It’s dark outside when I make the first pot of coffee for the day and venture into the den to start work on each day’s “edition” of Capitol Hill Blue.
Yeah, I know, this is the Internet, where news is a 24/7 cycle and we are supposed to be updating things around the clock.
But I’m an old newspaperman who started his career pounding hard on a manual Underwood typewriter so the output would show up on the last page of a three-page carbon pack. I worked the police beat on a daily in Roanoke, VA, back then. Went in at 6 p.m. and wrote my last copy just in the time for the final city edition at 3 a.m.
Nowadays, news is instantaneous, posted at the speed of megabits, on news sites, broadcast sites and blogs. Everyone rushes about to be the first online with the latest — be it an important story on Capitol Hill or the latest shenanigans of a drugged-up celebrity.
News organizations pour millions into their web sites. Many have separate staffs that produce “web-only” content that often scoops the print edition.
Blogs are no longer the province of an anti-social geek working in his or her pajamas. Huffington Post has more than 50 full-time paid employees operating out of a loft in SoHo. Those who try to compete as one-person operations find themselves losing sleep, time and, in some cases, their lives.
Something to think about from the weekend New York Times:
They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece — not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop. You may know it by a different name: home.
A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.
Of course, the bloggers can work elsewhere, and they profess a love of the nonstop action and perhaps the chance to create a global media outlet without a major up-front investment. At the same time, some are starting to wonder if something has gone very wrong. In the last few months, two among their ranks have died suddenly.
Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.
Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.
To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.
The pressure even gets to those who work for themselves — and are being well-compensated for it.
“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”
“This is not sustainable,” he said.
Capitol Hill Blue is, and always has been, a volunteer labor of love. On the news side, I’m helped by three volunteer columnists (Hal Brown, Phil Hoskins and Rob Kezelis) who do a great job of providing extra, much-need perspective to the site. We have a talented team of volunteer moderators who run things at ReaderRant, our popular discussion forum.
The rest falls on me. I review the stories, design the pages, post the articles, fix database problems, select photos, write headlines, decide story placement, tweak the servers to keep them running and — when time permits — write this column. Capitol Hill Blue is updated each morning between 4 and 7 a.m. and I keep an eye on the news throughout the day and add updates when necessary or possible.
But I have other obligations. I cover news and shoot photos for our local paper here in Floyd, VA. I have a studio, a web hosting business and a web design operation to run. Somewhere in the midst of all that I also try to spend some time with my wife and enjoy the country life that Amy and I came here to experience four years ago. The Web is an impatient, hungry monster that requires constant feeding.
We recently opened the site up to allow readers to blog. The result has been a mixed bag with a lot work than I anticipated to correct technical errors, spelling and other problems. The jury is still out on the future of the reader blogs.
And the jury is out on how much longer I can keep this up. My health is not as great as it could be, I don’t sleep as well as I once did and, frankly, I get tired of the bitching, moaning and anger that dominates so much of the Internet today.
I’ve been doing this for 13-and-a-half years.
That’s a long time.
Maybe too long.