Plan B: Pathways vary for journos when moving forward after layoffs

Jason Meucci, Emily Bloch and Stell Simonton have chosen three different paths after a single catalytic event brought them to the same point – having been laid off or accepting a buyout from a newsroom in the journalism field. Meucci chose to pursue a career outside of journalism, Bloch found a new publication that fits her talent and Simonton has moved onto freelancing.

Right: Jason Meucci, former CNN field producer, is now working in employment development and workplace culture improvement where he creates opportunities for organizations and individuals to flourish. Photo supplied by Meucci.

By Hannah Lester, SizingUpTheSouth.com reporter, Auburn University

Throughout the uncertainties of a layoff, the Society of Professional Journalists was part of the lives of journalists whether they stayed in news journalism or not.

Meucci has spent the last four years re-envisioning his life and career after 21 years in journalism. He was laid off from his field producer position with CNN in 2014. During the time of Meucci’s layoff, CNN was preparing to cut 10 percent of their employees, which rounded to 1,475 jobs. In addition, they were canceling some of their on-air shows.

Meucci said he grew up with a passion for writing and a curiosity for the world around him. As a teenager, he realized his natural next step was journalism. Writing for the college publication at Gainesville State College gave Meucci the opportunity for bylines and experience. Gainesville State was where he received his associates degree though he later moved onto the University of Georgia for his bachelor’s degree.

Moving forward, Meucci began at the ground level of CNN, hoping to pursue his dream of broadcast reporting. He started as a video journalist, moved up as an assignment editor and finally, field producer. Meucci was one of the founding board members of SPJ Georgia in 2013.

“That’s really what I got into journalism to do, was to be in the field, at the story, and I was really, really lucky to somehow do that for the better part of a decade, I was a field producer,” Meucci said. “And so I would just travel around the country with a reporter and a crew and wherever there was news or big events, I was there. So that was really my dream job several times over.”

Above: Jason Meucci was a field producer at CNN in Atlanta and he said it was his dream job. He was laid off in 2014. Photo supplied by Meucci

Having been contained in the self-sufficient world of CNN for so many years, everything had changed since Meucci had last seen the world outside of journalism. In fact, he said he likened it to an animal released into the wild.

Unsure where he was heading, Meucci took a look at who he was and what he wanted to do next.

“Being released out into the wild after 21 years was really an awakening to just try to understand what all possibilities were out there and the skills that were needed for them that I could translate from journalism,” he said.

Jason Meucci, video production consultant for Delta Air Lines

While originally he thought he handled his layoff well, it was not until later that he realized just how taxing it had been on him, Meucci said.

After leaving the fast-paced world of journalism, he wasn’t sure what his next steps should be. Deciding against finding another media outlet, Meucci chose to explore a completely new career path.

While looking back on his job at CNN, Meucci realized that everything he had loved about the position had somehow involved connecting with and inspiring people.

“My superpowers are connecting to others, mentoring, making people feel seen and seeing their potential and creating work environments where they can be their best selves and do their best work while they’re growing,” Meucci said.

Above: Moving from network news to traveling for Delta Air Lines and also becoming the Ambassador of Transformation for Explorer X, has journeyed to find his new dream job of traveling and his love of people connections. Photo supplied by Meucci

With these self-dubbed superpowers, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Gonzaga University, he said. Meucci said he hopes to work with people and foster communication with others.

Currently, however, Meucci works with Delta Air Lines creating empowerment videos that are shown to their 80,000 employees. Through the videos, Meucci said he hopes to help these individuals feel inspired and connected to one another.

“I will feel rewarded when I know that employees feel valued and employees feel that the company cares about them beyond just being employed,” he said. “I want people to feel like they are cared about as a human being.”

Jason Meucci, Ambassador of Transformation, Explorer X

Meucci has also accepted a new position as a consultant, the Ambassador of Transformation, with a travel startup – Explorer X in 2019.

Explorer-X, located in Seattle, is an organization that develops outdoor adventure retreats for anyone interested in a unique, purposeful, travel experience that may broaden their horizons. In his new position, Meucci is able to combine his love for communication and people with his love for travel.

Meucci’s layoff from CNN might have led to exciting new opportunities for him. However, some journalists choose to stay in the field of journalism even after experiencing a layoff.

Emily Bloch was a journalist from the start, with published bylines before even entering college. With her dream intact in high-school, the budding journalist said she started her career at her college paper, The University Press, at Florida Atlantic University, and eventually worked her way up to the editor-in-chief position.

Right: Emily Bloch was working for a metro newspaper in Florida and was recently laid off with many others in the news syndication. Photo supplied by Bloch

Straight from Florida Atlanta University, Bloch was hired at the Sun Sentinelas a community news reporter in February of 2017. However, a long career with the Sentinel was not in Bloch’s cards. After several other waves of layoffs by the Sentinel, she was laid off in August of 2018.

“I think I had one day of being sad and then after that it was just go time,” Bloch said. “I wanted to file the best stories I possibly could at the Sentinel and everywhere else.”

With a passion for writing and the desire to stay with journalism, Bloch started freelancing immediately while still putting out stories for the Sentinel during her final two weeks.

“Looking back at it, I always tell people that it was probably one of the best things to happen in my career,” she said. “Because working as a community news reporter was great but there were also a lot of downfalls to the position.”

