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Technology, media changes lead to poor job outlook

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In the not-too-distant past, I joined the Facebook group “I picked a major I like, and one day will be living in a box” and laughed a little to myself about how clever it was.

Well, who’s laughing now?

Evidently no one, as my unemployed peers will tell you. The year 2009 may be the worst on record to graduate from college in and join the rapidly shrinking workforce, if you want your workplace to be someplace that isn’t a 7-Eleven. The Carnegie Mellon Career Center sent me a follow-up e-mail asking me to fill out the panic attack-inducing “Post-Graduation Survey” when I politely but non-verbally declined to do it the first time. Two e-mails to force me to check a box signifying that “I am unemployed and seeking employment.”

Thanks, Career Center, for making me feel like shit.

Add to that the downsizing and, in some cases, profound disappearance of mainstream media. A share of New York Times stock costs less than the price of the Sunday paper ($3.25). “Newspaper” is on its way to becoming something of an antiquated term. Ten years down the road, after we tell our children that the word “blog” is actually the shortened version of the original “weblog” and that “e-mail” once stood for “electronic mail,” we will inform them that the news they are reading off a screen was once printed on actual paper that you could hold in your hands.

Oh God. I hope I don’t have kids 10 years from now.

All I’m saying is, anyone smart who was planning to be a writer knows they should now think about planning to be something else. Not because the world is no longer in need of writers, because it is — news may show up on a screen after a few clicks and not stuffed into a plastic bag and left on your doorstep every morning, but it still needs to be written by someone, and there are as many, if not more, opportunities for you to be that person. You can start your own blog or contribute to someone else’s. You can submit articles to be published on sites like the infamous Huffington Post and Salon.com.

Hold on — you want to get paid money for that? Sorry, no can do.

Unfortunately, there are so many fledgling writers out there (and even non-fledgling writers, as veteran reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Baltimore Sun, to name a few, have been thrust from their offices with floor-to-ceiling windows to cubicles at a temp agency, or more commonly, their own kitchen tables, staring at their laptops, wondering if they have the stamina to make a podcast) who will pitch and write stories to be posted on news sites for free that writers who want their living situation to include walls and a roof can be hard-pressed to find gigs that actually pay. And by pay, I mean not in the form of “experience,” “exposure,” and “a flexible work schedule and the ability to work from home” — all choice phrases used by publications who solicit this kind of voluntary slave labor.

Ah, the luxuries that unemployment provides. I’m only being 50 percent facetious here. The other day I was having a networking-related phone call with a lovely young woman who does communications work in the non-profit sector. She was trying to sell me on doing AmeriCorps — our country’s in-house version of the Peace Corps — by reminding me that I’d be living under the poverty line and therefore eligible for food stamps.

Seriously?

But while I’m on the topic of getting paid under the table — so far under that it’s hard to tell if the money’s actually there or not in all that blackness — I’d like to take a minute to grouse about my most despicable frenemy, which is the unpaid internship. I have to hand it to the man who came up with the idea of this college-sized version of slavery, especially when its employers offer “college credit” instead of cold hard cash. (Certified check would also be fine.) At Carnegie Mellon, at least, this is completely unfeasible. The university’s policy requires that a student be enrolled at the time in which he or she earns the credit, meaning that the student would have to pay the university the price of one unit of credit (about $1000) to be eligible for said college credit. A thousand bucks for the privilege of working for free as the designated “doer of tasks that no one else wants to do”? No thanks. This person is at this very moment touching his or her fingertips together and laughing haughtily in his (or her) corner office somewhere in Midtown Manhattan. That’s the other thing. New York is expensive. Don’t move there, even if you really, really, really think you can find a rent-controlled apartment in Williamsburg.

Despite the bitter cynicism displayed here, which is the direct result of scrolling through what felt like thousands of job listings for which I am completely unqualified (which, for the record, is any position whose title includes the words “director,” “manager,” or “senior” and does not include the words “assistant,” “associate,” or “entry-level”) just prior to writing this article, I am here to tell you — graduating writers, artists, and anyone majoring in something that could reside in the liberal arts category and/or does not teach you programming or how to build something — it’s not all that bad. You’re young, cheap to insure, and have “flexible” salary requirements. You know how to work a computer and you may even know HTML well enough to create a website that looks like it’s from 1997, like I do. Now pack up your stuff, move back in with Mom and Dad, take those GREs, and start applying to grad schools.

Or, alternatively, grit your teeth and get ready to give up soy lattes and trashy magazines for what you really love, which in my case is words. Now, excuse me while I update my blog.