Sunday, February 15, 2009

Got A Journalism Degree and No Job? The Strip Club is Hiring

The Wall Street Journal - A couple of years back, around the time he was turning 50, Michael Precker was in his prime as a journalist. He'd never imagined himself doing anything else: "I knew in seventh grade I wanted to be a newspaperman."

A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he was a foreign correspondent for 11 years in the Middle East and wrote feature articles on countless subjects for the Dallas Morning News. One year, the paper nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize.

Now he has a new job: running a strip club. "I feel lucky," he says.

Mr. Precker's career adjustment reflects the recent chaos of the newspaper business. It happened in 2006. Back then the industry was already pretty far along in its path to today's never-ending reports of bankruptcies and layoffs.

When the Morning News offered buyouts in 2006, he says the paper's leadership made clear that the reduction in staff wasn't temporary -- or necessarily complete. And maybe the next buyout offer would be less generous. Demand for the long-form journalism he favored was drying up. He could see "storm clouds" all around him.

"It seemed pretty clear that people of my vintage weren't going to get through retirement," says Mr. Precker, now 53 years old.

Around that time he found himself seated at a charity dinner near the owner of a Dallas strip club, Dawn Rizos. Hearing him mention the newspaper industry's travails, she offered him a job. "I like smart people. You could do communications," she told him.

He laughed it off. "I thought, 'I couldn't stoop to something like that,'" he recalls.

Soon afterwards, he was visiting Israel when the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon broke out, and to his surprise he found himself disinterested in covering it. "As much as I loved my job and was proud of what I'd done, I didn't have the urge anymore to run up to the border and explain it all to the American people and then come back and brag about how I'd been shot at," he says.

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