Adjusting to the rhythm of post-institutional journalism

Giulio Saggin woke up early for years to get to his job as an ABC photographer. He still does — but now he does it for himself. Photos by Saggin.

When I stopped working in the news media after 27 years, I realised how institutionalised I’d become. Many side-effects of the “now, now, now” world of news had seeped into my everyday life and I was unaware it had happened.

The non-media world, I discovered, moves at a different pace. Emails, for instance, take a more leisurely time to arrive. Working for ABC News Online, where I’d spent the last nine years of my career, meant receiving email replies within hours — preferably minutes — and rarely more than a day. Now it can take several days, even weeks, to hear back from someone. This makes me nervous. Not so others. It’s how they roll.

Getting things done ASAP is my “normal” thanks to the second-by-second deadline of online news. What I consider snail’s pace is Speedy Gonzales for others, and I am gradually learning to accept that the world won’t fall off its axis if everything isn’t done straight away. Anyway, even if I do get everything done ASAP and email the necessary people, I probably won’t hear from them until next week.

I now close the lid of my laptop at noon and do whatever I want. It (still) feels highly decadent.

My alarm was set at 4.05am for years. My body clock had grown accustomed to this and I usually woke anywhere from 3.30am onward. I still wake in the predawn hours. However, I am a bit more relaxed about it and will happily roll over and snooze some more, or enjoy a coffee or two. Even watch a DVD.

The ability to wake early has, in fact, proven to be a blessing in disguise. One of my post-ABC “careers” is promoting my latest book, which means phoning journalism schools across, among other places, the US, where their yesterday afternoon coincides with our early morning. Of course, I’m not always raring to go at 3.30am, but I cope.

Saggin Skype-phones a university in the USA from the living room of his flat at around 4.30am.

Rising early for so long also brought with it clock-watching the night before. This meant bedtime beckoned once the little hand ticked past the number nine. I still find myself glancing up at the clock on the wall each night, thinking I should be getting into my jim-jams. While I know I have to phone the US early, it isn’t set in stone and I enjoy the fact my alarm is unplugged. The world won’t fall off its axis …

People joke about my “semi-retirement” and I tell them all the things I don’t miss from my career. Yet, in a bizarre twist, these same things have disciplined me in a way that sets me apart from others outside the media.

I now take an hour for lunch. Sometimes more. I never took even half of this during my career and the further I ventured from my desk when I did take lunch, the more apprehensive I got. What if something happened? I now close the lid of my laptop at noon and do whatever I want. It (still) feels highly decadent.

People joke about my “semi-retirement” since my position with the ABC was made redundant, and I tell them all the things I don’t miss from my career. Yet, in a bizarre twist, these same things have disciplined me in a way that sets me apart from others outside the media. As a friend wrote in an email: “There are 4am starts — for other people. And 4am starts — for yourself.” How true.

Saggin’s timeline

ABC

4.05am: Wake, breakfast
4.45am: Leave for work (pushbike)
5.20am: Arrive office, shower and dress
6am: At desk, coffee
8am: Morning tea at desk
10-10.20am: Lunch
1.30pm: Finish, ride home
9-10pm: Bed

Post-ABC

3-4am: Wake, coffee, start phoning USA
6-7am: Go for long walk, have breakfast, relax
8am: At laptop, coffee
Noon: Lunch
1pm: At laptop
5-6pm: Laptop off, dinner, relax
9-10pm: Bed

Giulio Saggin was the national photo editor with ABC News Online and is the author of “You, The Citizen Photographer: Telling Visual Stories”.