When journalists take a vacation, do they actually take a break?
I found out about the guacamole and the pea incident four days after The New York Times tweeted about it.
That's not like me. I'm typically on top of the news cycle and keep tabs on the general zeitgeist of what’s important on the Internet.
But last week, I went on vacation — for the first time in a long time. And I decided to stay off email, Twitter, Facebook, and generally the entire Internet. I read back issues of The New Yorker in print. I took walks. And I tried to recharge and expand my 140-character attention span over the course of the week.
I can't say that I was completely successful. I triaged email every other day, or so, and sporadically tweeted that I was trying really hard not to tweet. But overall the week went well, and I don't feel like I missed much, except for the entire Reddit incident.
I'll confess: I've had vacations in the past that didn't feel like vacations because I was checking email frequently. And I've had vacations where I had to complete all of my work in advance, so I wasn't exactly getting a vacation — just adjusting when I completed my work.
Cutting myself off cold turkey was revitalizing in a way I hadn't quite expected. But it still felt wrong, in some ways. As journalists, we're expected to be "on" in ways other professions aren't. As a result, I think it’s more difficult to break away and easier to feel conflicted about it.
In an attempt to feel less conflicted about staying offline, I’ve asked lots of journalist colleagues about their own vacation habits. I talked to journalists from large organizations and small organizations, from big cities and small - to find out what they check (or don't check) when taking a breather from work. How do you take a vacation? Share your experiences on Twitter with #journovacation; we'd love to see how you get offline and take breaks; we'd love to see how you get offline and take breaks.
“A vacation in is not actually a vacation for me unless I disconnect from all work-related digital things. I may post pictures or other vacation-related things to social networks, but I try to put things and people in place to do the core functions of my work for me while I'm away. Some may worry that they're missing something at work, but I worry more about what I'm missing with loved ones when I'm on vacation with them and not really 'there.' So many times personal things come second to work things for journalists - on vacations I feel strongly that the equation needs to shift. I think it makes me a better employee and I encourage all who work for me to take time for themselves in the same way." – Kelsey Proud, Digital Innovation Editor at St. Louis Public Radio
“Checking emails and Slack on vacation is a bit of a necessary evil when you're a journalist. You just got to set aside time to take care of it. I've learned that it's easier just to keep up a morning routine of checking newsfeeds and responding to messages so you stay in touch, but can then take time for yourself afterward. The morning routine lets me go to the beach or go on a hike without worrying about missing anything because I already have a sense of what's going on in the world.” – Gerald Rich, interactive graphics producer at Vocativ
“My vacation strategy thus far has been to keep checking my email/social and reading the news obsessively, but to refrain from replying to things or getting involved unless it's urgent. This has, in practice, turned out to be the worst of both worlds. I'm still glued to my phone and my mind is clearly occupied by things other than the people around me, perhaps even more so than if I just took the time to respond, because I'm seething about what I'm going to do or say when I get back. And then when I do get back, I'm still buried under a mountain of unanswered correspondence, as though I had completely unplugged (even though I didn't, much to my family's chagrin). I need a new strategy.” – Adam Ragusea, Journalist-in-Residence and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University and the host of Current’s “The Pub” podcast
(Received shortly after my self-imposed deadline.) “How ironic, I was on vacation and didn't get this. Hope you got what you needed. FYI, I very much don't check email on vacation. If people need me they can call.” – Nora Flaherty, All Things Considered/Maine Things Considered Host and Producer
“I used to think I'd be one of those people who turned everything off during vacations. But having had two jobs that require me to read an obscene amount of media news then general news, I revel in consuming news like it's not my job. That means checking email maybe once or twice, reading things that I stumble upon and not seek out, and more Instagram than Twitter. This 'recalibration' helps me both relax and remember why I enjoy my job in the first place, and also helps me empathize with the audience of these editorial products. How do people, whose job isn't to read the news, keep up? “ – Millie Tran, Writer on the BuzzFeed News App team
“Admittedly I'm bad at this. It was easier when I worked at big places like The Inquirer; My Hollywood newsrooms were much smaller, and much more competitive. But Billy Penn is really, really small, and in a few weeks I'll have my first real test of a summer vacation. I'm planning to check sporadically, perhaps only when walking my dog. But having work email on my phone, as well as work social accounts, has blurred the lines considerably.” – Chris Krewson, Editor at Billy Penn
