End of an Era

I've been working in journalism since I was in college back in 1993. I started out as a reporter, but eventually found my niche in design. My mentors, Dr. Manuel Flores & Jack Waldhelm, brought me in from the rain one afternoon after they saw me walking across the campus looking dejected. I don't clearly remember what was going on in my life at that time, but I know Manuel & Jack both saved my life that day.

After that day, things weren't the same for me. The lost and angst-ridden high school graduate who couldn't decide what he wanted to do with his life finally found a purpose. I hadn't yet found myself, the person I wanted to be, but I had found out what that person- whoever he might be -wanted to do with his life. I wanted to design newspages. And I did. Well. I was part of a weekly college newspaper that one year decimated the major university dailies. Division I newspapers are now all daily papers, but back in my day, we were one of the few weeklies who could go head to head with any Texas university daily and win.

I was in heaven. I mean, there I was, doing what I loved and doing it well. I worked hard and partied harder. And with each passing day I grew to realize that all the art classes I'd ever taken, all the drawing and sketching, all the visually oriented things that struck my fancy all could be used in my chosen career. I even took side jobs and did them for free- that's how much I loved what I did back then.

My first job in design was working for an ad agency in Corpus Christi. I was an assistant production designer who worked mostly at night. The job was great, but our boss was a bit...intense. While I got to do lots of interesting things, the job came with a rather sharp and pointy thorn that eventually drove the creative director away and later me. I worked freelance during that time and got a few gigs doing posters and corporate ID. Eventually, I moved on to working for a Naval museum, the U.S.S. Lexington Museum on the Bay, for a couple of years. I also worked in ad composing at the Caller-Times for a few months, in tandem with the Lex job. I almost burned myself out doing that, but it was great money while I did it. Eventually I left the ad composing job, then later left the Lex for a job at a print shop. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but after a few months, they cut me loose.

I went on unemployment for a while, not knowing what I should do. My exit from the Caller-Times wasn't good and it prevented me from getting hired on there for some time. After taking some temp work and trying once again to get on with the Corpus paper, I decided that maybe what I needed to do was find a place to start new.

Eventually, I moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where I would land a copy editing/design job with a medium circulation paper. It was a great job and I made some of my closest friends while I was there.

After a year or so, thee paper in Fort Smith started to go through some managerial changes that would eventually land me in hot water. Maybe I was just too combative with the new regime, but after a few scrapes with the "design coordinator," I began to realize that my job might be in jeopardy. So I started to look for a new job and found it in the form of a Spanish-language paper that was about to launch in San Antonio, Texas. They offered me great money. Three days after I announced I was quitting, I was in San Antonio and on the job.

The first few months in that job were hard. Long hours and lots of work, but it was rewarding because it was a new publication. We were creating something from scratch and it was something revolutionary. Everyone who worked there agreed- it was a labor of love. But after the first year, the company lost its funding and I almost lost my job. It would be another tense year before a second round of layoffs would come and I would be given my release.

I was angry, mildly heartbroken, but anxious to find another newspaper job in the city. I applied at several places before making into the Express-News. It was just the break I had been looking for. I felt my skills were getting a little stale and I needed to get reinvigorated. It did the trick. For a while. But the young man who would do his job for free was long gone. Replaced by a cynical designer who didn't care about the art and only the money. There had been so many little things about the business that I hadn't anticipated. It sure didn't help my self-esteem any. I had started to shoot independent film, a long standing passion of mine, and was starting to come into my own. With three films under my belt, I felt good about myself again. And slowly, I realized that my time in newspapers would most likely be drawing to a close. I was plotting to get out. I wasn't sure how or when or how, but I wanted out.

I would be moved all over at the Express-News. I was doing the business section when I started, moved onto sports for a time and then to news. My final move would land me in the company's Latino-centric, weekly publication, which I had been hoping to work on someday. It came at the right time and helped put me in a better frame of mind career-wise. I started to feel good about the job again, about my skills, about my career. I began to think about ways of improving my skill set and began to really get myself into a proper mindset to be as effective as I could be. And while I had plotted to get out of the business, each day that I walked by the press I would once again be reminded how much I loved it. I think maybe I romanticized it all so much that when the bottom fell out again, so did my heart.

I arrived at work almost two weeks ago to find that a large chunk of the editorial team had been layed off. It was a slaughter. They said it was a 15% cut in the workforce. I think it was more than what they said. Regardless, I was called into talk to the design director and the deputy design director where I was informed that I had been given my release. The business had been in a state of flux for quite some time and with other papers all over the country either folding or slashing their staffs, ours was no different.

I won't lie. I cried in that office, in front of my boss and the deputy. I had taken a 50 caliber round to the chest and the round broke my heart into a thousand little pieces so jagged and tiny that I couldn't put it back together. I put my sunglasses on and walked to my car, fighting back tears which would eventually flow the minute I sat down and closed the door. At home, in my girlfriend's arms, I cried some more. From time to time now, my eyes well up with tears that I fight back or wipe away before anyone can notice. I'm not sad about losing my job. I've lost jobs before. I'm sad because a decision was made for me the day they let me go- I would leave the business. Forever.

Before I moved to Arkansas, I was made editor of the college paper that I had worked on, on and off, throughout the years. I was only editor for one semester before leaving, but I remember thinking back then, "This what I love. This is who I am." I love the newspaper business. In Fort Smith, we had to drive over to the press to check the edition for head busts or mistakes. The last line of defense. I remember that sometimes I would get there and it was still being printed. I remember standing at the doorway to the press room, watching the spool of newsprint fly through the rollers and get inked. I remember the smell of the ink and the paper. The way it was still damp when they handed you the copy fresh off the press. I remember the staff at RUMBO, the Spanish-language daily, hustling and working in that big newsroom at our downtown office. The phones were ringing and people typed furiously on their machines, cranking out stories. I remember, way back in my formative college years, how tensions would run high between reporters, photographers and editors and we would yell at each other and call ourselves names and be angry with one another. But by the end of the night, we would be at a bar, enjoying a beer and laughing about the entire day. I remember the feeling of looking at my work, on the printed page, and realizing that, for better or worse, this was my life. And I loved it.

I was hoping that my new place at the paper would allow me to revitalize my career goals. But I think in the back of my mind, my love for the business had started to fade. I had even told a few people that from time to time. Each time someone would say to me, "Don't give up on it." And for as much as I loved it, each day that a paper would close or some company layed off a bunch of people, I lost a little more love for the business.

So here I am now. Waiting for my last day. I am still heartbroken over having to go. Day by day, I was starting to see major improvements in my work and I was feeling good about my path. But now, I have to focus on using what I've learned in order to get myself into a new line or work.

I'm not scared or worried about the future. I know my future will be full of really great things. And much like the life I had before the newspaper business, I await the new challenges and new experiences with great anticipation. I saw a post about a major player in the design universe at Newsweek taking a buyout. And something he said has really suck with me:

"I defined myself by the job. Now, just gonna start looking for a new definition."

I realized, just now, that I will never stop loving this business. Never. I'm just gonna have to love my next gig with the same kind of passion.

Good luck to all my friends in the business. Good luck to all the reporters, photographers, copy editors, designers and illustrators out there who are still in the business. And to those of you who are young and idealistic and want to be in the business, just makes sure you love it.


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