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Stretched-thin folk: How do you deal with no overtime?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by schiezainc, Jan 26, 2010.

  1. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    OK, so the powers that be came down and said no more overtime for the sports department.

    Isn't a big surprise since we were the only folks getting OT but, given our staffing situation, I'm wondering just what in the bloody hell we're going to do come playoff time/in the fall with football.

    A little background: Our 'department' has two full time reporters, no photographers so we shoot the majority of our own stuff while covering things, and we use two freelance reporters/two freelance photogs (for now).

    We have six 3-5 page weekly papers to put over the course of a week, with no AP anything and very little submitted results/announcements so the majority of the stuff we put in the paper is all staff-generated copy.

    I say this because, typically, over the course of a week, my coworker and I write between eight-10 600-1,100 word stories, shooting almost everything, and layout three sections each.

    What this amounts to is we're typically at 35-38 hours, each, by the end of Thursday morning and usually have a game or two (sometimes three) to cover on the weekends.

    I'm wondering this. How do you folks that are stretched thin already get by? My coworker and I have become just about as efficient as possible but there's only so much we can do. We're already writing stories in 35-40 minutes, which is about as fast as you can crank out something worth printing, IMO. We've still got to go to games and those are anywhere from 1.5-3 hours each. We've got layout down to a science and can bang out a three-page section in three-and-a-half hours flat.

    I just don't see where we can trim our time to do more with less and my worry is that we only have two options. First, we can abuse the shit out of our freelancers. But, let's face it, if we start handing out a billion freelancer assignments, eventually the powers that be are going to shut that down too. Second, we can walk away when we hit our 40 hours. I don't want to do this because I know, if we do, we're going to be fucked the next week when we either A.) missed something big on a Saturday or Sunday or B.) Can't put together together a full section with just the few stories that come from Monday, Tuesday.

    So, SportsJournalists.commers, what should we do? Is this just a case where we should bend over and prepared for the deep dicking each and every week or should we try to explain the logistics of this just won't work?
  2. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Waiting for Fredrick ....

    Anyway, my question. Do you have light weeks where you can recoup some of the time. We're in the same situation. No overtime for sports. But I had something rather big come up on my beat last Wednesday, which was a day off. I took care of it. It sucks, but whatever. You can't just shrug off the news. I had a lighter week this week, though, and was able to just work a three-hour day yesterday rather than eight. I'll put eight on the timecard for that day. I put zero on the timecard for last Wednesday, when I worked about five hours. So it all works out.

    I'm OK with this arrangement, actually. But I have a little more flexibility because I'm a reporter who will have some very heavy weeks and some light weeks.
  3. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    We have some heavy and light weeks and, in the past, we've done what you described. The problem I have is that, if we do this, there's a good chance we're going to fall in a big pit fast.

    For the past month and a half or so, we haven't really needed much overtime. A couple hours here or there maybe.

    Starting in February though, we have a shit ton of state championship tournaments/events. Track, for instance, is typically a six hour event and it occurs on a Saturday. Wrestling is typically a 12-hour event (We can't just show up at the end b/c we have a bunch of papers where maybe one or two kids will be there).

    I feel like if we make a habit of just accruing hours and saving them for a later date that eventually we'll get to a week (probably in the summer) where we're working 10 hours and putting in for 40 just to break even.
  4. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    Run bigger photos.
  5. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    Ha, funny you should mention that. My coworker and I said that'd likely be their answer. Anyone know how big a photo is too big? I've got one paper in particular where I'd like to run a 6x10 photo every week. :)
  6. murphyc

    murphyc Well-Known Member

    You come on here and expect us to know what it's like to be stretched thin or something? [/sarcasm] ;)
    Seriously, I've been there and I'm sure many others have been as well. My last shop was a M-F afternoon daily, pretty much covering games about 3-4 nights a week during the week plus quite often on weekends. There were two of us to do writing, photos, layout and copy editing. We were also supposed to upload pics for our online store plus shoot video in our spare time. We did have AP, but didn't always have room for it.
    Co-worker on news side kept telling us to cut back on our coverage, while others told us to work our 40 and then leave, no matter what. We both kept working insane hours, a key reason why I'm no longer there. We didn't have freelance budget, but did have a couple of people willing to help out of the kindness of their hearts (RE: no payment). We covered heavily HS sports, some college stuff here and there if time/space permitted. I believe I got OT three times in about 18 months, twice when big races came to town and once for state wrestling.
    If I had to do it again, I would cut back on games we covered and plan out a season's coverage before it started to plan out how to cover every team at least a couple of times through the course of the season. If parents or coaches complain, calmly explain the situation. Then I would use more wire to fill those now-empty spots. We had a cheap MCT service for wire photos, I believe we were looking at switching from AP stories to MCT stories when I left due to costs. But if you don't use any wire, I'd say either fill in with stats or more/bigger pics.
    It might be worth your while to see if you can find people in the community who can help out with writing. We started a weekly racing page and had two guys write for it. Odds are the writing won't be top-notch, but we got some decent stuff. Maybe the local bowling league has someone willing to compile scores/short stories. Not ideal of course, but considering the constraints your hands are tied somewhat.
  7. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    You can't do it all.

    Choose wisely, work without killing yourself and then explain to mommies, daddies, coaches and your editors that with only a few hands on deck some things will be missed.

    Run the big photos, too.
  8. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    You can either work the unpaid overtime like a good slaveemployee, and if you do that's your choice, but it's illegal.

    Or you can start scaling back the stuff you cover. Simple as that. If your employers don't want to pay for it, then you shouldn't provide it to them.

    You've made a value judgment that your sections need A, B, C, D and E to be comprehensive. Your superiors have made a value judgment that you only need A, B and C. So if you want D and E, you're having to provide them on your own. And what you're doing there is allowing the newspaper to make money (in subscriber revenue, etc.) off your free labor.

    So ask for fewer pages in each section. Stop writing 1,000-word stories and start writing 500-word ones. (Which you should do anyway, regardless of space requirements.) Take fewer photos. Start finding ways to get results submitted. Only cover games that involve teams from two of your coverage areas, and just run the exact same story for both. (Don't change the lead, or rearrange the story, etc. Just run the same story.)

    Will it piss the readers off? Of course it will. But you can either take the blame for that, or you can very diplomatically tell them 'this is all our resources will allow us to cover.' Don't say 'my boss says we can't cover you,' because that won't get you anywhere.

    If they keep complaining, ask if they'd like to be transferred to someone who can address their complaint. Because you can't, and you should stop trying.

    Or, for the shorter version: Stop trying to do more with less and just do less.
  9. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    Run 'em full page if you have to. Sure, it's not "good," but the powers-that-be have made their statement about how important "good" is, and you work for them.
  10. murphyc

    murphyc Well-Known Member

    I forgot to mention earlier:
    1. Interns. It especially helps if you have a decent-sized college near you. The writing may be rough around the edges and they may only be available for limited hours, but they're free labor (unless your shop has a different policy).
    2. If you end up working more hours than allowed but fudge the numbers on the timesheet you turn in to make it appear you're not going into OT, keep track of your real hours. You never know when that could come in handy.
  11. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Excellent advice. And that's pretty much what has happened at our shop. And we've found that some of the extraneous stuff we used to do -- i.e. full team preview capsules of college baseball or prep softball -- wasn't terribly well read anyway. Sit down, figure out what you can cut first and what will cause the least worry in the way of complaints. And go from there.
  12. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    What you are talking about might work for you but is strictly against federal wage and hour laws.

    You are supposed to get paid for the hours you work in the week your work them.

    At my place, you'd risk getting fired for fudging your time card.
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