“I'm too addicted to social media to ever let it go completely. But one thing I've found I can do during down time: Give my wife my phone when we're out and about. Sometimes, I can even leave the phone behind at home or in a hotel room for a couple of hours. I never get loose entirely -- but I can slow down the rate of consumption.” – Joel Mathis, Associate Editor at PhillyMag.com
“When I was a Social Media Producer for PRI’s The World, I had to be always on. After any time away from my phone or computer (going to the movies or even weeknight dinners with friends), I felt panicked that I was missing a great conversation or fire to be put out. Being responsible for social media, especially for a news organization, meant that I was always checking notifications, feeds and threads. After an hour away from the newsroom, my email spiraled out of control, as email notifications were the best way for me to curate what was happening across our show’s Facebook Pages, Facebook Groups, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and a half dozen other accounts. On weekends, I tried to limit my work to mostly moderation, meaning I just kept an eye on our main accounts to make sure that conversations were civil and and constructive. As any social media professional knows, however, the social media “creep” of additional accounts, novelty Twitter handles and one-off Tumblrs adds up fast. After a year in my role, we figured out a system of coverage where my counterpart at PRI could cover for me on days off. My weekends and vacation days (which were irregular, as PRI’s The World is 5 days a week including holidays) improved to the point that I could leave my computer at home, but my phone was always by my side in case something came up. In April, I moved into a more strategic role at WGBH, working with our station’s national TV productions. I’ve realized that the 24/7 lifestyle is just as self-imposed as it is an expectation by others. I still check email constantly, but I try not to reply to things until I get to my desk the next morning at 7:30. I have looked carefully at the notifications I get, and try to bunch them up into daily or even weekly digests. Last week, I unsubscribed to 12 email newsletters — the rest I added to a Twitter list that I can check when I have time. I use tools like Crowdtangle to keep an eye on over-performing WGBH posts, and dive in at a more granular level when I have the time. This weekend, I left my work computer at home and took the ferry to Cape Cod, armed with only two magazines and a book. Having the weekend to think helped me get some perspective. This morning I brought in a list of priorities for the week – which I had jotted down, by hand, on the inside cover of my book.” – Tory Starr, Director of Social Media for National Programming at WGBH
“My first response was, 'Do I take vacations?' Then I remembered that last year I went to a meditation retreat in Provincetown. Fortuitously, cell reception was so bad that the silence was like the silence of the 80's, some deep time before the Age of the Device. Personally, I don't really feel oppressed by my inbox, or texts, or other forms of electronic communication, so I don't consciously turn them off when I'm on vacation. I do have to say, the long walks between where I was staying and the event were a little bit more lovely without my phone.” – Lisa Williams, Director of Digital Engagement at the Investigative News Network
"I can't think of a time when I'm entirely disconnected. When I take vacations, generally, I'll check in with my email once a day ... of course, my work email goes right to my phone (which I almost always have on me) so that makes it tricky. Really, what I try to do is, for at least a few hours each day, make sure NOT to have the phone on me." - Sarah Baicker, Morning Show Co-Host on the Comcast Sports Network, Philadelphia
"I try to keep off email and other work-related sites and media as much as possible. This can be difficult in a small team where not all roles are shared, but for the most part I trust my team to keep the ship afloat and likewise I don’t expect people to constantly check in. If I’m really needed, a call or text is probably the best bet. (Though this weekend when I was camping, none of the above would have worked.)" - Andrew Catalina, Manager of Digital News at Maine Public Broadcasting Network
"I tend to only check emails sporadically during that time just to keep tabs on what is happening. Though I never engage myself in anything to stay in break mode from work. Vacations and time off from work are times to recharge, and it does the mind good to unplug from that responsibility." - Steve Mullis, Digital News Editor at NPR
