this blog and let's see how long blog followers have been out of work; or comment below.

I still want to beat the average, and even if I don't, I think the best way of finding the best job is to continue aggressively looking for a job.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

A former co-worker this week kindly wrote in an e-mail to me that from reading this blog, it looks like I may "make my fate" through the volunteer work I'm doing. As you may recall, I'm volunteering my writing and associated journalism skills to Jerry McNerney's re-election campaign for Congress. It has only been a few weeks, but I've been busy writing, and this week I did research on campaign sign restrictions in the various cities and counties in McNerney's 11th Congressional District. I'll detail the rundown, in case anyone's interested, on lawn sign regulations in a minute.

One thing I hope to show during this volunteer stint is how my journalism skills can transfer. They include not just writing and editing, but researching, analytical skills, taking complex issues and making them easy to understand, handling multiple projects on deadline, and other skills journalists have. I still believe that they're valued skills in this economy and that someone will pay me for them.

As for the lawn signs, I created a spreadsheet of maximum sign size, where they can go, where to call to complain about an illegal campaign sign, etc. While jurisdictions vary on size and how long they can stay up, they all include the basic common sense of not putting signs on public property or where they can block a driver's view. Other than that, some cities are picky about size and some allow any size sign to go up. It's a bit of an insight into how cities are run, whether they're full or red tape and limits, or free-wheeling and open.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More paternity leave

It's great to get letters. I'd like to reply to this letter, attached to the previous post on the Fall season starting:

Anonymous said...
"Sir, I've been paying attention to your blog as an unemployed father making the most of your time w/ your daughter. I have a 1 year old and I've been home w/ him for 5 months now since being laid off. I enjoy almost every moment w/ my son, but realistically I need to get back to work. I'm not too fond of going back into corporate finance, but the bills must be paid. I hope you enjoy your time at home while you can."

Thanks for the kind thoughts. Yes, I'm enjoying the time with Emma, now 4, and do all I can to savor it. When she was 6 months old, I took about five months off from work for paternity leave, and had a great time, although it was very stressful. Not as much stress as I'm experiencing now while looking for full-time work, but being a new dad was a lot of work. I've been out of work for almost three months, which is difficult after working 22 consecutive years with the paternity leave and vacation as my only time off during those years.

The knot in my gut about paying bills, the frustrating job search and interviews that don't progress -- these slowly go away for a few hours while I take care of my daughter. And she seems to be taking it in stride, reminding me that I have a "little job" when I tell her I have to leave to go do some part-time work for United Reporting. It's a few hours a week and money I'm happy to have come into the household. And my search for more part-time work continues.

Someday I'll have to write about the great need for family leave and how America has much more catching up to do in this area with Europe. My wife recently went from working part-time to full-time so we can pay the bills during my unemployment, and when I was fully employed and she was working part-time, I thought she had the much harder job because she was home taking care of the kid all day. Being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job that should pay much more in America, or at least as much as it does in Europe. I guess being laid off has turned into an unintended stint of paternity leave.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hiring season begins

Fall is here, and that means it's time to kick the pumpkins again. It also means that summer is over and hopefully is time for employers to open the door and do some hiring. I know the economy is in a downspin, but when this mess started for me almost three months ago and few employers were responding to my queries, friends told me that summer was slow and would pick up afterward. Today that clock starts clicking, at least until Thanksgiving, when the hiring will stop until the end of the year.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Emma smiles, and I melt

I know, this has nothing to do with being unemployed and looking for work, but part of the blog's mission is to show how my job search affects her. So far I haven't talked about that, and I will in future posts. For now, only a video.
Oh, and congrats to Ryan Huff, who accepted a job as an ACE at a Colorado newspaper! I worked with Ryan at CCT and it's great to see him find a job in newspapers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"One-Adam 12, One-Adam 12, see the Man"

If you haven't seen "Adam-12," the police drama, then you won't get the title of this blog. If you remember the TV show, then you'll probably remember the dispatcher's voice alerting the two L.A. cops to report to a crime scene, fast. Either way, click the link to "Adam-12" and watch the video, or at least the first 30 seconds. While the show focuses on the officers, my favorite part was listening to the dispatcher and mimicing what she said. Always a fun time. A news story reminded me of that show and of all the dispatcher job listings I've seen in the past few months.

In a well-written story by reporter Lisa P. White in today's (Sept. 19) Contra Costa Times, she reports on the need for police dispatchers in cities throughout Contra Costa County. Most cities have vacancies because they don't pay enough, unlike Pleasant Hill's Police Department, whose dispatchers earn as much as $73,884 and therefore the department doesn't have any openings.

One thing I noticed right away during my job search was the need for police dispatchers, sales people and computer engineers. All are probably high-pressure jobs, but dispatcher has to be one of the most difficult jobs around, and something I think I'd be good at, but probably not over the long haul. I do well under pressure, especially under deadline pressure, but life and death pressure is another issue.

Two potential conflicts in this post that I should point out, in case they weren't already obvious: I worked at the Contra Costa Times before being laid off in June, and I was proudly the first editor at the Times for Lisa White.

