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From AJR,   October/November 2003  issue

The Real World   

Unemployeed writers chronicle their struggles online


By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor     

Just like any "reality" show, this one has a cluster of personalities that people get to know on a first-name basis. There's Dan and Anita and Emily and Connie, to name a few. But unlike, say, "Survivor" or "The Bachelor," where viewers get to know Steve "the jerk bartender" or Nancy "the floozie accountant," this one offers less variety. The bios here don't vary much: They're all unemployed writers. And the only "prize" they're subjecting themselves to the public eye for is work.

That's a bracing splash of reality for ya.

Last spring, Silicon Valley's Connie Guglielmo, out of regular work since the November 2001 shuttering of Interactive Week, was more than disgusted to see that Monica Lewinsky, of all talents, had a job hosting a new reality show. The 41-year-old, who'd been the magazine's editor-at-large, thought, "This is just too ridiculous, too stupid, too awful.... With all the people I know who can't find work."

The real "reality," Guglielmo decided, was that she and her friends couldn't get jobs--and not for lack of trying. Maybe they could write about what that was like. So she and seven fellow out-of-work scribes launched 8goodpeople.com, a Web site where they'd tell their stories and show people their reality. Certainly this topic would be something a pained plenty could identify with. "It could be called 2.7millionpeople.com," Guglielmo says, referring to the U.S. jobs lost since 9/11.

So one of the eight designed the site, another volunteered to host, everyone wrote essays and, in just a few weeks, the site launched June 26. Guglielmo sent press releases to everyone she knew. Eleven weeks and 13,000 unique visitors later, the Wall Street Journal, Houston Chronicle and USA Today have talked up 8goodpeople, employers visiting the site have hired some of the "stars" for freelance jobs, and the eight are considering selling T-shirts with the slogan: "I ain't out of work, my friend, I'm on sabbatical," a line from one of the site's essays.

"It's been very flattering," Guglielmo says, "very encouraging."

Five of the 8goodpeople are refugees from Interactive Week, while the three others last brought checks home from CNET, a newsletter company and a dotcom. Randy Barrett, a 39-year-old father of four from Northern Virginia, last worked full-time as Interactive Week's news editor. Then, he brought home six figures. Nearly two years later, he's about given up on bringing home much of anything.

"It's a terrible time to be looking for any kind of work in a writing field," says Barrett, who's been doing freelance work, teaching banjo and helping his wife start a bakery. He's sent out "hundreds and hundreds" of résumés which have led to a grand total of three job interviews. Three.

Barrett, who goes by the name "Roger" on the site (he's the only one of the eight with a pseudonym), has written some of the funnier postings, including an essay scorning interviewers for asking job candidates about their "greatest weakness." "Has anyone ever given a truthful response to this one?" Barrett wrote. "No. If they did, job interviews would certainly be more enlightening: Bill enjoys wearing women's undergarments. Beth cheats on her taxes--a lot. Carl is an obnoxious snob who treats his wife poorly...."

And then there's Dan, Dan Luzadder. Even with a Pulitzer on his résumé--he won it along with others at the Ft. Wayne News Sentinel in 1983 for covering a flood--Luzadder, 54, has shot only job search air balls since Interactive Week vanished along with his investigative writing job. Though he's found enviable freelance work, like covering the Kobe Bryant case for New York's Daily News, his unemployment is never far from his mind, nor is the fear that accompanies it.

"I don't think most people are prepared for the stress that goes along with [unemployment]," he says. "There's a lot about self worth, that sort of thing. Maybe I'm not the journalist I thought I was." In one of his essays on the site, he wrote, "And though it is little comfort, I know there are hundreds of thousands out there with whom we share this certain anxiety: downsizing, cutting back, accepting less, dealing with rejection, questioning the future, questioning whether we will ever be what we hoped we would be--more independent and still able to give our kids the things we didn't have."

In mid-September, a few of the 8goodpeople teetered on the brink of gainful employment. Guglielmo eagerly awaited the moment when she could replace the "8 unemployed" counter on the site with a smaller number. Visitors to the site, also out of work, have asked Guglielmo how they can get in on the reality show's "second season." But that's not the point--a second season is the last thing she wants. "It was never my intent that it go on forever," she says. "It would be great if all eight people went to work and if stories about people looking for jobs would no longer be interesting."