Confessions   //   February 24, 2022

‘I survived an attack on my life’: Confessions of a former journalist on why he ditched 5-day weeks for good

If four-day work week trials around the world are a success, working less for the same money could be a reality for more of us. 

But while work-life balance is the most common driver behind a four-day workweek, some still presume it’s only working parents that wish to capitalize on it. In reality, it meets much wider needs and can be essential for those who’ve experienced physical and emotional trauma.

For the latest Confessions installment, where we trade anonymity for candor, we spoke to an Asia-based former investigative journalist, who shared why a four-day week has become a critical work structure for him as he recovers from an attack on his life.

This conversation has been edited for length, clarity and flow.

How long have you worked a four-day week, and what made you request it? 

I took this job as a communications consultancy director last May. Before that, I was an investigative reporter. In mid-2020 I wrote an article about a large multinational company that they [the company] weren’t happy with and wanted withdrawn. Both my editor and I refused. A few months later, I was attacked at my home. 

I survived, and after extensive surgery, I go for physical therapy on Fridays. This is only known to my boss and the company board. I haven’t shared it with my direct colleagues. Once I’m recovered, I may use the spare Friday to spend more time doing charity, volunteer, or pro bono work.

What impact did the attack have on you — physically, mentally, financially and professionally?

Initially, it was unbearably painful, both physically and mentally. Due to my severe injuries, I couldn’t type for over a month. I narrated my stories to a close friend who also transcribed voice notes I sent him. I was advised against informing my employer, due to fears that they would not only leak the details of the attack but possibly also remove me from the team if they learned I was a risk to others.

Business journalism in my country is not well compensated. I lacked the financial means to pay for surgery but an avid reader offered their support [in paying for it]. My [current] company’s mental health and fitness fund covers my recovery expenses.

Today, nearly 14 months since the attack, I am scared to leave the house, am in a nearly constant state of anxiety, and have trouble focusing. My supervisor knows about all this and offers me the flexibility to do my job.

How did the attack impact your decision to change careers and move away from journalism?

I was studying public affairs and was just under a month away from taking my final exams. I had hoped to exit journalism at some point because the pay and career prospects for it in my country are terrible, particularly if one chooses to be ethical. If I was uncertain before the attack, I was determined to jump ship after it. The career switch went from being purely professional to quickly becoming a personal matter. 

How has it influenced how you approach your work now?

I am now in a position to help companies find a civil middle-ground with business reporters that intend to publish news that upsets industry stakeholders. In my role of advising companies on their media relations strategy and approach, I ensure business reporters are not mistreated, disrespected, or harmed, regardless of what matters they are reporting on. I have noticed a sort of rage from companies that are featured in published articles with an urgency to halt all legal actions [within the publisher] — such as defamation suits, cease and desist letters — aimed at reporters, and instead resolve misunderstandings with dialogue. There are no threats on my watch.

How do you make your four-day week run smoothly?

We have a hybrid and remote working model. My supervisor is open to experiments and said that tasks or targets need to be handed in by Thursday instead of Friday. After proving this was possible, he didn’t bring it up again. It is only for crisis communications issues, where a CIPR-certified [Chartered Institute of Public Relations] consultant is required by the client, that I will — at times — work briefly on a Friday, but that has hardly happened. I have also started saying no to tasks I deem a waste of my time. This includes anything that comes from our media agency or any group or client that cannot explain to me what earned media is. Working with people whose entire focus is around paid media, while they think they are dabbling in public relations, is exhausting and it is an interaction I not only avoid but I will jack up my hourly rate just to get out of it.

How is what happened to you reflective of the wider attitude toward the media in your country?

The ruling establishment frequently targets independent media. Corporations see all business reporters as blackmailers, and government entities see all journalists as spies and part of some grand conspiracy against them. This is essentially highly corrupt criminals, in positions of power, that are worried about being held accountable. Broadcasters and publishers themselves take no measures to ensure the safety and security of their field reporters, anchors, and producers. Journalism is poorly paid, paid late, disrespected and misunderstood. People in this country don’t know the difference between paid media and earned media. They think public relations is when you pay a publisher to publish your press release. It’s an all-round media industry problem.