It never ends

One of the main things I’ve learned about the newspaper publishing business is that if you’re not careful, you can end up working on it all of the time. You can talk, eat, sleep, dream, worry and feel it all day, every day.

I’ve had other jobs and experiences where there was always more to do, and I’ve never minded an open-ended task list, but somehow this feels different, more intense.

No matter how much planning and organizing you do when writing and editing a news or sports story, there are always more bits and pieces that could be included, facts or background you could investigate, little rabbit holes you could go down to add texture and color to the story you’re telling. The story is never done, you just have to hit pause and print or post a version of it once in a while.

No matter how many pages of the newspaper we allocate for a given weekly issue, there will always be tons of things we have to leave out. We can shorten, trim, kern, cut, rearrange, combine all we like to shorten an issue or free up space, but there is always something waiting to fill the hole. News, events, submissions, letters, ideas, have you thought abouts, this one project could really use some exposures, this one person is doing this really cool things, surely you’re going to do a story ons, and on and on.

Have you thought about switching from weekly to daily? Have you thought about publishing multiple times per day? Maybe you could have published that story online a little faster? We’re having a special event later tonight, could you send someone to cover it? I don’t understand why you took up space with this when you could have published that. I understand you have a deadline but I’d really like to get this in. I know you’re closed but I need someone to call me right away.

It’s a firehose of community bustle, a joyfully overflowing garden of facts and opinions and tidbits and thoughts, directed at us, with serious expectations attached, all the time.

No matter how many messages, phone calls, emails and tips you take, respond to or follow up on, there will always be more waiting, and there will always be someone who feels like you’re not following through fast enough, or or someone whose voice is being left out, or someone who would like to sit down with you a little longer to share their perspective or tell you one more anecdote.

No matter how happy you are with the design and layout of the print paper or the navigation and engagement features on the website, there are always more things that could be done to make them more readable, more user-friendly, more clear, more impressive.

Lest it sound like I’m complaining: I’m not. I love it, I really do. The firehose is transformational and playing in the garden is energizing. It’s an honor, really. But it can pull me in, and it can distract and drown out other things that are important too, and…well, it just never ends.

So I’m having to re-learn to disconnect. To refocus and know that some of those expectations and flows and questions will be okay without my attention for a while. To slow some things down and let some things go. To ask for forgiveness if it wasn’t enough, and ask for patience when it’s taking longer than it should. I get the sense these are not traditional journalism and publishing best practices, but that’s okay with me, especially if I can make this life and business more sustainable than traditional journalism and publishing has been.

Thankfully, we don’t publish a print issue the last week of the year. There’s still plenty to do — the press deadline for the first issue of 2024 is in just 10 days! — but between closing our office, logging out of communication tools, and the collectively accepted productivity freeze that the holidays seem to facilitate, I think there will be time.

To rest.

And reset.

And get ready.

Chris Hardie is a journalist, newspaper publisher, software developer and entrepreneur based in Indiana, USA. Read more from Chris on this site, learn more on his personal website, subscribe for updates or follow Chris on Mastodon.

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