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Perspectives: Leaving meaningful work
One man quits local government
This week’s Perspectives edition is from Robert, a former journalist living in the American West. Robert believes in the power of local government and local journalism but ended up leaving both.
Robert shared his story with me via interview.
Even as much of the U.S. shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the impacts on Robert were different. He was working in the communications department for the local Business Council and the virus hadn’t reached his sparsely populated area. Instead, his department was trying to figure out the economic side and how to help local business owners.
“It felt like this surreal ‘happening elsewhere’ thing for a long time,” Robert recalls. Finally, in April 2020, his team was sent home to work remotely. He felt like his work got easier: a micromanaging boss was no longer able to look over his shoulder and he could concentrate on his job. The organizational structure of the Business Council was flattened and he had better access to people who could listen to his ideas.
“I was in direct contact with the governor’s office,” Robert said. “No one could take credit for my ideas. We got a lot done over the next three months.”
The challenge of Robert’s department was figuring out how to reach people in the community. Many local business owners weren’t online and didn’t want to be online. They were also distrustful of the government as a whole. Robert’s job was communicating what stimulus money was available for local businesses and the qualifications.
“These people don’t have backup money. They don’t have reserves or investors,” Robert said. “We had to figure out how to keep these companies afloat or literally these towns were going to blow in the dust.”
The Business Council got a lot of money out the door to support these businesses. Every metric was up within the communications department: website hits, social media interactions, and open rates on the email newsletter. The communications team also launched a webinar series to provide additional education.
But all of that changed when one local legislator claimed that he didn’t get an email announcing an upcoming webinar.
The legislator complained to Robert’s boss. Robert could see through the email platform that the legislator had, in fact, received the email and opened it — twice. Nevertheless, Robert’s boss blamed the communications team. The boss called the team into a meeting and told them that they had failed at their jobs — all because one local legislator had falsely claimed that he didn’t get an email.
Shortly thereafter, most of the team was laid off. The Business Council farmed out the communications work to a local marketing agency. But the agency didn’t know anything about the work being done and had to rely on Robert for help.
Robert saw the writing on the wall and began looking for another job. He cared about the work and helping people, but he also felt certain that he would eventually be fired.
He took another job in community development but didn’t feel that he had the “right personality” to deal with people directly. He also liked working remotely. He’d worked as a local journalist before landing his job with the Business Council.
“I was a good reporter,” he said. “If you do it right, you can really help the community understand itself better and you can hold city people accountable, especially at the small-town level.”
Earlier in his career, Robert was the driving change that got a housing initiative put in place in a small town. “That’s a cool, positive thing I’ve done in the world. Whereas I don’t get that feeling at all [in my current job].”
Today, Robert works remotely for a marketing agency that caters to tech companies. He builds marketing strategies and watches clients completely ignore his advice, even though they’re paying a lot of money for the services they’re receiving.
It’s not work he’s passionate about and he wishes he could go back to local journalism. “But journalism doesn’t pay and you can’t do that remotely for most companies.”
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