Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Musical interlude, Part II

As anybody that knows me can tell you, I'm sort of into the Drive-By Truckers. Yeah, that's probably an understatment.

Anyway, this is a video from a DBT show at the Metro in Chicago a few years ago. They don't usually wear as much make-up, but this was Halloween. Kristin and I were at the show, which lasted more than 3 1/2 hours. Awesome. Absolutely awesome.

So, enjoy the Rock Show!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paul LaTour, Idiot

OK, so maybe I'm not an idiot. But you be the judge.

When I started this blog I intended to be very honest in my posts, even if it was less than flattering. Which brings me to today's post, which is basically a rebuttal from yesterday's post.

The woman I spoke with today at the state employment security office told me I have to claim every dollar I make while collecting unemployment benefits. It's what at least one of my fellow unemployed sports writers told me last week. But I didn't want to believe him.

Now I'm stuck with two state employees telling me one thing (freelance money does not count against my benefits) and one saying another (every dollar must be claimed). Obviously, I'm going to be cautious about this and go with the woman's advice today.

I guess it's too much to ask that this particular issue would actually be specifically addressed in the handbook. Instead I'm left to the mercy of low-level government officials and their interpretations. Guess I'm back to the blind-leading-the-blind theory from an earlier post.

Sorry no jokes today.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Paul LaTour, Independent Contractor

Something dawned on me as I went through my day trying to learn as much about unemployment benefits as I could—I have far too many unemployed friends.

I spent today trying to get to the bottom of the whole freelancing/unemployment thing I was wondering about in an earlier post. Since last week I’ve e-mailed or spoken with several friends about the subject, friends who are also laid-off sports writers. It's nice to have that kind of network, but sad to think about how many laid-off journalists I know.

I appreciated hearing their thoughts, but I figured I better give the people at employment security another shout to see what comes of it. This time instead of calling the office again, I decided to go there in person.

I feared the worst. But found it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. I was in and out in less than a half-hour. And I left with some good information—or at least information that supports my earlier conversation with a benefits person.

It seems freelancers are considered independent contractors, which is great news. I was told—for the second time—independent contractors are able to make money without it affecting their unemployment benefits.

The two keys are that I continue looking for full-time work, which I have been doing (applied for two jobs so far). The other is that if I begin making significant money as an independent contractor I should declare that as my full-time job and cancel my unemployment benefits, which has been my goal all along.

I’ve already got a handful of freelance assignments, thanks to previous standing gigs with IrishEyes magazine and RSNA News, a newsletter produced by the Radiological Society of North America.

I’ve pitched two story ideas to the Chicago Tribune. And I’ve got a solid idea I want to pitch to Chicago magazine. The more places I can publish my work, the better it is for my clip file.

So that’s where I’m focusing my attention for the time being. It means I’m now Paul LaTour, Independent Contractor.

It beats the other career move I was contemplating: Paul LaTour, Male Prostitute.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Musical interlude

In honor of one of my favorite bands that I just found out today is reunited and returning for an August show in Chicago. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you ... Slobberbone!

[Note: Not my favorite song by them, but it was the best quality video I could find]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's a gray area

I'm looking for those jobbies where jobs grow. I’ve already got my job helmet strapped on and I’m ready to squeeze into the job cannon.

If none of that makes sense, go back and view the video at the top of this post. It’s a clip from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” the funniest—and often raunchiest—show on TV. If you don’t know about it, do yourself a favor and rent seasons 1-3 on DVD. Or stop over to the house and we can watch them together. I’ve got the time.

Anyway to update my status, I have now joined the unemployed by signing up for my benefits Monday. I was able to do it online, which was pretty nice. But as convenient as it was, I recommend not attempting it on a Monday.

I tried to register all morning and afternoon but kept getting “application error” messages and having to start over. I’m not exactly Mr. Patience anyway, so I was getting pretty frustrated. The same thing was happening to a friend of mine that day, so I know it wasn’t my computer.

But late that night I tried one more time and got through. I was able to complete it in less than the 30 minutes they estimate it will take. Yea for me! I still need to be approved and it will be a few weeks before any checks arrive. But I’m on my way.

Because my job search actually began long before I left the Sun, I’ve become pretty adept at patrolling the usual online job sites such as Indeed, craigslist and CareerBuilder. Over the past few months I’ve watched as the number of writer/editor openings have dwindled to nearly nothing.

I no longer rely on those sites, but they are still worth looking at. I sometimes look at openings I know I’m not qualified for because I can find contact information that may lead to a freelancing gig. I haven’t landed a regular one that way yet, but I’ve made some promising inroads.

Which brings me to my latest problem: Am I allowed to freelance without it interfering with my unemployment benefits? It’s a difficult question to answer. I could find nothing on the IDES site addressing the issue.

