Gene Park (@genepark on Twitter) is covering his first presidential election as social media editor for Opinions, Outlook and PostEverything for The Washington Post in Washington, D.C. Gene was a mainstay in Hawaii’s social media scene for many years as a reporter and news editor at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Honolulu Civil Beat, and the Huffington Post Hawaii. He also worked at HMSA in 2009 with the Customer Relations team where he started our @AskHMSA Twitter account!
Well-Being Hawaii recently spoke with him about his experience covering the presidential race and how he finds work-life balance during this hectic time.
Working at The Post
WBH: Describe your job at The Washington Post.
GP: At The Post, we all describe our jobs as being “professional swashbucklers.” We have swagger, but respectfully so. But officially my title is a social media editor embedded with the Opinions section. I oversee social media strategy for our Pulitzer-winning columnists, the editorial board and the Outlook and PostEverything sections.
WBH: Social media is often seen as a job where you have to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Has that been your experience?
GP: I often tell my friends that working at The Washington Post has given me the greatest sense of work-life balance I’ve experienced in my life. As we’ve gotten closer to the presidential election, life has become more hectic, however our editors are always mindful of how we’re spending time. Being part of a large organization, our social media accounts are staffed and handcrafted 24 hours a day, but we have the support and resources to do it.
Managing Work and Life
WBH: How do you balance your work and the rest of your life?
GP: The election has made it difficult to ever fully go into “off mode,” but I also hesitate to blame it all just on the election. In news if you stop paying attention, you risk being left behind. The difference is knowing when to leave it all behind. So on a personal basis, I tend to mostly ignore my personal social networks during the weekends, particularly on Sundays, God’s day of rest.
WBH: What are the three best ways you manage work stress?
GP: At home, spending time alone is important. My lifelong hobby has been to play video games. Like the guests depicted in the new HBO show “Westworld,” I play video games to enter a world in which the rules are laid out, understood and exploited for my personal enjoyment. The real world and all of its chaos doesn’t work that way, so for me, video games are the perfect form of escapism.
At work, we have a very collaborative atmosphere. So if I do feel stuck on a project, I’m more than happy to workshop it with a colleague, and my stress level is greatly diminished because I’m getting input from so many smart people. And I’m always reminded that failure is accepted and encouraged. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding myself that I have the runway to experiment. It’s a liberating mindset. It also helps that my colleagues at The Post are very easy to work with. The myth about East Coast attitude is way off. At least at The Washington Post, it may seem cliché but we really do work like a family unit. The people make this the most rewarding chapter in my life. I’m able to manage stress at work because of the philosophies in place (from the top down) to keep us happy and feeling productive.
And lastly, I listen to very aggressive hip hop.
WBH: As a political journalist, election seasons are often exciting and stressful at the same time. What are the most exciting parts of your job? What are the most stressful?
GP: The most exciting part of my job is working hand-in-hand with journalists and columnists I have long admired since I was a teenager, people like Dan Balz, Dana Milbank, Eugene Robinson and cartoonist Ann Telnaes. They are giants of our field that I’ve emulated and looked up to, and here I am advising them. And to do this all under the leadership of America’s greatest editor, Marty Baron? That has not at all stopped being cool. I am in a perpetual honeymoon phase. The stress pales in comparison to the fulfillment I feel each day.
Probably the most stressful is getting used to working in a large organization. Before The Post, the largest newsroom I worked in was the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which had about 120 journalists when I left in 2012. Today The Post’s newsroom is more than 800. It was always going to be my biggest challenge, and one I wanted to tackle with gusto. Again, the people have made this way less difficult than it could’ve been. But because I was so used to working by myself, this has been an adjustment.
WBH: This is your first time covering a presidential election from our nation’s capital. What has surprised you the most?
GP: That politics is politics, no matter what the level. I can waste time marveling at the enormity of it all, from the spectacle to the huge impact it has on everyone’s lives. But when it comes down to it, politics are people, and human nature is the same no matter where you are. My previous experience reporting and interviewing politicians have steeled me well for this.
WBH: There’s been talk in the past few months about Election Related Stress Disorder, regardless of political affiliation. What’s your take on it?
GP: I believe it. Years ago when I was a crime reporter, I wrote about compassion fatigue and how that sets in for reporters who have to write about traumatic events. Any stress I feel is nothing compared to what I imagine our trail reporters have to go through every day, especially in a climate where people are becoming more distrustful of the media.
WBH: As a social media professional, what’s surprised you about social media this election season?
GP: This isn’t really related to the election season, but I think one small surprise is how the social media space has contracted. It wasn’t long ago when people would justifiably complain about all the different platforms they have to pay attention to. “Oh what now?!” people would say. But as Facebook’s influence in our daily lives grows to an unimaginable level, it’s been interesting to watch different methods of communication all contract into just a select few, as the best ideas are adapted and swallowed and funneled through just a few key platforms. There’s certainly no burst. It’s more a reflection of the reality that people can only take in so much information before it becomes noise. The successes and failures of these platforms reflect that exhaustion.