I am a lousy time manager. Just ask my wife, or my boss. No, wait, don’t! They already know (all too well!) and I already know and… here’s just a bit (OK, it got long, more than a bit!) of an explanation – not a defense, just an explanation – of why.
I’ve often said it’s a good thing I’m not a producer of one of our newscasts – they’d start about, oh, say, 6 or 10 minutes past the hour, not at 6 pm on the dot. (Another favorite saying: I’ll be late to my own funeral. But who wants to be on time for that? I’d rather not show up entirely. Heh.)
So anyway, I’ve also often said that I “ride the tide of the daily news.” Lately, I’ve come to realize that the tide of news actually often rides me — my wife and I “lovingly” call it The Vortex, in that one of the many ways news is not a widget to be put in a box or a bean to be counted, you just can’t know what’s going to happen next.
Just like a favorite diner can only plan so much in terms of staffing, only to see it all go to heck when a bus of high school wrestlers on the way to a tourney drops by — like many jobs, actually – you can only plan so much, than have to allow for the unexpected, and be flexible in how to get what needs to be done, done.
The Internet made things worse — the ability to work anywhere, at any time — but my issues pre-date it by decades. Back in my United Press International Days, my wonderful wife Deb would get off work, come over to the bureau and watch me run from one of the old green-screen terminals to another, posting stories or the like, and I’d be saying, “One more thing!” “One more thing!” Etc.
Still, when I left work, work was over — except maybe to tune in the hourly news on the radio to make sure nothing big had broken locally or elsewhere in Oregon. I also hadn’t quite gotten the whole police scanner thing into my blood – a topic for another time.
But now, like so many of you/us, my job is still as all-consuming – and can be done at work, at home and, to some degree, anywhere I am, thanks to my trusty laptop.
That of course is a good and bad thing. Trust me, I know.
Without diving into the specifics, this weekend was a great example.
Saturday, there was a lot of local news to get done. And while we do have a weekend broadcast staff, of course, I sort of … help them out. Not to mention getting that news on the Web.
Some would (and no doubt do) say it’s because I’m a control freak, that I don’t delegate well, etc. But I also know that I have … standards. As do our many readers. They expect online articles to be well-written and for fresh news to be posted while fresh, etc. Not to mention moderating the 100s of comments every few hours that pour in on our Website.
So I worked a lot Saturday – and still, with my wife’s hand pain (dang arthritis!) really bad, got out to the grocery store. So what if it was after 9 pm? That’s why Freddy’s is open until 11!
Today, the Gods of News granted me a reprieve (knock on wood) and there have been no big breaking local news stories (knock knock knock on wood).
So I was able to spend more time with Deb, venture out for a bit, and sit and watch TV. To do that very important relaxation and, yes, doing nothing that is the only true way to alleviate the stress. I even got both of my neighborhood walks in (though I am anxious for a bit warmer weather to return.)
I know I’m supposed to be a filter of the news, not a funnel. I don’t have to post every single AP state wire story to the Website, or turn every interesting news release or email into a story. There’s always more to do than time (and me) to do it.
And yet, I really do enjoy what I do. I relish being the first to tell people interesting things, and yes, competitive me, to beat the competition (which is about to expand a bit locally.)
I sometimes have said over the years that the young people I work with, trying to help them become better writers, reporters and story-tellers (I leave the photography aspect to others like the great Steve Kaufmann), that they both help keep me young and “drive me to an early grave” at the same time. (As happens with your own kids, I suppose, though Deb and I have never been blessed in that regard).
I’m the picky guy who not only wants to get these young folks to soak up story ideas like a sponge and keep their curiosity and passion thriving, but also wants us to always use the right word, to get everything right, to take the government gobbledygook and turn it into English, who always calls the police or fire agency to fill in the inevitable holes a news release will have.
I simply can’t “care less.” It’s not in my nature, or repertoire.
And that’s the biggest rub of all.
Sure, I’ve asked for help in different ways over the years, with what I do, but then I show them the 360-degree, almost 24/7 sphere of work I’ve created for myself (I DO get 6-7 hours of sleep a night! Really!) and they go “you must be joking.” Well, sort of.
