A Behind the Curtain Look at the Madness of My Tuesdays

Let me preface this post, which aptly has “madness” in the title, with this: I’m 99.9 percent certain that the editors before me, and certainly, any editor that comes after me, did and will do things differently. But this is what I’ve found works for me. Let’s just say, my Tuesdays involves copious amounts of coffee, and a dollop of madness.

So, if you haven’t read my About page (I see how it is!), I’m a journalist with a local community newspaper in Ohio. We are a weekly newspaper, which is what it sounds like, we only print one subscription-based newspaper a week, and one free newspaper per week. The free one comes out on Sunday, but we produce it on Wednesday. That one is a breeze, and not one I stress about too much.

It’s the subscription-based one that is the stress point. We produce the paper on Tuesday and it publishes on Thursday. Let me back up: when I say “produce,” I mean that’s when my sports editor, reporter, and myself write our stories, and I place them on each page to then be printed. Aside from writing, it’s my duty to edit, write headlines, plan out (lol) what’s going to go on each page, and configure each page as needed.

Right now, due to the pandemic, we have 16 pages. Before the pandemic, we had two sections that were typically 10 pages each. We are expected to write six stories each. You would think writing for a weekly newspaper would be a lot slower than writing for a daily, but having done both the daily and the weekly, the expectation of a weekly is a lot tougher to meet. Finding, reporting, and writing six stories each week is a hard ask. And to maintain that weekly is cause for burnout. That’s why I used to think I couldn’t do the job and blog at the same time because I would burnout, but it turns out, I can!

And naturally, I tend to fluctuate. As someone who doesn’t pay attention to word limits (isn’t that shocking?) — because my motto is that I can make any size fit on the page (or with a jump to another page) — I can end up writing one story that’s 4,000 words, three stories that are 1,000 words each, or 10 stories that are between 500 and 700 words.

It’s. Madness. I. Tell. You.

I’ve gotten into the habit nowadays where by Friday, I hope I have at least one to two stories in mind for next week. Hopefully even more! Sometimes that happens, especially if I’m covering an event or two or three happening on the weekends. By Monday (and sometimes Sunday if I get motivated), I try to write at least one or two of my stories, so that my Tuesday isn’t too insane.

But inevitability, this is what my Tuesday will look like:

  • Wake up at between 3 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., depending on how much I have to write and my anxiety levels. I’m also insane because I’m a bit of a night owl and don’t tend to go to bed until 11 p.m. or later. But for example, there are some government meetings I need to listen to. One government meeting could be two hours. Whatever that length is, just add an hour to it, probably. Because it’s not just listening for two hours, and boom, you have a story. It’s pausing and rewinding to listen again to make sure you heard right or got the quote right. And it’s also pausing to do research for added context to something that’s been said (sometimes research merely means finding what I previously wrote about it). All of which isn’t taking into account that sometimes I may follow-up with an official for even more quotes that I’ll transcribe or include later.
  • Typically, I try to write for about four to six hours, at most. It’s rare I hit six hours these days, as I’m trying to get to the office at a good time. In other words, I’m working virtually half a normal work shift before I even get to the office. So, sometime between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., hopefully, I’m eating breakfast and/or getting ready for work.
  • Then it’s about a 40-minute commute, give or take traffic, to work. Podcast time!
  • Once I got to work, my usual strategy is to start with emails I haven’t gotten to since the last time I checked them, and make sure they are in my miscellaneous or Opinion folders to be included in different sections of the paper, if need be.
  • Now that they’ve simmered some, I go back and edit my rough drafts to clean them up in various ways. I send them off to my reporter for her fresh eyeballs.
  • While I’m waiting on her stories, as well as the sports editor (or sometimes they’re already done!), I start putting the pages together. That typically means I start with the Opinion section, which is about three pages. There’s two pages of Opinion columns, and then a page I jump excess columns, too. I also do the Obituary and Community pages. These are all pages that don’t require our original reported articles, and therefore, I can knock ’em out.
  • Then I get the stories from the reporter and sports editor, and check them with my fresh eyeballs. Sometimes, if need be, I’ll seek clarification from them about something that seems off. Likewise, the reporter will send edits back my way of my stories, if necessary, and I’ll correct them.
  • At this point, it’s all about plugging and chugging along. That is, I have about 11 to 13 stories, give or take the week, to make fit across the front page (the most important page, obviously), and about seven or so other pages.
    • The most important thing is to create a hierarchy on the front page: What’s the most important story? What’s the second most important story? And so on, and build it out that way. Then the next most important thing is to make sure that I have enough room in the back pages to jump everything coming from the front page.
    • Another consideration is that I have a couple pages, typically page two and the back page, page 16, that are going to be in color. So I try to save stories I know we have pictures for for those pages.

That’s the day. At this point, depending on how we all did, it could be 6 p.m., if I’m lucky, or it’s closer to 9 p.m. Sometimes it’s been near midnight, and if it’s an election night, well into 3 a.m. There’s definitely been virtually 24-hour days. On average during the pandemic, I’m probably at about 14 hours on Tuesday.

Again, this is my madness and the way I’ve set it up. I wouldn’t expect the editor who follows in my footsteps to think they need to spend 14 hours working on the paper on Tuesdays. But it’s what seems to work for me.

As such, there’s this enormous windup from Friday, through the chill weekend (sometimes), and into Monday and Tuesday to get the paper out, and then enormous relief Tuesday night when I put the “paper to bed.” Somehow, another week has been conquered, and before I can rest easy, it’s time for the windup again.

The reason I even got thinking about this and giving you guys a sort of behind-the-scenes look at my Tuesdays, is that this week was pretty fun in its madness. That is, I had a vague idea of what I might write on Monday, but I didn’t end up doing much writing yesterday, and I went into Tuesday completely winging it.

I came out with five stories, probably 5,000 words all together, and was done with the paper 15 minutes before 8 p.m. I almost hit 13 hours.

It was a good, productive, madness-filled day.

And that’s my Tuesday.

What’s your “busy day” at work look like?

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