Dear Dan: Is it OK for a Student Editor to Bring Her Child Into the Newsroom?

3Dear Dan is a CMM series featuring perspectives and advice on serious and quirky college media issues of the moment. Most installments include a question or quandary submitted by a current student journalist and responses from Dan and a mix of badass professional journalists and college media advisers.

I’m a section editor at a weekly paper. I love everyone I work with, but last semester another editor on staff started bringing her [toddler-age] son into the newsroom every production night. She tells us she has no one else to watch him. He’s well-behaved most of the time, but sometimes runs around like crazy or screams or cries. Even when he’s just ‘there’ it’s kind of distracting, you know? I like kids and it’s sometimes fun to have one around, but a few other staffers and I think it’s unprofessional to have him there in the newsroom while work is being done. Should our editor-in-chief do something about this? — Allie, news editor, student newspaper at medium-sized college

The kids issue is a tough one. Our compassionate selves often drown out our practical selves whenever a carefree toddler wanders by. But the reality is that while music, stale pizza and lots of in-jokes may make it seem like nothing but fun, fun, fun, production nights of course do require oodles of work. And while I wouldn’t call a student newsroom a place of employment in the formal corporate sense, it is what I call a place of performance — similar to an athletic field or classroom. To that end, anything impeding performance should be a situation the top editors address — whether it’s loud music, faulty equipment or an outside visitor.

Now if the editor’s son showed up once or twice each semester, I’d probably look the other way. Again, who doesn’t love a carefree toddler? And kindheartedness always leads to good karma, right? But showing up with him every week does seem like the editor is stretching the goodwill chain a bit past the breaking point.

Now is her son the only outsider? If old editors or others staffers’ friends and romantic interests are also regulars in the newsroom, it doesn’t seem right to single out her son — unless all those other visits are truly just the pop-in-say-hi variety.

But bottom line, if the distraction — and thus staff dissension — over #toddlergate is truly mounting, I’d advise your EIC to see if the editor might be open to other scheduling or digital options. Maybe there’s a way she can finish her work from home; come to the newsroom earlier or on a different night; or share responsibilities with a colleague. The paper’s leadership should also work to establish — and then enforce — a fair, flexible policy on non-staff accessibility to the newsroom. Ensure staff are aware of it upfront.

I asked Gary Metzker, a longtime journalist and a lecturer and publications adviser at California State University, Long Beach, for his two cents on this issue. His take:

“I have worked in 11 newsrooms in 46 years and … no one, to my knowledge, has brought a toddler into the newsroom, especially during deadline. But I imagine there is always an exception to the rule in that a child is sick and can’t stay at home alone; that a babysitter can’t be found; that the significant other (if there is one), is working the same time as the student journalist.

If this situation needs to happen, my advice is try to find an office close by where the parent could check on the child, where the toddler could entertain him/herself with the door closed. I know a few editors who have brought pets (read: dogs) into the office, but only on Sunday when the deadline isn’t as intense and the stress level is low.”

What do you think?

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