Round Two: The great remote work debate

Head shot of Tom Hardesty, a white man with short hair in a grey golf polo with the caption "Round Two with Tom Hardesty"

As I write this column, dusk is rapidly giving way to darkness on a crisp, overcast mid-October night. When the weather is nice, I can glance up from my laptop and see a parade of people walking their dogs past our house; today, however, the chilly air and descending darkness has most in our neighborhood hunkered down in their homes.

A candle flickers in the ceramic jack-o’-lantern that stares out the window in front of me, a large globe sitting on my desk to its left and my cup of coffee to its right. There’s no noise except for the gentle whirring of the ceiling fan and the occasional car driving down our little side street.

The biggest issue most nights is our rescue cat Morrie, who will jump up on the desk, park himself next to the laptop and repeatedly squawk at me as a firm reminder that dinner time — his dinner time — is fast approaching. He’s not here — yet — but he will be soon. He always is. And when he arrives, I’ll be forced to take off my journalist hat and put on my wait staff hat for a few minutes and feed this amazingly persistent creature lest I be badgered into submission.

And after I’ve dutifully put the canned food on the plates in the kitchen, I’ll return upstairs to the laptop and begin writing anew.

Welcome to the 21st century newsroom.

This is where the publishing industry is — where a lot of industries are — at this point in history. The printed newspaper is vanishing, and the bustling brick-and-mortar newsroom is disappearing with it. In fact, an entire generation is about to cut its teeth in journalism without ever experiencing what it’s like to work in an actual newsroom.

I think of all the things they’re going to miss:

– The camaraderie you develop with the people you work alongside in the newsroom every day, people that really become like family — and, in a lot of cases, people you see more than family. Many of my closest friends to this day are people I worked with — and sweated out deadlines with — in the newsroom.

– The excitement of being in the newsroom when there was big breaking news, a flurry of activity swirling around you as reporters and editors rushed around “to get the story.” Even if you weren’t directly part of it, just being in the room got the adrenaline flowing. In moments like those, the newsroom felt like the center of the universe.

– The funny things that invariably happened in the newsroom environment — so many that I could fill a book with them. There was the time when a Record-Courier sports staffer rushed over to grab something off the printer at our old building in Ravenna, started rushing back to the sports department after grabbing the paper (there’s a lot of rushing in a newsroom), tripped over a phone cord hanging off someone’s desk, began to fall forward, put his hand out to use a printer tray to break his fall, snapped the printer tray off like a twig on his way down, and face-planted on the carpet accompanied by a loud “DINGGGG” as the telephone — it’s cord wrapped around his ankle — crashed to the floor with him and broke into several pieces.

Another time, this same sports staffer was sitting in his wheeled desk chair at his computer, rolled backwards to grab something, and the wheels caught in the plastic runner under the chair, sending it crashing backward to the floor with him in it. He looked like one of those Apollo astronauts sitting in the capsule with his legs bent above him.

One more: A sports staffer (different one this time) was sitting at a computer frantically hammering out a story on deadline. I could hear the keys clicking madly behind me as he rushed to make deadline. He was almost finished when he suddenly bellowed: “Gawddammit!! I just lost the whole f—ing thing!!!” We asked him what happened. “I crossed my legs under the desk and somehow pulled the plug out of the damn socket!” [We had floor sockets at the old R-C building]. His computer screen was dark. But if he saved the story, all he had to do was turn the computer back on and he’d be right back in business. Someone asked him if he saved the story. “Hell no I didn’t save it!” he said. “I have to rewrite the whole damn thing!” And with that, the keys started clicking madly behind me again.

You just can’t get moments like those in a cyber newsroom.

Which brings me to … the cyber newsroom, where anywhere in the world — your home, the airport, a hotel on the other side of the planet, anywhere with an internet connection becomes the newsroom. Here are some things next-gen journalists aren’t missing from the brick-and-mortar newsroom experience:

– The boss breathing down your neck. Fortunately, our editors at the R-C weren’t the helicopter type, hovering over you and second-guessing every move you made. Our editors were in the journalism trenches with us and knew the stresses and pressures we were under. While attending the University of Akron, I had a few job interviews at newspapers where I knew as soon as I walked into the place that I should walk right back out because the reporters looked completely defeated. And it was easy to see why.

– Occasionally, due to simple human nature, there could be a fellow employee you didn’t necessarily mesh with personality-wise. That’s weasel-wording for “you couldn’t stand each other.” The newsroom forced you to breathe the same air together, which never would have happened outside the newsroom — at least not on purpose. There was no way to avoid each other in the newsroom environment, and you did the best you could because you had a job to do. But it wasn’t easy.

– And the biggest thing next-gen journalists aren’t missing are the endless distractions provided by the newsroom, particularly phones ringing off the hook because that meant you had to drop everything, answer it, and there was no telling how long the call would last. And there was always the temptation to talk with your coworkers, which was a time-drainer if you weren’t careful.

In the 21st century newsroom, none of those are factors. Here at The Portager, we communicate primarily by Slack. And like the world has discovered, we don’t need to be in the same room — or on the same continent — together to be efficient and effective. Communication is communication.

In fact, I like the 21st century newsroom better. I don’t have to leave the house, it’s nice and quiet, and there are essentially no distractions.

Well, maybe one. And he just said it’s dinner time.

Name, Image, Likeness is the new normal in college sports, and you can help support the Golden Flashes at the Blue and Gold Collective’s Kent State Men’s Basketball Season Tip-Off NIL Fundraiser. The event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30 at the Lake House Kitchen + Bar at 7508 state Route 43 in Kent.

Attendees will enjoy complimentary cocktails and appetizers, and they’ll get a 2023-24 season preview from Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff and players from the men’s basketball team. Autographs and photos are welcome.

All proceeds of a $100 ticket go directly to the NIL Collective for the men’s basketball team.

To RSVP or if you are interested in donating to the Blue and Gold Collective, contact Mike Beder at (330) 815-0747.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.