I ate breakfast at my desk today, as I have done on most work days for the last 20 years or more.
This is because of the odd hours dictated by work in online news (and, where they still exist, by afternoon newspapers). And these odd hours are one of the things that most people don’t grasp about journalism… that in order for there to be something to read, someone has to have been up and about making that something to read.
Years ago, an acquaintance was expressing outrage that his morning newspaper was not going to be available on December 26. When I pointed out that for there to be a newspaper on December 26, people would have had to be working on December 25, he was genuinely taken aback. He had never thought about what it takes to make a newspaper.
And what it takes is little spurts of very intensive activity. In the days of print deadlines, a morning newspaper would aim to be on the newsstands or on the streets or delivered to a subscriber’s door early enough in the morning to be of use to its readers. Let’s say that that time is 6am. Now work backwards: the newpapers have to be printed and then distributed. Allow four or five hours for that process. That means that the deadline for making up that newspaper is about midnight. And that there will be a shift of people doing what’s called a graveyard shift, putting together the most-up-to-date version of the news that they can, working till the last minute before the press is switched on.
For afternoon newspapers, you’re aiming to have the paper on the streets by, say, 10am. Work backwards – printing, distribution, making up pages. That means there’s a shift of people who start at 5am (and some earlier), frantically putting together the pages for that day. These people almost all eat breakfact at their desks.
In online news, those deadline driven routines fall away, replaced by a constant round of finding and processing news. Nevertheless, there are some time-driven imperatives. Traffic – the visits of readers to the site – will peak in local daylight hours, more or less aligned with the working day. That means that by about 8am (in whatever time zone you are in) you want the site to reflect your view of the important stories of the day. And that means some people start at 6am or earlier. More breakfast at desks.
I’ve been in afternoon newspapers or online news since 1993 or thereabouts, and have eaten a lot of breakfasts at my desk – and not until this week did I think that this quiet activity might have a name. But I have learned that April 12 is Deskfast day.
This somewhat inelegant word is given to us by an organisation in the UK called Better Breakfast. These “days” are often driven by some commercial agenda or other, and this one is no exception.
But nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea to be conscious about what one is doing when eating a “deskfast”, if only because health gurus regularly enjoin people NOT to eat at their desks, and go on about breakfast being the most important meal of the day.
If you have to eat at your desk, how can you make it as healthy as possible?
My own habit is to assemble the basics of a breakfast the night before (oats, fruit, unsweetened medium fat yogurt in small plastic containers) and put them in my lunchbox in the fridge. Then I grab that on the way out in the morning, and eat it once I have done the first two hours of the shift. Oats can be made in the office microwave, fruit cut up and yogurt decanted – a meal is made.
I also eat a little snack in the car on the way to work (a homemade oatcake (recipe here) and some almonds), otherwise I am just too hungry (and perhaps hangry) when eating time rolls around. And that little snack is also packed the night before.
The secret to a good deskfast – as with everything in life – is a little planning. And a cup of coffee.