Emily Bloch, Associate Editor, The Flamingo Magazine

Now, Bloch works as the associate editor at The Flamingo Magazine with time to read stories, plan and assist in other departments. Still feeling the pressure of deadline week, Bloch said she enjoys her new position in journalism. Bloch is a SPJ Florida Vice President of Programming.

Above: Not standing still after her layoff, Bloch started freelancing immediately. Later she landed the position as an associate editor for a state-wide publication. Photos supplied by Bloch

“Had I not been laid off, I don’t know that I would have tried something new or exciting or different, so it pushed me to hustle for my money, it pushed me to cold pitch harder, to think about stories more, to take better notes and have a list going of pitch ideas for different outlets,” she said.

Many journalists might take the route Bloch did before finding her position with The Flamingo Magazine. She was freelancing. With potentially endless opportunities, freelancing can provide a level of freedom to journalists. Stell Simonton has created a full-time career in freelance work after accepting a buyout from The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Simonton said she, like many journalists, knew she wanted to pursue writing from a young age and graduated with a degree in broadcast and film communication. After graduation, Simonton didn’t immediately search out writing positions- she instead worked in a restaurant. Eventually, she said she took a leap and moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Right: Stell Simonton made her decision to leave her metro job while layoffs were happening around her. She is now a freelance journalist based out of Atlanta, Ga. Photo supplied by Simonton

Finding her balance in different Neighbor Newspapers publications, Simonton said she continued to write, despite personal changes in her life.

Married and with a small baby at home, Simonton took a new position as a copy editor at AJC in 1994.

“Copy editing was something that felt natural to me and it felt like a game and so I enjoyed it,” she said.

After six years in copy writing, Simonton was presented with a new challenge: editing the front page of The Atlanta Journal Constitution website. The publication had begun to change, however, and the newsroom had shrunk by half.

The first buyout of newsroom employees began in 2007 and continued for years, she said. These buyouts were presented for the AJC to put more effort into it’s digital arm at the time.

Simonton said she never felt pressured to leave her job because the online presence of the AJC was continuing to grow. However, the newsroom was not a pleasant place to be, she said.

“I didn’t feel personal pressure to leave but the morale at the newspaper was very low, we were really squeezed with all those staff reductions and many people wanted to leave and by that time I did too,” Simonton said.

Stell Simonton, freelance journalist based out of Atlanta, Ga.

“I felt the quality of what we were doing was decreased and that the leadership at the newspaper was okay with that,” she said. “That their policies were in fact reducing the quality of our journalism, particularly on the website.”

Eventually in 2012, she knew it was time to leave and when the next buyout was presented to her… and she took it.

Beginning with assignments from previous co-workers who had moved onto other publications, Simonton took these opportunities to start freelancing. Then, Simonton did what she could to procure assignments from publications she had dreamed of writing for professionally. Right: Simonton supports her fellow freelance journalists by holding a board position and Freelance Committee chair for SPJ Georgia. Photo supplied by Simonton.

Without the hassle of arriving to work at 5:30 am, Simonton said she is now able to set her own schedule, write and send in her pitches. Because freelancing might be tough on some journalists, she said she wants to encourage others who have been laid off; she said to not lose heart, to remain bold and pursue their passion for writing. Simonton is SPJ Georgia board member and co-chair of the SPJ Georgia Freelance Committee.

Ultimately, many journalists might find themselves in similar situations due to the uncertainty of the journalism field.

“If you’re in journalism for long enough you will, you almost certainly will, be laid off – it’s almost a right of passage.”

Jason Meucci, former CNN field producer

The Society of Professional Journalists, however, has taken steps to offer help to those who have been laid off in the industry with a waiver of membership fees, career center job postings and a LinkedIn group- ‘Journalists Helping Journalists’.

“We also take this opportunity to remind every American that journalism is a proud and noble profession that provides a voice to the voiceless, acts as a watchdog to powerful entities and maintains a balanced democracy,” said SPJ Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie.

This passage continues to be challenging for journalists this past year, said Bethel McKenzie. “We are deeply concerned about the continued layoffs and buyouts happening in journalism,” she said in a SPJ press release about its website resources page, “SPJ is here to help.”

“As the nation’s oldest professional journalism organization, we stand with all journalists during these trying times. We admire and appreciate the vigilance it takes to pursue truth in the current climate,” said Bethel McKenzie.

Left: Alison Bethel McKenzie is the executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists.

She said SPJ has taken steps to offer help to those who have been laid off in the industry with a waiver of SPJ membership fees, career center job postings and a LinkedIn group.  She recommends journalists look at the SPJ Career Center and consider joining the LinkedIn group, Journalists Helping Journalists. This  group was created as a platform for industry professionals to lend a hand to each other. Bethel McKenzie said SPJ membership fees can be waived up to six months or a deferment from paying dues after a journalist is laid off may be available. For more information, go to SPJ.org.

“We also take this opportunity to remind every American that journalism is a proud and noble profession that provides a voice to the voiceless, acts as a watchdog to powerful entities and maintains a balanced democracy,” Bethel McKenzie said.

Hannah Lester is the 2019 SPJ Region 3 spring intern and reporter for SizingUpTheSouth.com. She will be graduating from Auburn University this spring with a major in journalism. hannah.lester.spj@gmail.com