Part-timing it

Like that old "Saturday Night Live" skit about a Jamaican family where everybody has at least five jobs, I'm hoping to get somewhere near that until I find a full-time position. I need at least a few part-time jobs to keep money coming in while my unemployment checks continue to arrive for awhile longer, and definitely after the unemployment money stops coming. And I hope these part-time jobs, along with volunteering, can lead to full-time work. Even when I do find full-time employment, some of the part-time work I'm doing may continue if time allows.

The first part-time job I found was with United Reporting. It's easy work and interesting. I get arrest logs from local police departments and fax them to United Reporting's office in Sacramento. It's only about 5-10 hours per week, but it's a start.

I've also blogged about writing biographies for the elderly, or anyone who wants to have their life story down on paper to pass along to their family. I'm still waiting for my first contract for that side job, and exploring ways to get the word out on it.

I'm also trying to find a way to blog/report on some issue and get paid for it, but so far no takers. My freelance writing hasn't taken off yet either, and I'm trying to promote that as much as I can. Ghostwriting for bloggers is also an option I'm exploring.

And lastly, I'm doing freelance writing/reporting for city newsletters. More on that later.

Who knows, I may be on the side of the road picking up aluminum cans by Christmas.

And just for the heck of it, since I'm trying to learn new job skills through blogging, I've posted one of the few videos I have online. Back when I was on paternity leave and had some spare time to put such things here's some 40 seconds of Emma at about 6 months old.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Retiree bios

In the search for employment, if not a full-time job, I'm trying to increase my freelance business. I'm editing city newsletters, trying to find a way to get blogging to pay, and I'm now trying to drum up business at Rossmoor and other retirement communities by writing short biographies for people. I placed a small ad in the Rossmoor News, offering to write peoples' stories and bios as something they can give to their grandchildren, children, friends and family. It can be a few pages long or a short book. Few people ask their grandparents about their lives, and fewer get it on paper to save for generations to read later, so I thought this would be a good gift someone could give their family to remember them by.
Rossmoor is a retirement community in Walnut Creek, CA, and other than the ad I'm trying to figure out a way to maybe meet with a group of people there to propose this bio idea, or get the word out in a larger way. I'm also planning to visit a few retirement homes in the area. So far, no bites on the ad, but I keep plugging away.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rock the vote

So I'm going to start volunteering at Jerry McNerney's campaign office in Dublin. I'll be helping the deputy communications director write/edit, and I hope to also help them contact newspapers and get their message in the media, either through news stories or letters to the editor.
I don't think I'll be pulling any strings yet at my former employer, the Contra Costa Times, but I'll offer any insights I have into newspapers and other media and how to best get the word out. I expect it will be an interesting experience and a chance to meet a lot of politically active people for the next month or so until the election.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Before I get too far into this blog, I'd like to give a quick shoutout to Community Presbyterian Church Job Connections, also called CPC Job Connections, a Danville networking group that meets on Saturday mornings. The church lets the networking group use its meeting room. I checked it out a few weeks after getting laid off, and it's an interesting group to be a member of. It's a great way to meet people who, the hope is, could lead you to someone else in finding a job. I even started by own Success Team in Concord, where 4-6 of us meet on Monday mornings to discuss how our job hunts are going and how we can help each other find a job.

If you'd like to join Job Connections, check out their Web site for details. And the Concord Success Team is open to more members too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Walnut Parade

Tonight my family will be in the Walnut Parade in downtown Walnut Creek as part of Emma's preschool group, Pied Piper Preschool in Walnut Creek. While it isn't part of a job hunt, it's a fun way to be out in the community and have fun with the parents and kids at Pied Piper, which is a great preschool where Emma is in her second year at.

Walnut Creek is a great city I'd like to work for someday, hopefully writing city publications or some such work for. Maybe I'll meet someone tonight who works for the city and can help make that come true.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Volunteering to find a job

One piece of advice I got early on in my job hunt, meaning two months ago, was to volunteer at something I enjoy doing. "Why?" I thought. I'm spending every waking hour looking for a job, networking and crafting a resume, how would I have time to volunteer? The idea is that it could lead to a job somewhere down the road, along with keeping myself occupied and interested in something other than staying off unemployment.

I was going to volunteer as an usher at A's games, but that might not lead to much. So last week I went to the Democratic office in downtown Walnut Creek and offered my writing/editing services. While they were glad to have me, they didn't have any immediate opportunities, so they referred me to a few local Democrats running for office. It now looks like I might soon be volunteering in Jerry McNerney's office, doing some type of writing. It's not a paid position, so that's OK, but helping a Congressman get re-elected sounds like fun. And a little something to add to my resume and talk to potential employers about. Next week I expect to meet with a McNerney campaign person to see if this comes to fruition. I'll update the blog when and if things move forward.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Intro to Tales of an unemployed dad

This is my first foray into blogging, and I hope it will be a fun trip as I detail tales of unemployment in this lousy economy and of the people I meet in my search for a job. And I'll throw in daily dispatches in being an unemployed dad and and how that affects a 4-year-old, not pictured here but coming in a later post.

First a quick bio of me:

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and was laid off June 27, 2008 at the Contra Costa Times, a daily newspaper in Walnut Creek, CA. I was an assistant metro editor, meaning I worked with reporters on formulating and editing their stories. The job search has been humbling and encouraging at times, and this blog's aim is to document it and hopefully share some insight into finding work, and into raising a kid during the turmoil. After all, she, and my wife, are why the job hunt continues vigorously.