The students at the University of South Carolina’s independent newspaper say they are not OK.
Covering the pandemic has been hard work, so they’re all taking a vacation at the same time. They’ll start doing their jobs again Nov. 2.
“We haven’t been sleeping. We’ve forgotten to eat. We’ve been staring at screens for hours on end,” an October editorial at The Daily Gamecock reads.
Welcome to journalism, kids.
Note, this is where my former boss chuckles at me referring to them as kids as he reads this from his cushy post-newspaper job. We’ve had quite the number of Baby Boomer vs. Millennial debates since I started at The Times at 21 years old.
So, now here comes the Millennial vs. Zoomer debate. I don’t know if they’re listening, but here goes.
Kids, the job is often literally to stare at screens for hours on end. Yes, you’ll forget to eat lunch some days. Yes, sleep will sometimes be fleeting. And no, when you get to the professional leagues, you don’t just get to all go on vacation at the same time so you can unplug, nap and eat whatever the Zoomer equivalent of avocado toast is.
This job’s tough. It’s always been tough. It likely always will be tough. So, toughen up. Because your future Millennial, Gen X or Boomer boss might just laugh in your face if you suggest this plan. In fact, I sent your editorial to a working or recently working journalist in each of those generations, and you know what happened? One sent a gif of Jack Nicholson laughing maniacally. Another let out a big belly laugh. Another replied with sarcasm about “the world of college media.”
Perhaps as students you can all afford to take this time away. Here in the real world, we’ve made a commitment to provide journalism to our community. Don’t expect your bosses, advertisers, co-workers in other departments or your readers to understand if you want the entire newsroom to take a week or two off because you’re tired. There’s a business to run and so many other pieces of the puzzle that don’t involve you.
Who’s keeping a watchful eye on student government while you’re playing Fortnite? Who’s tracking the effects of COVID-19 among your student body and faculty while you cuddle with your dog? Who’s reporting about issues of race and history on your campus while you sleep till noon?
The mission statement of The Daily Gamecock is “to inform, seek the truth and inspire through our reporting on issues that face the Carolina community.” The issues didn’t disappear, but you did.
The Gamecock editorial explains that individual breaks just weren’t enough.
“We are so heavily dependent on each other for every story that a single absence could affect nearly our entire newsroom,” it reads.
Yes, that’s literally how vacations in businesses like ours work. When a photographer goes on vacation, a digital editor steps in to take photos, I step in to do much of his job, and we all work more that week so the photographer can unplug and the job can still get done. And when I want to go on vacation a few weeks from now, they share the burden for me.
Is it a big ask? Sure, sometimes it is. But one thing we can agree on, no matter the generational differences, is it is important to take care of ourselves. Honestly, that might mean you step away from this career. It’s not for everyone. But for those passionate about this work, there are ways to responsibly take care of yourself.
Take your vacation time. -- just not all of you at the same time.
I took a vacation in June, after three months of working long days at break-neck speed covering the coronavirus.
It was almost impossible to work ahead and prepare for my vacation, and it was difficult for others to pick up the slack, especially as we were also short-staffed at the time.
We made it work, and I spent a week not checking work email because those mental breaks are important for sanity.
Balance your workload. There are plenty of demanding jobs out there, and this is one of them. Do the work. And when you’re not working, stop working.
Learn that you can do this. It’s hard because it’s worth doing. So step up, not down. Complain about it, joke about it, but you better love it or leave it.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.