Archive for the ‘Coping techniques’ Category

Stress, McClure and the milk-only diet

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I’ve been slogging my way through the 700-some page book “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.

It’s really interesting but it’s also slow going for me.

There’s a lot of great stuff about the muckrakers, the journalists exemplified by S.S. McClure and the magazine bearing his name.

sam1I just read through a section where McClure hits some turmoil with his business and has a nervous breakdown. I’m not sharing to make light of him, or of workplace stress. Just that it’s an interesting way to deal with the situation — and to compare to the disruption that media companies are facing now.

The failed deal crushed McClure, precipitating a nervous breakdown in April 1900 that propelled him to Europe to undergo the celebrated “rest-cure” devised by an American physician, S. Weir Mitchell. Prescribed for a range of nervous disorders, the rest cure required that patients remain isolated for weeks or even months at  a time, forbidden to read or write, rigidly adhering to a milk-only diet. Underlying this regimen was the assumption that “raw milk is a food the body easily turns into good blood,” which would restore positive energy when pumped through the body.

This extreme treatment was among the proliferating regimens developed in response to the stunning increase in nervous disorders diagnosed around the turn of the century. Commentators and clinicians cited a number of factors related to the stresses of modern civilization: the increased speed of communication facilitated by the telegraph and railroad; the “unmelodious clamor” of city life replacing the “rhythmical” sounds of nature; and the rise of the tabloid press that exploded “local horrors” into national news. These nervous diseases became an epidemic among “the ultracompetitive businessman and the socially active woman.”

The stressed out citizens of 1900 have my sympathy, but I wonder how they would have reacted to a rapidly-changing digital age, where information is available at your fingertips at all times, where some startup might be rising to gobble your business model away, where breaking news is measured in minutes rather than days and where push notifications are being lobbed like cannonballs.

Suddenly, I’m thirsty for milk.

Editors and stress

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I inherited a great big bookshelf along one wall of my office. Naturally, it is filled with books — very few of them mine.


I have a lot of books. I also have a rubber chicken, bottom center, which is helpful for stress relief.

Sometimes I look at the books with a degree of puzzlement. I wonder whose they were, what meaning was gained from them and if any might be useful to me. I have old bound editions of the Congressional Quarterly Almanac, a Treasury of American Humor, a whole bunch of West Virginia Blue Books, a biography of Donald Regan and “The Joys of Jargon.”

The book that really catches my eye, though, is “Editors and Stress.”

That’s probably because there are not one but two editions of that book on the shelves.

stressbookThis was published by the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1983, back before 24-7 news updates and way before Twitter and text alerts.

Still newsroom stress is for real, and I have no doubt it was for real then, too.

The cover of the book shows a guy in a suit, running with a briefcase, not unlike O.J. Simpson in those old Hertz rental car commercials (a reference you would get in 1983.)

I guess he was running to or from a big story. These days he would have his smartphone in his hand.

The book was an outgrowth of a study of editors and stress that began in 1979.

I kid about Twitter and text alerts, but some of what the book says rings true no matter the era. A common theme was change and disruption that could make editors feel vulnerable.

Recent studies suggest that stress may not always be bad, that many of the things about newspaper work that we tend to think of as highly stressful may also be part of the challenge we love in our jobs. For some, stress can produce high levels of achievement and a high degree of satisfaction with few negative physical or emotional effects.

An editor who is in control of the job, who has a sense of purpose, who does not feel threatened and who enjoys the power and responsibility he or she holds is not likely to be hurt by stress. But an editor who believes his or her decisions are useless, who lacks authority and who feels overwhelmed by the job may suffer from stress.

The coming of the computer and mounting pressure on the bottom line were already adding up as stress factors by 1983.

It’s the pressure to keep ahead of the changes, to learn enough about them to make the right decisions and to guide the staff in adapting to a new way of getting out the paper.

Newspapers are one of the many industries affected by the marvels of the computer, but that makes the experience no less intense. Nor does it diminish the responsibility of the industry’s leaders to understand the consequences of the change and help its people to cope.

Well, good luck editors of 1983.  And I hate to tell you this, but the stress has just begun.


Exercising my new powers

Saturday, August 17, 2013

With great power comes great responsibility.

That’s what Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben said.

Of course he probably should have advised a fitness plan to go with the entire package.

J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle

J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle

I have a big new job as editor of The Charleston Daily Mail, and I’ve been thinking I should take care of myself better than the lifestyle exhibited by Peter Parker’s mean old boss — stress-embracing, cigar-smoking J. Jonah Jameson.

A lot of people are counting on me these days, including my staff, my wife and my children.

Oh, and me! I count on me too.

The tricky part is, good habits don’t come naturally to me.

I’d rather lounge on the couch and read a book than to take off running. And if I have a hankering for a calorie-laden breakfast sandwich, it’s all too easy to drive through.

Fortunately, I’ve been getting some good advice lately.

One handy tidbit came from my colleague Nancy March, editor of the Pottstown Mercury in Pennsylvania.

In a blog post titled “The Balancing Act,” she advised this:

“Pay yourself first. This is a truism of financial management that can be adopted to time management as well. Do something for yourself first thing in the day before you start working. Once you get into the newsroom, the beast takes over.

“For years, I went for a 3- to 5-mile run in my neighborhood after getting the kids off to school and before I came into the office. These days, I bike to work. On days I don’t ride, I do yoga at home. I pay myself first with an exercise investment before I feed the hungry news beast. The day starts better.”

This is a blurry selfie of me running.

This is a blurry selfie of me running.

I like the advice, and I will try it.

The challenge for me is blending in a little early-day time for myself while the kids are getting ready for school and need a ride there — and when my thoughts of the workday demands ahead are already mounting.

That brings me to some more advice — this time from Butch Ward on the Poynter Institute’s website.

He wrote that he knew he should exercise but wasn’t fitting it into his day.

He would go to bed with good intentions but — “then come morning, I’d wake up and check my e-mail. Or decide to get to the office a little early to get organized. Or just sleep an extra half hour.”

I know the feeling.

One afternoon, Ward was sharing my frustration over this with a coworker.

“As soon as you wake up,” the coworker said, “put on your running shoes.”

“That’s it?” Ward asked.

“Sure,” she said. “If you put your running shoes on, chances are, you’ll use them. If you don’t, you’ll probably keep finding excuses not to.”

The advice led to success, Ward wrote.

“Bingo! In the past 18 months, I’ve done a combination of walking and running about three miles on more than 300 mornings.”

I have an additional motivator — a nervous terrier who also needs exercise.

If I see him waiting by the door, tail wagging, then it’s hard to say no to a walk or a run.

I just need to make sure I already have my running shoes on.

What about you? How do you motivate yourself to get the exercise and stress relief you need?