During the 2021 lockdown I operated between three modes: unfocused, running, or typing at the speed of light.
I was going to write “lack of focus was painful.” It was. But more accurately, lack of focus was a psychological civil war.
I annoyed my housemates with constant questions, initiated plans for walks, facetime dates, recipes, articles that I immediately lost track of. Began spreadsheets to optimise my time management that remain a clump of abandoned instructions. Generally bounced off the walls. Sat in front of my laptop screen, shaking with stress as I tried to read the sentence of assigned reading that I’d been stuck on for an hour but couldn’t get to the end of.
Five hours later, I'd tick those few pages off a to-do list as I pushed the rest of my tasks forward to the next day and climbed wearily into sheets that needed washing. I needed washing. Both had been on the list for days.
Running: this was sacred. An hour of it every day, especially in pouring rain, made everything quieter. It was a privilege and a saviour to have the River Tyne ten minutes away. Incidentally and to my gratification, I got a hell of a lot fitter during this time.
And the third mode, often striking during the morning: my self would disappear. I'd become a conduit of ideas, words, and self-hype, with the best kind of why’s and what-ifs springing into being without derailing me. The careers service had told me that students rarely secured placement years in journalism, but what if I pursued it relentlessly?
What would the necessary strategy, the necessary self-care, the necessary output look like day by day, to get there? What did the people in these newsrooms wear, read, which publication did they type into the search bar first? What phrases did they use, how did they format their emails? How could I get their contact details? And so the frenzied and insatiable collation of information began.
I'd fall asleep curled up on the floor beside my laptop and when my alarm went off a few hours later, I’d map out a half-visual-half-written essay plan on my whiteboard and then plough through sources, painstakingly precise with language, queen of my rabbithole and meticulously cultivating the light that would frame it, as the milk I’d just bought went off and the sun went down over the railway opposite and then arose.
Exactly a year (and no medication) later: I made it. I’m on placement at a global broadcaster. I was the youngest script assistant there before becoming the youngest producer.
Sometimes I wonder if that age difference is what makes it so hard to stop my entire brain being consumed by the news cycle - the lack of exposure, and the lack of time to settle when I’m already striving for the next thing - but increasingly I wonder if it’s my brain itself.
“How was your day?”
“Um -” How do I explain that as I sat on the tube to get here, my subconscious clumsily mopped up the distress of someone I’ll never meet? I stutter an attempt to depict the footage that streamed in all morning - acres of homes levelled by a monsoon in South Asia, before I was reassigned to a politician’s squirming apology and then a domestic abuse story. I don’t describe how, after a few hours of airplay, I dutifully deleted each monumental event from the CMS rundown to make room for newer heartbreak, euphoria, institutional collapse.
You don’t think it’s serious, I think venomously as I see their gaze wander to the bar, as they complain about the audio quality of recorded lectures. I know this isn’t true. They don’t feel seriously about it in that moment, an entirely different thing.
Still I can’t help but dispense facts - the reason it’s so bad, no but it’s not an isolated incident, the system’s actually at breaking point, we had this councillor on talking about it today let me try remember what he said, and there are all of these examples that have gone under the radar, and the repealing of this legislation will have this unintended ripple effect-
I’m not that bad with social cues and this barrage doesn’t happen anymore except to a mostly patient boyfriend. The sensitivity, though, does. Turbulence not fully absorbed that begins to form its own little tornado following me home.
“How do you feel about overnight shifts?” I was asked in my interview.
I gave a little pick-me shrug. “News doesn’t sleep.”
It really doesn’t, and I don’t either sometimes.
I’m the first to say that it’s a wider issue; I deal firsthand in the sale of narratives, quotes and footage based on their ability to generate clicks. I know that enragement equals engagement and that Big Tech’s manipulation is shortening the human attention span as algorithms present famine in Afghanistan between #travelporn and celebrities getting cancelled.
Centralised, for-profit information ecosystems can’t relay news without maximising attention fracture.
But my attention was faultlined to begin with.
As I try to navigate international broadcasting I’m becoming aware that the reason I’m good - possibly the reason I care so deeply for it - occasionally costs too much. And if I decide that journalism's a calling, I’ll need to learn to negotiate.