By Miguel A. Melendez:
Two years ago I lived in a spacious two-story apartment in South Pasadena. It was the first time I had ever lived in a city that reminded me of the Norman Rockwell paintings that lined the walls of the Hometown Buffet restaurants our family of seven would visit almost every Sunday.
It felt like I had finally made it, and in many ways I did. I was cruising through a 13-year career with stops at the Orange County Register, Pasadena Star-News, L.A. Daily News and the NFL Network. When my contract expired at NFL.com, I was sure I’d land a spot somewhere — anywhere.
Instead, I spent the next six months unemployed. I easily submitted more than 60 applications for journalism jobs. When nobody came calling, I dumbed down my résumé and it was then I got two phone calls: one from a sporting goods store and another from a casino. Neither one made an offer.
Months passed, and I continued to submit applications. The phone never rang. I gave up my apartment for fear of running out of money and moved in with my best friend. The agreement was I wouldn’t pay rent until I landed a job.
More months passed and, still, nobody called.
Maybe it was the desperate look in my eye or that she saw I was on the verge of insanity, but a good friend of mine, Evelyn Ibarra, offered me an entry-level job making just above the minimum wage. “You’re not gonna like the kind of work you’ll be doing,” she warned me. But at this point — nine months without a job and a bank account quickly depleting — I felt I had no choice. I would do anything.
— Miguel A. Melendez (@MelendezSports) May 16, 2013
My job? Stocking tortillas, hauling cases of orders to customers and working the register. Nothing was beneath me at this point, I felt. I had done it all before I became a cub reporter. I was homeless as a kid and learned how to hustle so that I could eat. So when I was handed a hair net and an apron I reminded myself this is how I would hustle. I was no longer a kid, but a 30-year-old who still needed to eat, along with paying a car note, insurance, a cell phone, and now rent.
I worked five days a week at Acapulco Mexicatessen in East Los Angeles. The only time I sat was during my two 10-minute breaks and 30-minute lunch. And what reporter do you know stands, walks and sweats their entire shift? A quick scan across any newsroom is proof we’re not built for that.
The work I did at the tortilla factory was non-stop and, to be quite honest, boring. It was boring because I knew what I was missing. For the first time since I could remember I wasn’t watching the World Cup. I had no idea how the Dodgers were doing. And working every Sunday shift also meant missing out on playing softball.
Many of my co-workers had been doing this day-in and day-out for at least a decade, if not more. They worked long hours to provide for their families, either here and/or in Mexico. I’m most glad that I got to know them as more than just co-workers and as people with a genuine ambition for living the American dream. I’m reminded of Valentina and her husband. They live modestly, but see a bright future because of their two sons, who are attending college – one at UC San Diego and the other at the University of San Francisco. Valentina beams with pride when she talks about them, and with good reason. She wants the best for her sons, and just as she wished and prayed they would do well, she wanted the same for me.
My co-workers all knew my situation. They all encouraged me to hold up my head and continue pursuing my passion.“Ojalá que todo te salga bien, Miguelito” they told me whenever I mentioned I had applied for a job (“Hope everything turns out well for you, Miguelito.”) They were fascinated about the kind of work I used to do, but I was even more fascinated with how they spoke about striving for a better life here in the U.S. They had that same feeling I had years ago when I moved to South Pasadena: that feeling of having made it. And here I was complaining under my breath that I was severely under-employed. I was ashamed and humbled.
I decided it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself. I reached out to CCNMA on Twitter about getting some help with finding a job. CCNMA President Yvette Cabrera, a former colleague of mine at The Orange County Register, reached out and invited me to the Ruben Salazar Scholarship Banquet. It was a good way for me to network, she said. And it was. I met a vice president from KNBC and an HR manager from ESPN Los Angeles. I also met an executive editor who said I should reach out to their new executive sports editor.
Not long after, I had two interviews with Yahoo! Sports for two different positions. Neither materialized. I had another interview at a local paper in West Covina, but apparently I wasn’t hungry enough. It didn’t matter. I was even more determined to land on my feet and prove that I did, in fact, belong in journalism. Then, just three weeks ago, I was offered a job from FOX Sports to be a digital content programmer. That same day I told my friend at the tortilla factory I was leaving the company. I delivered the news to my co-workers, who were filled with joy. I could see and feel it in their smiles and tight hugs.
A professor once asked me what single advice I can give to aspiring journalists. I was only 26 at the time, and, really, not that much older than the students I was speaking to. But I remembered what a mentor told me when I was a 17-year-old freelancer: “Be nice to people you work with right now, whether you like them or not. You never know when your paths might cross again, and you’ll be the one needing that someone’s help.”
It’s advice that rings true to this day. But, having gone through this yearlong hiatus, I can tell aspiring journalists to never lose hope of chasing your dream job. I spent 13 years as a reporter, beat writer and editor. My work defined who I was. It’s all I had ever done, and it wasn’t until this ordeal that I realized how much I really loved it. I was lucky in that I had friends who supported me the entire way. The small breaks I caught along the way helped fuel my relentless chase. But, luck had nothing to do with reaching out to mentors, former colleagues and scouring job boards online day-in and day-out. It was all effort. I cried myself to sleep once, and it was then that I knew I needed to find my way back to journalism. There’s no faking that kind of passion.
Follow Miguel Melendez on Twitter @MelendezSports
CCNMA Note: We loved this essay because it embodies what many people are still going through following the recession and fall of newspapers. It was also extremely fitting that Miguel was able to include the American dream in his story. He was able to see that because of his personal background, and that’s what CCNMA fights for every day: perspectives like his. If you have a story you’d like to share with CCNMA, email us at ccnmainfo[at]ccnma.org.