Just as we begin to round the corner of the coronavirus pandemic, another contagious affliction seems to be spreading. The trend is “exhaustion” and “burnout,” and it appears to have a higher infection among our elite journalist and media class.
Patient zero was two reporters at the Texas Tribune who announced on the same day, at the same time, in late March that they would be quitting their “extraordinarily intense” jobs in news media. They had worked at the Tribune for less than one year before deciding they couldn’t fight the fatigue any longer.
The endless work of reporting news “means there’s no time to process, so everything deepens, compounds, repeats,” said Millie Tran, chief product officer at the Texas Tribune. Stacy-Marie Ishmael, editorial director at the Tribune, said she was also “burned out” after “operating at a relentless and breakneck pace.”
So: I’m taking a break. I’m stepping down from @TexasTribune, where I’ve spent the last year operating at a relentless and breakneck pace to ensure that our journalism could rise to the demands of this moment.
It did. We did. And in the process, I *totally* burned out.
— stacy-marie ishmael (@s_m_i) March 30, 2021
A couple of weeks later, two top Wired.com employees also cited “burnout” as their reason for stepping down. Scott Rosenfield, Wired’s site director, tweeted that he was quitting, effective immediately, due to “exhaustion.” Meagan Greenwell, editor at Wired.com, tweeted the same day that she was also quitting, saying “I cannot do my best work without a break.”
Hi, some news: I’m leaving @WIRED next week.
Several journalists I admire, most recently @millie and @s_m_i, have been open about leaving their jobs because of burnout. Like them, I am totally drained, and I've realized I cannot do my best work without a break.
— Megan Greenwell (@megreenwell) April 15, 2021
“I’m going to rest and recharge, go outside on weekdays, and work on some personal projects,” she tweeted.
In a savvy attempt to get ahead of this frightening epidemic, The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet wrote a memo to staff last week announcing that NYT employees will be awarded several “Global Days Off” this year in an effort to combat “exhaustion [and] burnout.”
NYT leadership said that by reducing the torturous “flow of emails, Slacks and texts,” they hope to “create a few moments to reset as we have just come through a difficult period that has produced a sense of exhaustion, burnout, and a need for respite for many.”
Times TikTok reporter Taylor Lorenz signaled she is also a victim of this scary trend, writing on Twitter that “Exhausted despair is [a] phrase that really resonates these days.”
Critics will argue these fatigued journalists have never experienced the kind of manual labor and often literally back-breaking work that millions of Americans clock in to do every single day. No, their hands don’t get calloused from typing on their MacBooks, and no, they’re not on their feet for 12 hours while working from their couch at home.
But this epidemic is not really about physical exhaustion. It’s much more painful and serious than what miners and farmers and construction workers and soldiers and firefighters and policemen and oil field workers deal with every day. No, none of those jobs require you to be on Twitter all day.
This is also not just because being a journalist is more “mentally” exhausting, but because they are doing the very important work of saving the republic, and ensuring “journalism could rise to the demands of this moment.” And at a “breakneck pace” to boot.
If America’s journalists, without whom our democracy would literally die in darkness, continue to “burn out” at this current rate, fascism will take over our country faster than the few journalists left can tweet about it.
Journalists are “totally drained” and cannot “do their best work without a break.” They don’t get to turn their phones off at night like most Americans. They don’t get weekends or personal days and apparently, they can’t even “go outside on weekdays!”
If we want to protect our democracy, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. I applaud the New York Times’ effort to give the entire staff extra days off in addition to their vacation and sick days, but that’s just a start.
We should be paying journalists more to do less work. We simply cannot expect them to hold the powerful accountable if they don’t have the mental strength to hold their phone up for a whole Clubhouse chat.
Now that Donald Trump is out of office, it’s time to let journalists take a much-deserved break.