And no one has ever explicitly told me to “care less,” to let things slide, let the top stories on the Website stay static for a few hours or longer (though I did come up with a nifty shortcut last year to automate that with fresh U.S./world news, especially on slower news days. I need to find more things like that!;-)
But my brain is simply wired to do what I do, and … it’s cost me no doubt in various ways to be so “chained to the keyboard.” But I know I’m also very blessed with a patient wife and colleagues and superiors (to the inevitable limits I test too often;-/
The tradeoffs and rationalizations I publicly profess over this imbalance between my personal and professional life are very well known to me, and to those I love and respect. They cut me as much slack as they can and of course worry I am working myself to an early grave (in my wife’s case) or, at work, not giving the best example to the younger reporters of how to achieve that crucial balance.
This weekend’s very contrasting Saturday and Sunday reminded me how, once again, I have placed myself at “the mercy” of a never-fully predictable tide of local news. Our show producers know that going into every workday of planning to hit that 4, 5, 6, 10 or 11 p.m. mark. On the nose.
In a way, I envy them. That rigidity — the “tyranny of the clock” — also means they know when their work is over— 30 or 60 minutes later (or 2 hours for the Sunrise folks.)
But that’s not really true, either. Even for producers. There’s always more for them to do — and for the reporters, oh my, there’s always Barney, helping however he can but also bugging them for online stuff, both during the day, and after the shows, when they just want to get dinner and do other things. Sure, I read their scripts and try help them find the sources, the info they need, etc. We all help each other out, all the time.
So the Internet has helped foster what wire services like UPI knew very well decades ago — that in the world of news, there’s a “deadline every minute” (in fact, a book on the soap opera that played out in the all-but-demise of that beleaguered organization had that as its very title.)
But to be totally honest, only I have created this particular, major-league “Vortex” of life for myself. And my wife has resigned herself to living with it, sort of like the spouse of a doctor who’s pretty much always on call, and can’t really say no. (But when she hears sirens, she too wants to know what’s going on! As do so many of you, who ask us before you’d ever bother 911.)
I’ve also taken to standing every more firmly in my lobbying for the need for us to be flexible — except for that clock ticking to 6 p.m. — to not set so many unreasonable deadlines or expectations that we feel like we’re always failing. I used to winch at stretch goals, saying they’re bad for my back. It seems that saying to “keep doing the great things you’re doing” becomes an insult/put-down. If you’re not moving up, you’re falling behind.
To me, it’s a corollary to another late-in-life realization: That sometimes the wisest thing one can say when asked “when will you do such and such?” is — it depends. That firm deadlines are a fact of life, but in all other things, we must strive to make sure not to let what I call “artificial deadlines” rule our lives or our work, or we will fail in ways that go way, way beyond a missed deadline. (It’s like another aspect I try to cling to: That sometimes the best answer to a question can be an honest “I don’t know.” (Especially when quickly followed up with, “But I’ll try to find out. Now.” Bingo! Real, and caring!)
It’s on a weekend with such stark contrast — from a Saturday struggling to stay afloat, to a Sunday placid trip down the River of News — that I’m reminded of what I already know: I must make the most of the lazy-river stretches, in order to be at my best when the rapids inevitably appear, perhaps just around the next bend, in that never fully charted River of News.
That’s both the joy and excitement of this journey, and the frustration and fear. They are wedded inextricably, for me, and … like two sides of a coin, are pretty much inseparable.
Maybe your job or life is much like that as well. I do have dreams of other things I could be doing (ask me about The Now Edition some time!), but then the next interesting, even amazing event, calamity or story to tell comes my way and … I’m off to the races again.
On the eve of my 60th April Fool’s birthday (no foolin’!) I know my strengths, and my limitations. And like the musicians (Elton! Paul! Etc.) who keep doing great things into their “senior years,” I hope and pray I get to keep on keepin’ on making a difference, telling folks interesting things and stories, moderating the carnival of our viewer comments and … communicating both good news and the unfortunate bad.
More changes are coming, as they always do. So I’ll buckle in, and see where the river takes us next. Hoping my life vest doesn’t get tested too often, ya know?