There's always another story

A story published on Poynter’s website this morning made me a little sad, and more than a little annoyed.

The writer, Melody Kramer, discussed her own difficulties with disconnecting from the news, emails and social media while on vacation, and then included the results of her own informal survey of fellow journalists.

“My vacation strategy thus far has been to keep checking my email/social and reading the news obsessively, but to refrain from replying to things or getting involved unless it’s urgent,” wrote one respondent.

“My connectivity during vacations doesn’t generally change much except perhaps in frequency of my checking in,” wrote another.

Some did say that they had enjoyed recent vacations (short ones, mind you) where the circumstances made it such that they didn’t have cellphone reception or WiFi and therefore couldn’t have checked in even if they wanted to. Few said they willingly unplugged themselves.

I understand that when you hold a management position, in any profession, it is expected that you will keep one eye on things while you are away. And if you are working a beat, you don’t want to fall behind on several days’ or weeks’ worth of developments.

But when you’ve requested, and been granted, time off and booked flights and hotels and planned a trip that you’ve perhaps anticipated for a long while, what’s the advantage in keeping your Spidey sense on high alert for breaking news? Again, barring  holding the top job and needing to provide some leadership despite your absence, you’re not in the newsroom to cover the story and you have to be okay with that. A colleague will have his or her moment and you’ll have yours when the next story breaks and you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed after a week on a beach.

I’m in month #4 of freelance life, and I can say unequivocally that quitting my job was the best decision I have ever made. I’m still working hard (I replaced my gross income from my last job in months #2 and #3), but I also notice the effect that being able to shut down and tune out has on the mind and body.

I enjoyed a patio breakfast with a dear friend yesterday and she said she has never seen me so light and happy and confident. There are a number of reasons for that, including having control over my workspace (should I stay at the home office today, or hit a patio?), cutting out the commute, and generally enjoying more balance in my schedule.

But I’ve also learned one of the most important lessons that anyone -- journalist, lawyer, doctor -- needs to remember in this age of 24-hour connectivity. It’s okay to take time for you. It’s okay to walk away from your desk, “forget” your phone at home, take off early, or enjoy a lazy Sunday in bed without a glowing screen for company.

As one respondent says, he knows that a text or phone call will come through if something needs his urgent attention. This is probably a reasonable compromise when a journalist goes on vacation. Your boss knows how to reach you. Let the newsroom find you if they need you. But let your journalism instincts rest for a while and don’t go looking for a story. There’s always another one.