If I’m perfectly honest, I can be the first one to admit that every now and then, I let my (normally hidden) OCD tendencies get the best of me. It’s earned me a lot of dirty looks from M.B. at the pool, when I’ve asked her to do something with a routine and then spend the next 20 minutes hanging over her shoulder.
The loss of control is still the most stressful part about journalism for me (not including streeters), something that began in j-school. It wasn’t so bad in third and fourth year, when I was doing less writing and more editing and knew how to focus my stories so I could pick the right sources who would call me back, but it still remains stressful. I mean, is there any other university program where the majority of your grades depend on whether or not someone else got back to you and gave you 20 minutes of their day to conduct an interview and take photos?
On the flip side, one of the best parts about journalism is that my days are rarely the same (and the control freak, organized part of me is OK with that). I mean, yes, production days will remain the same, and my workflow to prepare all my stuff will be the same from week to week, but there’s no tried-and-true formula for how much time I spend in the office and how much time I’m out in the community.
I do like to have some idea of how my week is going to go — like this week, I decided to go out to Maidstone today, instead of Saturday or Sunday, partly because I wasn’t sure if I was going to take Sunday off, but also because it conflicted slightly with other things on both Friday and Saturday and if I did it earlier rather than later, I could run the photos in Sunday’s edition.
I’m usually figuring out how my week is going to go throughout the day on Wednesday (my Monday), and by Thursday afternoon, my brain is going a hundred different directions on contingency plans. What if this event doesn’t produce the amount of photos needed for a photo page? What if the event gets canceled? What if we decide to run the material in Tuesday’s paper instead of Sunday? What if this person doesn’t call me back?
The last question was running through my head this afternoon — I needed to talk to a kid who is in high school, and while those kids have some of the neatest stories, it’s sometimes harder to do interviews with them because they’re at school when I’m at work and able to do interviews, and it’s not always the easiest to connect.
I don’t worry as much anymore about ‘What if this story falls through,’ mostly because it doesn’t happen often anymore (knock on wood), but also because I know there’s alternatives. With the Sunday edition, however, I’d say of the content I’m responsible for, only about 30 or 40 per cent of it is actually articles. So when a story falls through (in the case of this week, 50 per cent of my story load), it’s stressful.
In case you’re anxious, this story I was worried about didn’t fall through. Both the father and son called me back and I had lovely ~10-minute interviews with both of them.
The point I want to make is, the thought that crossed my mind when I was waiting for him to call me back was, ‘Let it go. If he doesn’t call you back today, you can try him tomorrow morning. If you can’t get a hold of him at that point, try the music teacher. There is probably a way to get in touch with the people that you need to talk to, and it will all get done.’ (And I know this, that there’s usually a way. That’s not the new part. The new part is the whole let it go thing.) Technically, Saturday is my deadline, but I like to have everything mostly done by early Friday afternoon.
I’m keeping a check on that attitude — I don’t think it’s fair to think that it’s completely out of my hands, waiting for a source to call me back, I can always, I don’t know, stare at the phone and will them to call me back (or, as most journalists will attest to, leaving your desk and phone unattended for milliseconds at a time will result in handfuls of sources calling you back), but it still felt good, this thought that I can let go a little bit.
Now, if only I could do that at the pool.
(Edited, Jan. 12, 2012, reworded)