Burning out because of something you love is a strange feeling. I have a hard time processing exactly what The Daily Pennsylvanian has meant to me — I’ve never cared so intensely about anything, but I’ve had to grapple with the reality that my greatest source of pride at Penn also took a toll on my mental and physical health.
In 2021, I was on my second straight year as one of the DP’s three news editors — so for four semesters in a row, I spent late night after late night at my desk at the DP office and put editing news stories before my schoolwork (which barely got done). Most of this also took place during the pandemic, making the job much more isolating and unpredictable. I loved the work, but by the end, I was just so tired. It was probably the hardest year of my life.
But I knew I could never quit. I just loved the work and my friends at the DP too much, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.
I’m lucky that I can counter every difficult memory of my tenure here with many more happy ones. Some big ones, like when my DP friends threw me a party in our office because my 21st birthday fell on a print production night. And some small ones, like every time my co-News Editor Pia (and my literal rock for that entire year) and I got milkshakes from Wawa at 2 a.m. on our way home from the office, or when we watched the painfully average rom-com "Love Hard" on the office projector.
I never felt genuine pride like when Pia and I published our investigation into Penn’s Gene Therapy Program’s toxic workplace environment (and a follow-up story on the alleged University cover-up), and my favorite part of my job was mentoring young reporters and watching them blossom into beautifully talented journalists. It made me feel like what I was doing mattered.
And that’s exactly why reflecting on my time at the DP is so confusing. I’m certainly not the only one for whom burnout threatens to stain some of my brightest memories. It’s just the way it is for student journalists around the country, who are often unpaid, working hours that can exceed full-time jobs, all while being full-time college students.
What makes it harder is that student journalism jobs aren’t “9 to 5s.” You never clock out, ever — not on the weekends, and definitely not while you’re in class. You also don’t have the same institutional support you would have at a real job. I didn’t have a human resources department to help me when I had a personnel issue, and honestly, it’s a really weird situation to navigate when you’re a college student and have to be the boss of your peers.
Last year, I started to realize the impact my DP work was having on my social, physical, and academic lives. My non-DP friendships suffered and I often went days without seeing my roommates. (Catherine and Shiv, I love you both.) I didn’t have time to cook healthy food or work out, and I did the bare minimum in my classes. (I’m sorry to all my professors.) I felt guilty about all of it.
It’s just not a sustainable lifestyle. Taking a leadership role in your college newspaper shouldn’t come at the cost of things that make you happy and healthy, and it shouldn’t overshadow your identity as a college student. I want to say that the tribulations made me stronger, or something like that, and the truth is they probably did — but I just can’t help but feel like it didn’t have to be this hard.
Something needs to change, but I don’t know what the solution is. It’s no secret that news organizations nationwide are struggling financially, but I’m still a firm believer that student journalists deserve to be paid — and be paid well — for their work. These students also deserve sufficient mental health resources and other institutional support from their newspapers.
I know the DP has been trying to better support its staffers in recent years, and my sincere hope is it will continue on this path and focus on how it can alleviate burnout.
Despite my difficult moments at the DP, it was comforting to know that every time I walked through the doors of 4015 Walnut Street, I was walking into the embrace of a genuine family.
Pia and Hannah, forever my 137 blue room besties, I mean it when I say that you two made every hard day last year infinitely brighter. Brittany, Hadriana, Isabel, and everyone else who stuck it out through print production nights with us, I love you all. And to Max, Julie, and everyone who has since graduated that mentored me — you all made me love journalism, which is the best gift I could’ve asked for.
Working at the DP was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m privileged to have called it my home for four years. And I’m really hopeful it’ll be an even warmer, brighter, less stressful home for many more students to come.
CONOR MURRAY is a graduating College senior from Bergenfield, N.J., studying political science and English. He was a news editor on The Daily Pennsylvanian’s 137th Board of Editors and Managers and previously served as assignments editor on the 136th board and a beat reporter.