So I called the local office yesterday and talked with a woman in the benefits department. She said it’s a “gray area.” Great. It’s hard to explain, but she said I should be fine as long as I am still able to look for, or am able to, work every day I claim benefits for. Because I can still do that and find time for freelancing, I shouldn’t have any trouble.

Then she added I could probably call five different people in her office and they’d have five different interpretations for me. Again, great.

I’ll be looking into this further this week before I take on any freelancing assignments. I’m not trying to cheat on getting benefits. I just want to make sure I don’t end up owing the government down the road, even though I’ve been told I won’t.

That’s it for now. My new full-time job is now that of Job Seeker. My job helmet is on. Know of anybody hiring?

The bloodletting continues

The Chicago Tribune just laid off 53 people from editorial. That may be enough for me to finally stop my subscription. It barely takes 15 minutes to get through now. Besides, I can read it all online for free. Great business plan.

Monday, April 20, 2009

From beginning to end

My beginnings as a sports writer came when I was pretty young. They came as I took refuge from the turmoil in my house.

Many nights I closed myself off in my parents’ basement, hiding out with only my thoughts. I lost myself in a world of fantasy sports, long before fantasy sports became a national obsession. My fantasy sports all took place in my imagination.

I had a table-top hockey game—Phil and Tony Esposito’s Action Hockey—that used magnets to move the players around. One person used magnets from the bottom, while the other had the top so nobody’s arms got tangled. I spent hours with that game, playing by myself.

Next to it I kept a spiral notebook. Inside I tracked the “results” of my games, using the boxscore template from a copy of the Hockey News I also kept down there. I wrote brief summaries, too, but I don’t remember any of the actual entries anymore. I’m sure they had something to do with how awesome Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders were, though.

I didn’t limit my games to hockey either. I played football down there using a small Nerf basketball. Haven Moses, a wide receiver who played for Denver in the 1970s, was the star of many of those games, but I’m not sure why. I think I just loved that name. Haven Moses. Only now can I connect that he was Haven in my haven.

The sports writing thing took hold. I remember going to high school and college hockey games at the Duluth Arena when I was in grade school. Like my friends, I imagined I was on the rink, skating past the defenseman, wristing a shot past East’s goalie—who was always a sieve—and giving Cathedral the victory.

But just as often my gaze drifted from the ice to the press box jutting out across several sections. I always wondered what was happening in there. Who were those people that were allowed to sit up there? More importantly, how could I get inside?

Little did I know I would end up being one of those people sitting in that very press box. While at UMD I was the hockey writer for the campus paper. I learned the place was nothing special. Yet it was the coolest place in the world.

Since then I’ve been in press boxes from Colorado to Texas to Chicago. Old Mile High Stadium. Folsom Field in Boulder. Kyle Field at Texas A&M where the press box is on the ninth storey and sways in unison when the fans link arms to sing the Aggie War Hymn during games.

I got choked up when I sat in the one at Notre Dame Stadium, needing to quickly pull it together because – as all good sports journalists know – there is no cheering in the press box. No crying either.

But somewhere in recent years that excitement waned. It wasn’t because I was spending most of my time in high school press boxes, or because I was disappointed my career never brought me inside Wrigley Field despite working in the same market.

No, it was the realization I was spending most of my time covering games I no longer had interest in. Once that took hold, I couldn’t shake it.

At the same time, the newspaper industry was imploding. My dreams of moving to a larger paper dissolved as quickly as the jobs did. Then the layoffs started coming. The Chicago market flooded with unemployed sports writers and journalists in general.

When it became apparent more layoffs were coming in the wake of Sun-Times Media Group’s March 31 bankruptcy filing, it seemed the right time for me to call it quits, to let go of what was and to begin focusing on what will be.

About two weeks ago I made it known to upper management that I wouldn’t be upset if my name was on the list of job cuts needed at the Naperville Sun. On Friday morning I was among five reporters laid off by Fox Valley Publications, a group of STMG papers that includes the Sun and Beacon News. More followed later in the day, but I’m not sure how many.

So now I begin this week as an unemployed sports writer. For the first time in 10 years I won’t be going to work at a newspaper. I never imagined wanting to do anything else. I loved being a newspaper man.

I’m going to miss it. I’m nostalgic like that. I still miss that damn hockey game. But it’s time to move forward and see what’s in store for me next. Right now I think that means lunch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Welcome to my blog

Greetings friends. I decided to start a blog in order to document my life as I transition into a new career. I plan to update it regularly to keep everyone abreast of my progress or setbacks. I'm hoping you won't be reading about too many of those pesky setbacks.

Along the way I'll share as many details as I can about navigating through the life-changing events that were set in motion last week when I was laid off by The Naperville Sun.

So enjoy. I know I will. I'm looking forward to learning what life has in store.