Internet News, Content Producers and the Vanishing Weekend

A not-entirely-true truism of the news business holds that there is no weekend in journalism. Sure, if a story breaks on Saturday, your Saturday (and maybe Sunday too) will instantly resemble a Tuesday. I have also had my time-off systemically sliced up when I worked weekend desk shifts as an eager young reporter in California, covered sports for the wires in the Alps, and closed stories with a newsweekly before it switched from a Monday to a Friday pub date. Writing directly for the magazine’s website now is a bit like returning to my work at dailies…and even the wires. The phone is always on. It’s also more generally the case that even when you settle back to read the Sunday paper, you are necessarily thinking about work. Still, the real story is that in 17 years of doing this work, I have had the vast majority of my weekends to myself. And my family.

I cannot say the same about the past year. Sure, if there are specific social plans, or visitors, I will disconnect for a full day. But the “job” of trying to get an enterprise up and running (especially while keeping up with my regular journalism) is pretty damn all-consuming, seven-days-a-week. Working from home has long afforded me the flexibility (read: schizophrenia) of dipping in and out of work and life in any given day or hour. It’s just that lately, I’m doing a bit too much zipping over to my laptop between bites of my dinner….

Like everything else in this experience, I have only myself to blame. No one is forcing me to do this. It also requires me to calculate just what choices I am making about my style of life and role as more-or-less upstanding member of a two-career family of four. The internet/mobile technology, of course, has been steadily blurring the lines between home and office, work and play, and otherwise changing the very way we conduct ourselves in the course of a day. Or night. George Packer caused a minor storm with his Outsider questions about Twitter and the like. And even though I’ve crossed over to the other side..uuhh :)…I think he is fundamentally right that these questions need to be posed, if simply for the fact that they ain’t going away. Yesterday evening, I saw what looked like a 13 year old girl nearly get run over by a van in my Paris neighborhood as she waded into the crosswalk while typing a text message.

Where does this leave me, my would-be internet news operation, and the fate of my vanishing weekend? If it flops, I will probably get a serious chunk of my free time back. If instead, things go well, I will not have many free weekends for the coming years, which will require me to get better at setting aside time when the other members of my family are around – and awake. There is a flow, a stream of information that doesn’t have 5 p.m. deadlines or Friday “closes”. The wires taught me — after working at a daily and before arriving at a weekly — that when there is no deadline, there’s always a deadline. When the thing is yours, you will always know that river is flowing out there somewhere waiting for you to drop in your own little floating chunk of content. Some day, if things go really well, I can hope to pass some weekend shifts on to some eager young reporters and editors on the virtual desk of the future. Of course, the phone and the (virtual) Sunday paper will stay on.

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