When I left my first newspaper job for freelancing, I left a lot of things: my cubicle, lunches out, dressing up, office gossip, the supply closet, inescapable eavesdropping and wide-eyed glances with my editor over the latest shenanigans from the newsroom shenanigan-bringers. I don’t remember anyone yelling or racing through the office with secret government files, but there was a buzz as journalists worked to make sense of today for tomorrow.
Working in a new town, in my mom’s kitchen, with a baby, took some adjusting. And when I went back to a newsroom, even though it was just once a week, it didn’t feel familiar and comfortable. I’d spent a year interviewing people without an audience. Now I had interview performance anxiety. Did I really sound like this? Was that a dumb question? Going out to lunch felt like a silly way to spend the little office time I had. It was nice to wear dresses again, though.
And when I left that newsroom for remote work from Florida, then back to an office once a week at Poynter, the cycle of awkward-adjust-settle continued.
By this time in 2020, most of us knew we wouldn’t be going back to our newsrooms. I don’t know about you, but for me, the cycle has been more like horror-flail-adapt-yearn.
In each of my newsroom-to-work-from-home transitions in my 18-year-career, I could always go back into the newsroom itself. Some of you have. Photojournalists and video journalists have been out there all along. But our newsrooms are still mostly empty. And we left a lot of things, too. I asked about this a few weeks ago on Twitter, and wrote this list based on people’s responses.
After one year, the things we miss about our offices include:
- Watercooler chat
- “Random acts of journalism”
- The commute
- The candy jar
- Eye contact
- Walks with coworkers
- Free food
- Office fashion
- Holiday parties
- Home, as in a place that’s not work
- Just being in an office
- Newsroom cake
- Coffee breaks
- Happy hours
- Bad jokes
- Breaking news pizza
For Recovering the News, our project this year on how local news recovers from 2020 and the brutal years that came before it, we’re going to spend some time thinking about newsrooms. What makes them worth going back to? What could make them better? I’m personally wishing for a little free library/coffee shop/daycare/newsroom mashup with space in the back for a rage room.
Last year was rough. But we have an opportunity to rethink where we work. What would you keep, change, banish? I’ll start — lose the fluorescent lights. Rethink flexibility, whether it’s remote or a blend. And keep the food table. We’re gonna need it.
This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists