Career Profile: Veteran health reporter finds new opportunities outside newspapers
Dave Parks, 61, had worked for The Birmingham News for 23 years when he took a buy-out two years ago. In some ways, it was a nerve-wracking decision: he was close to retirement and the job market was not in great shape.
"I think it's a trap to stay at a job for security," Parks said on a phone call from Alabama. "I had the urge to wait for retirement, but you only live once."
Resources at The Birmingham News were being squeezed and the paper was moving toward general reporting instead of specialized beats. Parks spent almost ten years as a senior health reporter. Although no one asked him to stop focusing on health, he could see where things were moving. He thought of the buy-out as his opportunity to try something new.
"I guess it's a sense of feeling relevant as much as anything else," he explained.
So after 30 years with daily newspapers, Parks took the buyout. But his is a zen kind of story. It includes very few job applications and follows the best advice he ever got: Do what you're good at.
Parks sent his resume out a few times but did not get any responses, so he just stopped. Instead, he got out and talked to people and let them know that he was interested in freelance work. He took classes in website development and built his own online presence. He listed himself in the Association for Health Care Journalists freelance directory.
Early this year, Parks was contacted by editor Jeff Olson for the New York-based publisher Apress. The editor asked him to write a straightforward book that would explain health care reform without getting caught up in politics. Olson, senior editor for business books, said in a phone call that he was looking for someone who specialized in writing about health care and would bring credibility to the book. Park's online presence made the connection easy.
"If he didn't have that website, I may have gone on to the next name that I ran across," Olson said.
Parks went with his gut. "When Jeff Olson sent me the email, I immediately replied yes. It just seemed like the right thing to do," he said. "Doing a book like that was not a way to get rich quick, but I didn't need to."
Parks wrote Health Care Reform Simplified in two months, working 10- to 12-hour days, five or six days per week. It was like writing a 20-part, in-depth series for a newspaper, he said, with more space for details and charts. Parks also started a blog of the same name as the book. "I love the blog," he said. "It really gives you a strong voice. It's your work."
But the book was exhausting, and with freelance work, just when you finish one project you have to hustle to find the next. Parks rested and move don. Three weeks ago, he was hired to manage HomeCare Magazine, a trade publication for people who sell and provide service to home medical equipment. When they called him, it sounded like a good place to work with a "good vibe." Park took care of his own mother at home before she passed away, so he understood the services and supplies that are essential to home care.
"Finding a job like that right now in journalism is difficult," Parks said. "I felt like it was a good opportunity to do something I cared about."
In the two years since leaving daily news, Parks has built a freelance career as an editor and writer, written a book, learned online skills and discovered new avenues for his journalism. He has two adult children with jobs, one grandchild, and no desire to retire.
"When you get like that, all of a sudden you're not feeling the pressure to go out and make a lot of money," he said. "But you do want to remain relevant, be part of life. We're social animals."
Next week in Career GPS: Editor Jeff Olson is look for another journalist to write a book about business and health care for Apress. In my next post, he will explain what he is looking for and how he finds authors.
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