Sisi Wei and Angilee Shah talk burnout and boundaries at the Independent News Sustainability Summit

November 2, 2022

By: Dan Hu

What does a woman need to write? “Money and a room of her own.”

Angilee Shah keeps the quote from renowned writer Virginia Woolf close to her desk at Charlottesville Tomorrow, and it guides her philosophy as editor-in-chief of the central Virginia nonprofit newsroom. It was one bit of wisdom she shared with the attendees of the first-ever Independent News Sustainability Summit.

Shah and Sisi Wei, the recently named editor-in-chief of The Markup, headlined the conference’s day-two keynote. Shah and Wei hosted an intimate and open discussion about how healthy newsroom practices, such as setting boundaries to avoid burnout, are crucial for both success and sustainability.

Wei, who stepped into her new leadership role two months ago, said she had to make sure she wasn’t overworking herself. Reflecting on the tendency for journalists to work long hours determined by the whims of the news cycle, Wei began the session with the question, “What practices do we, as newsrooms, need to shed?”

Shah said that at her newsroom, paying competitive wages is non-negotiable: “Reporters cannot live on belief in mission alone.” After the keynote, Shah explained what Woolf’s quote means to her: Reporters “need to be afforded space and stability to have a clear head to do good work … especially in local newsrooms that don’t get that enough.”

Wei also noted that for newsroom leaders, management requires a separate set of skills than editing. By underinvesting in management skills, newsrooms are failing to foster the culture required for sustainability.

The keynote came halfway through the second day of the Independent News Sustainability Summit, a three-day conference designed to focus on how to preserve and sustain independent journalism. Shah and Wei’s conversation was one of several sessions dedicated to newsroom culture. Others included “Combating burnout: Lightning talks to inspire new ways of working” and “Building a support network: How leaders can combat isolation.”

Shah said she hopes the Independent News Sustainability Summit “is a step toward valuing the work of local newsrooms, of journalists who are close to those they cover and those who have been marginalized.” The conference was organized by the RevLab at The Texas Tribune, LION Publishers and News Revenue Hub, and sponsored by the Knight Foundation, The Lenfest Institute and the Google News Initiative.

Angilee Shah, left, editor-in-chief of Charlottesville Tomorrow, and Sisi Wei, editor-in-chief of The Markup, headlined the day-two keynote address for the Independent News Sustainability Summit.

Photo credit: Jordan Vonderhaar / for INSS

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