Why Fun Matters

This is part of a series of essays under the general title, "Why It Matters." Poynter faculty members will write these essays with new journalists in mind, but we think their advice will inspire journalists of all ages and levels of experience. After all, craft has little meaning without a sense of purpose, without a sense of why it matters.

You can put a live sheep in a colleague's hotel room.

You can send a rival reporter on a wild goose chase.

You can send gift hams to the new bosses of your friend -- at the friend's expense.

You can get the Goodyear blimp to hover over the top editor's house.

You can wear the San Diego Chicken's head to a President's news conference.

You can wear goofy slippers on deadline.

You can do all those things, and more. I should know. I've done most (not all) of the above, done them because journalism is fun. Or ought to be.

It is one of the more dreadful consequences of the last decade's bottom-line pressures that so many journalists have concluded they cannot have fun any more on the job.

That's definitely bad for journalism. It's probably bad for the bottom line. Fun matters. Fun makes up for modest pay. It takes the sting out of disappointment. It facilitates collaboration. It serves the interests of retention.

Journalists want to work in news organizations that understand the creative spirit. When you are up against deadline and think you are going to scream, or throw a keyboard across the newsroom or punch your immediate supervisor in the snout, there is a preferred alternative: Laughter.

The wonderful thing about having fun in journalism is that anyone can start it. Talk about empowerment.

You do not need permission to giggle.

It does not take a mandate from the General Manager nor a memorandum from the Executive Vice President for Cutting the Crap Out of the Budget.

Go ahead and laugh. It's infectious.

Better yet, plot. Conspire to play a prank on a boss.

It is advisable to make sure you select a boss who can take a joke. Some cannot. Reporting which bosses have funny bones can save a career.

There is simply no more delicious collaboration, no better way to bring disparate people together in a news organization, than to conspire against a boss. Think whoopee cushion. Think string, even.

There once was a city editor in Cleveland who came to work every day and reached up to pull a string that would turn on a light over his desk. His staff trimmed a tiny bit of string off each night, after the editor had gone home. When it got to the point where the editor had to stand on tiptoes to pull the string, they began putting a slightly longer cord in place each night. The city editor, no fool, knew the caper was helping get the staff through the hard nights. He never acknowledged they were stringing him along.

Don't wait for someone at the top to proclaim that merriment shall occur. Take it from the bottom.

If you don't find reasons -- and ways -- to have fun in the newsroom, you'll wind up wanting not to work there. We need you there.

Have fun.


Jim Naughton

  • James Naughton

    Made a career out of covering politicians when people cared to read about that. Moved on to editing, managing and cavorting in newsrooms, often while dressed in costume.


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