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March 17, 2023

Local Fix: How to build a culture of rest

Welcome to the Local Fix. Every so often we look at key questions in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…

Learn about AI for local news

Next week, Joe Amditis of the Center for Cooperative Media is sharing a super helpful explainer on how ChatGPT and other AI tools can be used in local news. He’s developed a handbook for local news publishers (yes, partially using ChatGPT itself to put it together!) and is hosting a Q&A session on March 23 where people can learn more. Have you been wary of what’s possible with this new powerful technology? This can be your chance to familiarize yourself and talk with others thinking about it.

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Prioritizing a culture of care and rest

By Pinay Jones

When was the last time that you took a true break? Folks often only take time off when they desperately need it, for example, due to an emergency or sickness. But imagine being able to take a month of paid leave off for no reason other than to rest. That is exactly what the staff at Scalawag Magazine, a media outlet that mobilizes journalism and storytelling to work in solidarity with oppressed communities in the South, does. Initially a two-to-three week break for the holidays, the magazine now pauses all business activity from mid-December until after MLK Day in order to rest. News about this practice was made public when Ko Bragg, formerly Scalawag’s Race & Place editor, wrote a piece discussing how taking this time off has been transformative for their workplace. 

But how is this possible? In response to this frequent query, Cierra Hinton, Scalawag’s executive director-publisher, clarifies that taking substantial time off from work has always been possible for their team. That is because they consider rest to be a practice, or a “continued commitment.” “Especially in our society where we live under a system of racial capitalism, rest is actually discouraged,” Hinton told me. “Production is valued over rest.” In light of this, she highlighted how crucial it is for whole teams and organizations to commit to rest by doing so collectively. While discrete instances of individual team members taking paid time off are important as well, collective bouts of rest can help to ensure that folks avoid fears and anxieties about letting the team down, for instance, in the wake of ongoing projects. When everything comes to a halt, taking time off becomes easier and less shame or guilt-ridden.  

Since news about Scalawag’s commitment to rest became public, Hinton notes: “People really were amazed…[and] a number of newsrooms have since taken off…extended periods of time…that they maybe never would have considered taking off before, which is exciting to see.” In journalism especially, a culture of urgency and hyper-availability can take precedence over a true commitment to rest. Cycles of stress and burnout are common in the industry, pushing many to call for change. Hinton is familiar with this culture, but she ultimately encourages others in the field to be imaginative. Through the extended time off and more, she and the Scalawag team urge us to give ourselves permission to envision what is possible outside the bounds of that which already exists or is accepted as normal. 

In order to get there, she pointed in our conversation to a few integral values and guiding principles that have worked for Scalawag and could work for others. Honesty, communication, trust, and vulnerability can go a long way once implemented across teams and organizations in the media/journalism space. “Everybody is tired, and I think that if we were just honest about that, we could probably rest a lot more,” Hinton said. She also reminds us that self-awareness and radical responsibility are two principles that operate at the root of prioritizing a culture of care and rest. “It’s really easy to just ignore your body in this system as well and ignore your needs.” Taking ownership of one’s needs can be transformative, especially when encouraged and supported in the workplace. 

Learn more about Scalawag Magazine’s work and prioritizing rest and care in journalism:

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Opportunities and events

Here’s hoping you can prioritize rest this weekend,

Christine & Pinay

The Local Fix is a project of Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which supports work that aims to transform journalism so everyone has access to information they need to participate in our democracy.

Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund. You can find a full list of the organizations here.
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