Two unrelated facts: (1) Journalism requires long and irregular hours, and (2) I was born at 10:03 p.m.
The second might explain how I can deal with the first.
I started working in print journalism for a paycheck (such as it was — $3.75 per hour) in 1985. Because I was a college student, I did a lot of office work when the office was officially closed, Sunday and Monday nights.
This didn’t bother me much. (Except for the night I got my first speeding ticket, at 1 a.m. following a triple-overtime UW basketball game that ended at 11:30 p.m.) In the summertime, I would stay up past NBC-TV’s “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Tomorrow” to watch, of all things, reruns of “Ironside” on WMTV (channel 15) in Madison, at 1 a.m. The year WISC-TV (channel 3) celebrated an anniversary, during the summer WISC ran reruns of black-and-white detective shows, followed by black-and-white Milwaukee Braves highlight films. Yes, I watched.
I made up for my night-owl viewing by not getting up until I had to decide whether I was having breakfast or lunch. (I did work in those days. At night.) In my adolescence I used to have insomnia and not be able to sleep until hours after I went to bed. The cure for that turned out to be: working full-time.
Once I graduated from college, I went to work at the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster. The amount of writing I did — education and school board stories, courts, police, features, sports, editorials and, yes, a cooking column — meant that I was there most Tuesday nights well past midnight. (No TV at work, so no reruns.)
The same situation applied most weeks at the Tri-County Press in Cuba City, where the editor did nearly all the writing, layout and photography. The night I remember and wish I didn’t was the night of the 1992 presidential election, when I finally left work at 3:40 a.m., the day after we got back from our honeymoon to Mexico. (In fact, we got back 23 hours and 45 minutes earlier.)
Then I left weekly journalism for 18 years, only to find out upon my return that the late nights are switched from Tuesday nights to Monday nights, or Monday and Tuesday nights.
On Aug. 13, for instance, I got to work around 8:30 a.m. After a late but not very long lunch, and laying out the B section of the Aug. 16 Platteville Journal, I went to the Downtown Redevelopment Authority meeting at 5 p.m. I left at 7:15 p.m., before the meeting ended, to get to Platteville Middle School for the 7:30 p.m. School Board meeting.
Two hours later, I walked back home, ate a quick dinner, and then went back to The Journal. I left at 2:30 a.m., having reached the point of rapidly diminishing brain returns.
The next morning, I got to work, finished the A section, ate a quick lunch, then went back to The Journal to get the camera so I could head to the Potosi Brewery. Two hours after I got there, I went back to Platteville, ate a quick dinner, and got to the Municipal Building just in time for the 7 p.m. Common Council meeting.
Sometime after 9 p.m., the council went into work session, which ends the portion of the meeting televised by channel 36. At 11:20 p.m., the council went into executive session, which meant I had to leave. Four hours and 20 minutes of the Common Council, plus 2 hours 15 minutes of the RDA, plus two hours of the school board equals …
One of the participants in one of those meetings later said, “I don’t know how you can sit through all that.” Good question. (I should have told him I spend time at those meetings writing nasty columns about the governmental body that is taking too long.)
I don’t think most jobs can be accomplished the right way, at least in the lean-workplace 21st century, in just 40 hours a week. Some people deal with that by going into work early, others by working late, others by working weekends, all of which are opportunities to get work done without anyone else around to interrupt. (If you own a business, you do all three.) I try to not work weekends since I have kids, but such events as Dairy Days and the Belmont School and Community Fair don’t take place during the week. As for going in early, I tell people I’m clinically dead before the alarm goes off.
In fact, on the occasions I’ve had to go in early, I haven’t handled it well. In my previous life as a business magazine editor, I was making monthly 6:20 a.m. appearances on a Green Bay TV morning news show. I usually spent the previous night wide awake, paranoid that I would miss the alarm and not be able to get from Ripon to Green Bay by my scheduled time, looking as TV-presentable as I can. (I got to every segment on time, including the one the day of the 11-inch snowfall where every school district in the station’s viewing area closed.)
I used to believe that the closer you lived to work, the more time you were likely to spend at work. The counterargument is the ability to work at home, thanks to computers and the Internet. (At least in my line of work; if you’re a plumber, you can’t really fix other people’s plumbing at your own house.)
When you work late you can see some unusual things. (Which I assume are not hallucinations from too much caffeine.) I was walking home one Monday night — I mean, Tuesday — at 1:45 a.m. when I saw an Amish horse and buggy clip-clop by. Another Monday night — I mean Tuesday — I met a Platteville police officer who wondered why the door to The Journal was unlocked around 1 a.m. And then the Police Department dispatcher asked him to get my phone number as the local In Case of Emergency contact.
I can tell you there are others who keep late hours. They walk past our house on Friday and Saturday nights. Loudly.