Ever feel like you’re stuck upside down in a loop on life’s roller coaster? Welcome to the past few weeks of my life.

It’s an overused but fitting analogy: Life at The East Valley Tribune has been a roller coaster for the last couple of years. Anticipation that something was going to happen built through 2008 with a few layoffs here and there and a bunch of jobs that went unfilled as people left. The devastating first plunge came in October: The announcement we were cutting 40 percent of the staff (including half the newsroom), pulling out of two cities and reducing our print days.

It’s been more plunges than hills since January. We went through furloughs, more layoffs, pay cuts. Good news and champagne toasts came a few months ago when we won the Pulitzer Prize (although there was that bit about one of the winners having been caught up in the layoffs).  And things had been looking up more since then: We filled an empty position and there were rumors about interested buyers walking around the building.

It wasn’t enough. My co-workers and I spent three weeks preparing to enter the ranks of unemployed journalists around the country after the announcement that we were going to print our final edition at the end of the year. Everyone was openly preparing resumes, sending around job opening notices and talking about plans for our individual post-Tribune futures. Every other source I called seemed to start the conversation by talking to me like I was on my deathbed, which was simultaneously nice (oh good, we really do mean something to the community) and frustrating (I’m still trying to do a job for a few more weeks, so stop reminding me I’m about to be unemployed).

From a personal standpoint, I was suddenly broadcasting a big change I’m trying to make but had previously kept quiet for fear of being forced out before I was ready. I decided several months ago to move to the Minneapolis area once I can find a job, so I’ve been quietly trying to position myself to make that move plausible. So in addition to working full time and completing graduate work in online media, I’ve spent my free time mining my Arizona contacts to find out who could put me in touch with folks in the Twin Cities and working on a portfolio Web site. (It’s amazing how much time and energy those things take. In fact, those are two major reasons I didn’t get this blog off the ground earlier. It may hurt my grade, but in my mind making contacts and creating a professional looking portfolio were ultimately more important to my future.)

But after Nov. 2,  secrecy no longer mattered. All of my editors, and anyone who’s paid attention to my Facebook page and Twitter feed, know my plans now. And instead of fine-tuning my portfolio and buying Web space, I put up what I had done on Arizona State University’s server almost immediately.

And then the Tribune’s reprieve came. We had a buyer, identified the day before Thanksgiving as Colorado-based Thirteenth Street Media.

Which brings me back to being stuck upside down on my roller coaster. Something is happening that’s a heck of a lot more thrilling than the Nov. 2 announcement, but I still have no idea how or when I’ll land. Without a doubt, this is a much better situation than we were in a few weeks ago. A community will keep one of its major news sources, my co-workers and I will keep our jobs, the Tribune will have more of a chance to adapt to the changing media environment.

At least, we all hope that’s true. The bankruptcy judge still has to approve the sale. Since Freedom Communications supports the offer, hopefully this won’t be a problem…but the tiny pessimist inside me wonders how tough it will be to get a deal through bankruptcy court in four weeks. Most people think we won’t have to worry, but there’s still the fear that we could end up in a situation like the Tucson Citizen , being kept up in the air through a number of twists and turns before finally ceasing print operations anyway.

Then there’s the “substantial number” phrase we’ve all fixated on. If the sale goes through, the buyer plans to keep “a substantial number” of employees. What does that mean? A couple of key people will be replaced and the rest of us will keep our jobs? Fifty percent plus one will stay? There will be a small full-time staff and the rest of us will be welcome to contribute as stringers? My fingers are crossed for the first option, especially with the newsroom less than half of what it was a year ago, but no one knows how safe we are until that number is defined.

And what about me? If  more people are laid off, will it make a difference that my bosses now know my ultimate plans? Should I focus more on putting out job applications immediately or making more contacts who may not have a job opening now but could pay off in the long run? Will posting my plans in this blog increase the chance our future owner will take note and put me on the chopping block or will it not matter one way or the other? Or is it a good idea in case I catch someone’s eye in Minnesota? (Did I mention my portfolio is online at www.public.asu.edu/~akeim until I can get it on something more permanent?)

This will all be over in a few weeks. It has to be, since Freedom wants to sell us by the end of the year. In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out whether I’ll look back and think it was an incredibly interesting ride or just be left feeling queasy.


I should have known better.

It was my last semester as a journalism student at Arizona State University. I had to pick just a few more classes to round out my schedule, and thus my undergraduate career, before making a go as a professional journalist.

My biggest sticking point was whether to take online media, which was billed as an introduction to journalism on the Web. It wasn’t required and the talk among most students was it wasn’t worth taking unless you had the right professor. I opted out, deciding to rely on internships and experience at the school newspaper to assure my future employment. I just needed clips and a sparkling resume, right?

That worked for a while. I landed a job at the third biggest daily paper in Arizona and was quite happy for a few years…until a pay freeze went into effect and the management stopped filling positions as people left. Nine months ago, half of my co-workers  were laid off, we cut print days, we closed an office. And it’s tough to just pick up and head to a new, better job when papers are shedding positions or shutting down across the country.

But despite the dire outlook for the short term, I’m ultimately optimistic about the future of journalism. News doesn’t magically appear on the Internet ready for anonymous commenters to have their fun with; someone has to take the time and energy to gather it. I’m fascinated by some of the experiments taking place out there to assure journalists can still practice our craft and be compensated for it. I’m confident there will be paid journalists far into the future, even if the next few years are tough and the business models that will support news gathering operations are still being developed.

More importantly, I’m optimistic because I have to be to remain in this industry. So instead of sitting back and waiting for someone else to develop those new models, I’m determined to contribute in a positive way. (It sure beats complaining and hoping someone will have a job for me later.) I’m back at ASU taking the graduate version of that online class this semester, I’m reading as much as I can about business models, I’m trying to find time to delve into new media at work.

Even if we can’t change the bad planning that got us here, the future is still wide open.