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#NPRreads: A Distraction For Labor Day Weekend, And Thoughts About Work

Do you have some free time this Labor Day weekend? Spend it reading about a fascinating frame-up — or pondering the long hours we work. Here, travelers wait for trains at Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday, the start of the holiday weekend.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Do you have some free time this Labor Day weekend? Spend it reading about a fascinating frame-up — or pondering the long hours we work. Here, travelers wait for trains at Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday, the start of the holiday weekend.

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and in The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.

From Alicia Cypress, NPR Investigations Editor:

The LA Times has written the perfect mystery to give those of us not on vacation something to look forward to all week.

I quickly became obsessed, and not just because it takes place in Irvine — the idyllic master-planned community I grew up in, often lauded for its safety and education:

"Anxiety about crime was poured into the very curve of the streets and the layout of the parks, all conceived on drawing boards to deter lawbreaking."

In six parts, Christopher Goffard leads you through a journey that starts in an elementary school parking lot and winds through a sordid affair, ending with court cases and an aftermath that's still lingering.

"No one had been killed, but something about the crime — the power and pettiness of the defendants, combined with the harmlessness of their victim — engendered a depth of indignation few cases matched."

Using police and court records, interviews with almost all the main players, Goffard's compelling and detailed account reads like a Desperate Housewives episode. Audio excerpts from a 911 call and a wired conversation, plus video from court proceedings snap the reader back to reality – a reminder that this is indeed a true story.

From Tracy Wahl, Executive Producer for Editorial Franchises:

I loved this piece from The Washington Post because it pointed right at the problem with people working too much.

It's not just socially acceptable to brag about the long hours you work, but valued. It is a way to impress people. Even though if you think about it, that doesn't make that much sense.

Instead of saying "I worked 12 hours..." what if we had to say, "I ignored my health and sanity and instead chose to sacrifice myself to my company." That doesn't sound nearly as good, right?

As the piece points out:

"The idea that being well-rested could be a black mark against a leader is preposterous. And even if a super early wake-up time works for some people — and they're sensitive about sending out email before dawn — if you're having to get up at 4 a.m. to avoid distractions in your day, there's probably something wrong with how we're working."

And, as the writer says, companies are realizing that an exhausted, mentally frazzled employee might not be good for business after all:

"Some companies, of course, are looking for smart solutions. Aetna is paying workers up to $500 a year if they get 20 nights of at least seven hours of sleep in a row, using Fitbit devices to help them keep track. Boston Consulting Group has teams set aside "predictable time off," covering for each other so they can be available to both their clients and their families."

I'm looking forward to the day when people brag: "I feel so well rested, I slept a full eight hours." But even as I write that, it sounds strange and not necessarily something you'd want to brag about.

From Mark Memmott, Standards and Practices Editor:

Ron Fournier's parting message as he gives up political reporting has wise advice for journalists and should be of interest to anyone who cares about journalism. He talks about keeping your eye on "the mission," about how to develop sources, about why journalists can't be afraid of hurting sources and about why it's important to "bring powerful people to heel."

These are the lines, though, that really struck me:

"You're not working for your editors, other reporters on your beat, or your sources. You're working for the public, your audience ..."

Fournier says that's why "you don't slip acronyms, anonymous quotes, and other insidery detail into your stories just to impress folks on your beat." True. I would say that's also why you (the journalist) got into this business – to serve the public, not the people you cover.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

In her nearly 20 years at NPR, Tracy Wahl has established herself as a champion for innovation in the newsroom. She was among the first at NPR to embrace social media as a way to engage audiences and deepen our journalism through crowd-sourced reporting. She launched Morning Edition's first Twitter account, and led the program's early ventures into multi-platform storytelling.
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.