Jim Spencer was very unhappy about being ousted from his columnist gig at the Denver Post last year, as he made clear throughout a subsequent essay; in the piece, he admitted to being "pissed off" and declared, "Like so many laid-off workers, I did nothing to deserve my walking papers." Not long thereafter, he landed a pretty good gig with Colorado Confidential before shifting to public relations via a position as communications director for the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. But in "Parting Thoughts," an extended salvo published by the Columbia Journalism Review, he admits that he misses being what used to be known as an ink-stained wretch -- and he misses it badly. "More than a year later, I feel like an exile," he writes. "I still want journalism. Journalism just doesn’t seem to want me -- at least not enough to pay me a livable wage with benefits and job security. That pretty much sums up the state of the industry."
Spencer shares the dollars-and-cents specifics of his attempts to remain a writer after the Post kicked him to the curb. He was paid $450 for columns he penned for Yellow Scene, a monthly magazine that's distributed in Denver's northern suburbs, and he negotiated a $3,000-per-month fee from Colorado Confidential, which meant he "earned twice as much as my co-workers in the online future of journalism." Nevertheless, Spencer couldn't make ends meet at that pay rate, and he found positions advertised at Phil Anchutz's Examiner publications to be far less than they appeared to be. So he made the PR move, like so many of his displaced colleagues. But while he says he works "for great people and an important public institution," he confesses that "I still dream of returning to journalism. Literally. My post-traumatic stress doesn’t manifest itself in nightmares from which I awake sweating and screaming. My PTS comes in the near-constant images of reporting and writing that haunt my sleep.
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"The dreams tell me something," he concludes. "Whether anyone ever again chooses to pay me professionally, I will always be a newspaper columnist."
Without question, Spencer speaks for many folks who've left newspapering or will do so in the ugly transition from the print age to the digital days. But few of them verbalize their dismay with such undisguised anguish. -- Michael Roberts