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June 5, 2008

Surviving a Layoff

former assistant news director jennifer straw

Photo Credit: Lisa Wiseman

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Jennifer Straw, 33, former assistant news director

Jennifer Straw, an assistant news director for WWSB-TV in Sarasota, FL, knew the station was struggling. Ad dollars were scarce, and every expense was scrutinized. Following a glowing review in January, she didn't even get a cost-of-living increase. This after her coverage of a recent kidnapping scored the station an Emmy nod. Though she'd been laid off from another job two years earlier, her circumstances were profoundly different now: Straw had signed on for a high-risk, no-money-down mortgage. Her one-bedroom condo in Tampa cost her more than $2000 a month in payments. Losing her job could mean losing her home.

In March, after 15 months on the job, Straw was faced with that grim reality. The station manager, who delivered the news to her one morning, insisted that it had nothing to do with her job performance or work ethic. But Straw admits she came unstrung in their meeting. "I felt betrayed. I had worked so hard. And I looked around and saw five other ways to cut the budget that could have saved them as much money as my job," she recalls. She was given two weeks' pay and benefits through April.

Straw headed back home that morning to strategize. Several months earlier she'd tried to sell her condo, but the market was already glutted with homeowners frantic to unload. (Florida is second only to California in foreclosure rates.) She called her bank to defer her mortgage payments, but they wouldn't budge. So she took a small loan from her parents and has begun dipping into her IRA to get through the summer. Though she lives frugally, Straw refuses to forgo cable and the occasional night out with friends. "You work so hard to get to a certain income level. Then you're forced to limit yourself. I don't think I should have to make myself live that way," she says.

But the unexpected upside to her predicament is that she now has the space to rethink her first love, journalism. "I could walk into any newsroom in this country and put great newscasts on air," she says. "But after all these years, I'm now asking whether my career is fulfilling me. Is it giving back all that I put in? I need more loyalty, more security." She has blitzed her résumé to nonprofits and PR firms. But she's most intrigued by the Internet. While at the station, she toyed with their Website and increased traffic by 400 percent. Now she spends a couple of hours each day beefing up her MySpace page and blogging about her experiences (missattitude.us). "I just feel better putting it out there," she says. "It is a scary time for me, but I'm good at picking myself up and moving on."

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