"I do look at email while I'm away- it's on my phone now and, if I've got service, it's to harder to remember NOT to look at it—but my out-of-office message usually gives a specific contact to get in touch with if something needs immediate attention. In my current job, a great number of the actionable emails I get—maybe 90%—are also received by anywhere from 25 to 100 people. If I'm not on vacation it's often my job to respond to those ASAP, but if I'm away—and people know that—I'm not the first line of defense. If another more direct message comes through because something still needs attending to, though, and I see it, it's helpful to be able to tap out a quick answer or suggestion. That said, I'm pretty careful with the wording of my out-of-office message. I usually specify 'very limited access to email,' because I tend to go to places where service is spotty, and I think it's helpful to state that. When I do get service, I also try to limit myself. If I say I'm not getting much service, but I'm also looking at everything whenever I get a good signal, at some point it'll be clear to people my service isn't limited at all--I'm just lurking instead of vacationing. So that's no good—for them or for me." - Diantha Parker, senior staff editor at The New York Times
“I’m naturally a very nosy person, so it’s pretty hard for me to just totally unplug from email, especially since I hold an administrative position at my station and tend to make myself hyperavailable, 'just in case.' It’s not really our station culture to stay over-involved, but it is how a lot of us seem to roll these days. That said, I’ve noticed that when I do unplug and get out into the world – whether I’m working in my garden or walking a beach somewhere or kayaking - I might not be caught up with station minutiae, but my creative energy is seriously boosted because I’m not thinking much about what I call 'administrivia.' Basically, occasionally removing myself from the bombardment of other people’s (often great) ideas has equaled better insight in terms of problem-solving for my administrative work AND better brainstorming for my creative work.” – Lisa Bralts, Marketing Director for Illinois Public Media
"I haven't taken any vacation in a really long time (a couple years of career chaos/job hopping didn't help me there haha). And I've been saving every single vacation day since I started at philly.com for my wedding/honeymoon in October. So: I don't have any tried-and-true advice but I do know that I will not be using the Internet at all once I walk out the door of the newsroom on the day before my wedding!" - Erica Palan, Audience Engagement Manager at Philly.com
"I am usually always on, vacation days included, but take a couple breaks a year where I delete my work email account and the Slack app from my phone for a few days to a week. I always try to find a balance between spending some time off the grid and coming back to an out-of-control, insurmountable, four-headed email monster. (Which is what tends to happen after a week offline, when email has easily gone into four digits.) Social media is different for me, though. Instagram especially is something that I see as a leisure platform, so unless I'm going phoneless I'm still on it. And speaking of going phoneless: I've made an effort recently to do more things without it. My brain experiences life differently when I don't always have the option of taking a photo." - Jessica Plautz, travel editor at Mashable
"Just got back from two days backpacking with no service and it was awesome. The adage when you feel like you absolutely can't take vacation is when you need it most. It was cold and rainy but being outside alone in nature is so necessary. To disconnect and be present in the moment without the news cycle! My point is I HAVE to periodically take off grid vacay without phone or Internet. For me that usually means hitting the backcountry. For other semi-vacations I periodically check email (like I do on weekends- I should maybe step away on weekends but I rarely do). I usually set up an email auto response and always clarify with my colleagues what to expect in terms of responsiveness." - Lindsay Rae Myers, digital content producer at WUWF
“I generally don't check email on vacation and instead I let folks know that they can text me if they need me urgently, and the text option is almost never used. My reasoning is threefold 1) relaxation: if I don't fully chill out on vacation, there's no point in going; 2) usefulness: checking in from vacation can slow down processes since you are often missing the full context of what's going on, and coming in and out of availability can overcomplicate things; finally 3) teamwork: you never want to have a single point of failure in which someone else can't cover for you, and it is great to fully trust in your colleagues to handle things while you are out.” – Ari Isaacman Astles, Growth Strategy Editor at the New York Times
"If I'm not sitting at my desk in the newsroom, I'm not checking my work email — whether I'm on vacation, heading home for the day, or something else. I used to have it all pushed to my phone, but often, I'd get so stressed out at home or on vacation seeing an email relating to something I couldn't tackle until I was back in the newsroom anyway ... so I just stopped doing it, and it's been to no detriment. My coworkers all know, though, to text me or call me at any time if something comes up needing immediate attention — and I respond to that at once." - Casey Morell, coordinating producer at Nevada Public Radio
"We don't really get away from work when we're on vacation do we? We see the story list on our smartphones and still read the emails. I give myself a small window during the day to do this...maybe 15-20 minutes. I don't respond unless it is super-urgent but I give myself the space to satisfy the curiosity. I'm doing that right now..." - Michael Caputo, bureau chief of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Macon bureau.
