From the Editor: Burnout should not be normalized, especially in student newsrooms

CT File Photo

Iman Mekonen, Executive Editor

This announcement contains production and leadership changes at The Commonwealth Times. 

A letter to our readers, supporters and fellow community members:

Student journalists are trusted with the high honor and duty of serving our communities by providing the most high quality and accurate work.

But while doing so on weekly deadlines, we are forced to work nearly 40 hours a week with minimal pay on top of a full time academic course load and personal obligations — all while expected to protect and take care of ourselves and our mental health. 

As journalists, we are expected to perform at the highest level in every channel with little support, and it is extremely brutal — especially for students of color and Black women, like myself.

While it is a rewarding experience to be a student journalist affiliated with such an organization, this is not a sustainable work environment. I admire the grit and determination of student newsrooms, and we must be treated better all around.

After much deliberation and discussion among the CT staff, The Commonwealth Times will cease print production for the last three issues of the semester — Nov. 10, 17 and Dec. 1. We will continue with producing two online stories in each of our four sections — news, spectrum, sports and opinions — and sending out our weekly newsletter.

I also have decided to resign from my role as executive editor of The Commonwealth Times, effective immediately.

These changes may seem sudden, but with the nature of our workload and work structure, our staff has been pushed to exhausting mental limits as we have continued with print production this semester. Staying up on Tuesday nights into the 3 a.m. hours of Wednesday, while neglecting our academic and personal obligations almost every day of the week, should not be normal.

This is a long-standing issue that has persisted through years and under different faces of leadership, now welling up to the point in which many of my peers on the staff have been affected because of it.

My mental health tied with personal obligations have been severely deteriorating as a result of the challenging demands of the workspace in this specific semester, to the point of burnout. This was an incredibly hard decision, but one that is necessary at this moment for my mental health and academic obligations as I prepare for graduation.

The memories and accomplishments I have made during my four years at the paper have been extremely memorable and indescribable, from spearheading the 2021 Black History Month issue to shifting our general focus to be more inclusive and sensitive to the voices of Richmond’s Black and minority communities.

It has been the highest honor of mine to serve as one of the first Black executive editors of The Commonwealth Times and to have diversified the scope of our coverage while leading us to national award recognition. 

My time at the paper has affirmed a strong appreciation for journalism and student media, observing what is behind the scenes in a student newsroom and how incredibly student staffers work every week. The staff I have worked with in the past four years have been incredible and tenacious – they have taught me many lessons in leadership. My predecessors, former Executive Editors Andrew Ringle and Georgia Geen, have been great mentors to me, even today. 

I would like to thank our editorial adviser, Mark Robinson, for supporting student staffers during this time and offering advice as a former CT executive editor. I’d also like to thank Claire Hao, the editor-in-chief of The Michigan Daily at Michigan State. We do not know each other, but her letter to her audience in September about the burnout leaders of student newsrooms face was inspiring to me, including her decision to take a much-needed break from her duties. 

For The CT, working nearly 40 hours a week with no break in sight has been straining our mental health and ability to produce high-quality content. These decisions were not done lightly, but they are necessary in light of employee burnout. University and student media staff should do better to advocate for and support all students, especially students of color.

We shouldn’t be neglecting our own health and obligations as students, family members or friends. We are students with an intense passion for journalism, as reflective in our work — we should be supported. For students reading this, continue to join and support this organization because we a special place for students to grow and learn.

These decisions are by no means immediate solutions to these issues, but it is a strong start and I am hopeful for the future.

We are nothing without the support from our audience, the Richmond and VCU communities. We thank you for understanding the decisions being made at this time for the betterment of our staff.

Thank you for reading, supporting and listening.


Iman Mekonen, Executive Editor of The CT

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

1 Comment

  1. So impressed with this decision and your push to protect others in your organization as well as other newsrooms. Sending well wishes to you and the rest of the team. I hope this step eases the burden for everyone involved. – from a VCU faculty member

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