This is part of my contributions to the Women’s Money Week 2013 campaign. You’ll find discussions about women’s issues and financial affairs Monday March 4 through Friday March 8 at the Women’s Money Week web site.

By Paula Wethington / Monroe on a Budget columnist and blogger for The Monroe Evening News in Monroe, Mich.

Women’s Money Week 2013 is starting its conversation Monday March 4 about women and money with the theme of “increasing income.”

I wish increasing income was easy for my readers to do. I’m living in southeast Michigan where the struggle for many families is in trying to maintain what they have. While median household income has more or less remained stable in recent years, the cost of living has gone up. Families with children in my city have been particularly hit hard, as indicated by a noticeable jump of participation in the school lunch program as compared to before the recession.

monroe_evening_news_20130225_A001One key to maintaining income is to stay current on job skills and marketability, even as you approach middle age or retirement years.

I’ve found that experience still is an advantage in the workplace. There is value in knowing how specific situations were handled in the past, and who can be called upon for assistance and expertise.

But the fact that one has worked 10, 20 or 30 years with a particular employer, or in a particular industry, no longer stands on its own merits should you want to seek a different position or move to another employer.

Outdated skills may even cause problems as your existing job description changes.

Here’s a case study based on my career: I have worked nearly 25 years full-time as a newspaper reporter. All of that time has been spent at three newspapers in smaller communities with daily afternoon editions, similar competition concerns, and similar reader demographics.

The basic duties of a newspaper reporter have not changed much from my rookie days, or even a generation before that. They include locating reliable sources, gathering information, taking basic pictures or working with a photographer to get more professional or artistic images, presenting the information to the readers, and meeting deadlines.

If people today wonder about the multitasking that is involved now, I remind them that I was often a “one woman show” as a reporter at a previous job.

But it is true that the journalism business went through a huge upheaval about 10 to 15 years ago, when news media started posting reports on the Internet. The traditional news cycle gradually became less important as readers learned to expect 24/7 reporting.

While there remains much debate on whether a routine or exclusive story should appear first on the web or in traditional media, the standard for breaking news is those headlines go online immediately. Even breaking news was a hurdle years ago – the stories I’ve heard in The Monroe Evening News newsroom include how unusual it was in 1997 for information about a plane crash to be posted on our Web site even while a special edition of our print newspaper was in production!

schoolannouncementIn recent years, other digital media formats such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, mobile apps and text messaging have become everyday tools.

I’ve had no problem adapting to, and in many ways staying ahead of, the digital curve. Honestly, I wish we had some of these tech tools years ago. An iPhone in my messenger bag is a huge advantage as compared to the walkie-talkie I grabbed to stay in contact with the newsroom when reporting on a chemical spill during the early 1990s; and wondering on other occasions whether my 35mm film SLR pictures would be suitable for page 1.

But if you think technological advances have affected just the news business, ask the friends you have in other jobs what skills they have needed to learn just to stay current with job expectations.

My relatives who work in health care and higher education are among those who have noticed big changes in routine duties.

Would I have a job now in the newspaper business, or a related industry, had I continued to do my work in the same way it had been done in my rookie days?

It’s possible, but looking back, I wouldn’t count on it.

I use social and digital media on nearly every assignment for tasks such as looking up press releases, locating sources, answering questions from readers, telling the story or providing the information in different formats, and promoting the articles and photos that my co-workers and I have produced.

Furthermore, I could not have avoided the technology changes if I had given up on the news business to move into one of “second careers” that former journalists have traditionally sought such as teaching, public relations and freelancing.

Many of those jobs also require familiarity with the same digital and social media techniques I use as a reporter.

Illustrations: the page 1 from Monday Feb. 25 edition of The Monroe Evening News features an article I wrote about our local beauty college’s talent show. The photo is by our lead photographer. The text message screen shot is one I sent while working from home, posting school closings and delays on our newspaper’s Web site and social media on a day when winter weather resulted in icy roads.


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