Alex Friedrich worked for Minnesota Public Radio News, the Pioneer Press and other newspapers during a 25-year career. He wrote the following for MNSPJ’s ongoing series, Tell us Your Story, a salute to former journalists who have moved on to new adventures.
The morning I was laid off from MPR News two years ago, I was stunned.
Me? I thought.
You’ve laid off ME?
That evening I considered calling friends at some Twin Cites news outlets. I’d show them who could bounce back.
After all, I’d had a rewarding career. I’d covered high-profile scandals and disasters here at home, and historic political moments in Europe and the Caucasus. I’d done investigations that brought about change, and written some goofy stories I still laugh about.
But I knew journalism wasn’t the gig it used to be.
Budgets were tight, and travel budgets even tighter. By 2015, a big trip for me was an overnighter to an outstate Minnesota college. (Woo hoo!)
And the digital age had turned the old daily deadline into an all-day grind: news spots, debriefs, blog posts, tweets. Sometimes I had hardly a minute to think about what I was writing.
So when I thought about clawing myself back into the ring, I thought: Nah. Ain’t worth it. News is a young person’s game now.
And soon I started to think: This layoff is actually a good thing.
I’d long harbored the desire to teach. Getting the ax was the kick in the butt that I needed.
I rang up folks on my old higher-education beat, and they were surprisingly receptive. Who’d have thought I could use my old master’s degree in economics to teach at a community college?
By January 2016, I was running classes on two campuses.
Teaching is just like news, really: Take a complicated subject. Explain it in terms your average person can understand. Add a few anecdotes and some humor to make it interesting.
The students are your readers/listeners/viewers. They appreciate a good story. They seem to dig my old war stories as a business and economy reporter. And I use lots of news stories to illustrate the week’s topic.
I was up for one disappointment. At first I thought that being free from the newsroom meant I could show my political stripes. Not so.
I’m really under the same old constraint of political neutrality, though it’s self-imposed this time. I wear these shackles once again because I’d hate for a student to tune out my economic lessons because he or she doesn’t like my politics. And my students say they appreciate it.
What I relish most is the time and freedom I have – what reporters always crave. With no deadline hanging over my head, I can take plenty of time to research and actually think — THINK — about the material I’m about to present.
Make no mistake: It’s a lot of work. Most of it is outside of the classroom.
But I’m my own boss. My dean handles administrative matters, but I run the show in the classroom. My ideas. My approach. My voice.
I still don’t travel for work, of course. But when winter or summer break rolls around, I’ve got my airplane ticket in hand – and plenty of time to enjoy the trip.