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If ‘stressed is just desserts spelled backwards,’ then pass the cupcakes

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Nancy Kennedy, Grace Notes, 4/27/14

By Nancy Kennedy

First, a disclaimer: I love my job. Other than professional cupcake taster or someone who gets paid to sit on a beach somewhere, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

I love listening to people’s stories and then retelling them in print. I love crafting sentences, slipping in a fun or surprising word or phrase, purposefully breaking the rules of grammar.

OK, disclaimer’s over. Now let me tell you about stress.

When I told Sharon Skeele-Hogan, Inverness special event director, about this “stressful jobs” project I was working on, she asked, “Who’s going to write about you?”

So here goes. Here’s my take on the stress of being a newspaper reporter.

The newspaper comes out every single day, which is a good thing. But it comes out Every. Single. Day. That means we have to have stories and photos to fill the pages. Daily.

I call it “feeding the beast.” The editor (who is not at all beastly; he’s actually a very nice guy) comes around daily with his clipboard and asks, “Whatcha got for tomorrow’s paper?”

Sometimes I’ll look at him and lament, “But I had five stories in today’s paper!”

He’ll smile and say, “I know. Whatcha got for tomorrow?”

Once upon a time, we had 10 or so reporters and three photographers on beast-feeding duty, but now we’re down to six reporters and one full-time photographer. The beast has also gotten smaller, but it still needs to be fed. Every. Day.

On any given day we come in to work with our day all planned, with a general idea of what story or stories we’re working on, who we need to call or go see and what type of photos we need. 

But the plan rarely goes as planned. The person we need to talk to by noon for a story due at 3 p.m. decides to go out of town for the day and shuts his or her phone off. Or the outdoor event we’re covering for the next day’s front page gets rained out. 

As the beast roars to be fed, we scramble for a Plan B to feed it.

Other stressors: 

We are human and make mistakes. We put the wrong name with a photo, like I did a few months ago (sorry, Tom Chancey). We offend people without meaning to. People call and yell at us because their paper’s wet.

If we write about widget shops in Citrus County and do our best to include all seven that are listed in the phone book, once the story comes out, widget shop number eight — with an unlisted number — will call and yell because we didn’t include them. 

A lot of people think we know everything that’s going on. A lot of people think we don’t know anything. All people think we should know everything.

People call to tattle on their neighbors and want us to write about it. People who are in serious pain, emotional or physical or financial, call, wanting us somehow to make their pain go away. People call trying to scam the community, telling us their story, which turns out to not be true. So, we start disbelieving everyone.

Some people don’t understand the community nature of who we are as a paper, and make fun of us because we focus on local issues and events. They think we’re rinky dink amateurs. They call our paper the Citrus County Comical and the Mullet Wrapper. 

More stressors: 

I write a weekly religion column, which is a topic fraught with opportunity to offend. Some people don’t understand hyperbole or humor and take offense or misunderstand me. Others want to debate theology with me, and I simply don’t have the time for extended debates. I will answer a person three times and no more; otherwise, my head explodes.

Another stressor is not being able to cover every event, especially when there are several on the same day at the same time. We sincerely hate to disappoint people, but we do. A lot.

I could go on and on, but frankly, that would only stress me out even more and probably bore you.

So, what do we newspaper reporters do about our stress? I can’t speak for my co-workers, but I try to come to work as early as I can. My day officially starts at 8 a.m., but I like to get to my desk as close to 7 a.m. as possible so I can breathe, read the paper, drink my decaf, all before the craziness starts. I’m a natural early bird, so that fits me just fine. 

Because I come in early, I don’t feel guilty about leaving early, which gives me time to hit the gym on my way home. Plus, I get at least eight hours of sleep at night, and I sleep soundly.

About 23 years ago, when we first moved to Citrus County, our kids were older and my husband told me it was time I got a “real” job. (Prior to that, I had done freelance magazine writing.) 

But I didn’t want a “real” job — I wanted to write.

Although writing is a real job, I don’t consider what I do a job. Despite all its stresses, for me this is still less of a job than a calling. It’s something I feel I was born to do, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. 

Except maybe sit on a beach eating cupcakes. 

 

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.