"We try to be very respectful of each other's vacation time. Our co-founder, Bruce, is wrapping up three weeks in Japan, and he has been mostly offline. It's really hard to accommodate this on a small team, but it's an important cultural value that we want to set — everyone needs a break, and our team must be functional when someone is away. I am admittedly bad about checking email and slack while I'm out, but I'm trying to break that habit. If we want people to take self-care seriously, managers have to do a better job of disconnecting so that everyone buys into the idea. Vacation and life outside the office ultimately make people better at their jobs. Time and space away from work stoke curiosity and creativity, reinforce and strengthen the ties that keep us all healthy and happy, and often allow for renewed interest in work too.” – Rebekah Monson - co-founder and overseer of editorial and product for The New Tropic
“I just took my first week-long vacation in more than a year, and I decided to only do journalism-related things that I really wanted to do. For example, I spent a day fixing up the code on my portfolio website, which I hadn't had time for during the work week. I occasionally checked work email, to avoid the end-of-vacation panic of going through hundreds of new emails, but didn't respond to any. I even mostly unplugged from keeping up the news, which made me feel kind of guilty (did that make me an unfaithful journalist?) — but it also felt really luxurious and counter intuitively recharged my enthusiasm for my job.” – Emily Siner, Enterprise Reporter at Nashville Public Radio
“My connectivity during vacations doesn't generally change much except perhaps in frequency of my checking in. I don't tend to get a ton of email, and I keep my email inbox at zero, so I'd rather check in a couple times a day to deal with what I need to deal with than let it pile up and not know what's in there. It's important to realize my 'deal with' doesn't mean 'do'; I'm just processing. That means that I'm looking at an email and asking 'is there an action that needs to be taken here?' If not I can file it or archive it. If there is an action, I can put it on a list to do when I get back, forward it to someone at work if there's an immediate need, and/or reply to the person to let them know if, how and when it'll be taken care of. For me, it wouldn't work to indiscriminately ignore or delete all the email I get while I'm out, nor to let it pile up and try to work through backlog at the same time I'm working on whatever I'm working on for that day. If I'm starting from an empty inbox, it's not that much work or distraction to process the daily volume I get, and it makes me feel a lot better both while I'm out — there isn't anything important I'm missing — and when I get back — I don't have to deal with stuff that happened over the previous week at the same time as I'm dealing with today.” – Brent Jones, data visual specialist at St. Louis Public Radio
“First I should say that I'm incredibly lucky to work for an organization that really values time off to recharge. That said, we're a small team, (4 full time staff members) so how much I disconnect depends on the kind of vacation I'm taking. If it's just a long weekend trip away, I will typically check in twice a day on email, Slack and social media and try to stay away from my phone the rest of the day. For longer trips I try to completely disengage. It's tough for me to do that, so in the past we've strategically planned trips that force me to disconnect (in the wilderness in Wyoming, Lake Powell, other places with zero cell service). I have to admit that I did cheat and check in quickly from the top of a mountain in Wyoming last year because we had service for the first time in 4 days. :)” – Lauren Fuhrmann, Associate Director for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
“At work, I'm always 'on.' My email is up at all times. So is Facebook, Slack, and sometimes Gmail. Don't feel like reaching me there? No problem! My cell phone probably isn't too far. Being in all the time creates a real problem when that becomes the routine -- both in and out of the office. When I take time off, I try to say off -- at least when it comes to email. (Twitter and Facebook and Instagram are separate battles.) It is so refreshing to be offline; to know that your inbox is growing and not give a damn. Half of it is just Groupon emails, anyway. I recently went away and made a very deliberate decision to stay 'off': I moved my Mail app to another home screen, and didn't check it until the night before I went back to work. I weeded junk mail that night; and caught up on what was going on in the office the next morning on the train. The solution for staying off? Put it out of sight, out of mind, and for goodness sake: turn off push notifications.” – Allie Caren, Digital Content Editor at Rare.us
“I have a very French view of the Internet and work. I try not to go online during weekends and vacations at all. But I am so addicted to my smartphone it's insane. And I am new to both Twitter and Instagram so can't really weigh in with authority about how to use them, but somehow in my brain Twitter is just a bunch of fun-garbage-nonsense for work and Instagram is to be taken very seriously, like its your life. So for no discernible reason I've decided: no Twitter on vacation but *obviously* you need to check Instagram around the clock.” – Conor Gillies, producer at Radio Open Source
“When I'm out of the office, I try to stay completely disconnected from social media and especially email — it's way too easy to get sucked into something if I even glance at my inbox. You teach your colleagues what to expect from you when you're out of the office, and I work hard to set a boundary around my personal time (especially because I work remotely and work can start to creep into everything). It helps that a vacation I take every year is to the Boundary Waters. There's no cell service or wifi in the wilderness. My one exception is that I'll go through email the night before I return to work to clean out the junk and prepare myself for the first day back. I don't answer emails, just organize and prioritize before jumping back into the fray.” – Kaeti Hinck, Design Director for INN