The News Media, Holiday Coverage and Weight Loss Plans
We’ve made it through another year of what I call Find the Best Way to Cover Our News Commitment Over the Holidays as Easily on the Staff as Possible. How did you enjoy it this year?
You might not have noticed it. Television, radio stations and newspapers have got really good at finding interesting ways to fill their newscasts and newspapers with year end content that includes Year End Reviews, Top 10 Lists and some classic holiday stories like how not to overeat at Christmas and how to lose weight if you did, which pretty much covers everyone.
Some of these tricks date back even before I got into the news media some 40 years ago, so you know they work.
Government basically shuts down over the holidays, corporations don’t want to make any announcements until the new year and newsmakers go on holidays. It results in a scarcity of news, even though newsrooms have almost as much time and space to fill.
Here’s how the news media goes about covering the news over the holidays, when nobody wants to work.
Top stories of 2016
Covering the News, When Nobody Wants To
The first thing you need to understand is news anchors, reporters, editors and technical staff don’t want to work over the holidays. Who does? Unlike many people who work in offices and take the holidays off, they need to produce a product on an hourly or daily basis. The product could be television or radio newscasts, a public affairs show, or a newspaper.
Newspapers can’t shut down for the holidays because there are too many advertising dollars at stake and the same goes for TV and radio newscasts. If a company sponsors the 6pm TV news every night during the week and Christmas is on a Wednesday, as an example, then there’s a problem because no station wants to give back advertising dollars if there isn’t a newscast.
What results are some pretty clever ways of filling news and public affairs programming with content that looks like news, but takes a fraction of the manpower and better yet, can be produced before the Christmas season and put in the can.
Year End Reviews and Interviews
Let me introduce you to the year end interview. We saw a bunch of them over the holidays. Prime Minister Trudeau did several, and in Alberta I saw a few from Premier Rachel Notley. In Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson also did more than his fair share of “year enders.” When I was in the business we used to jokingly refer to them as “rear end reviews.”
These interviews get edited in advance, an anchor records an opening and a close to the interview done by a senior reporter (normally with a Christmas tree and fireplace in the background). Just like that, Our Conversation with the (Prime Minister/Premier/Mayor) is good to go.
Since nobody wants to work Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the interview will run in the place normally occupied by a newscast and everyone’s happy, other than the people who wanted to get details on something interesting that happened that day in the news like the death of George Michael this year.
The double bonus occurs when the news outlet is actually able to find something newsworthy in the interview and runs clips of it on a newscast just before or after the interview airs. If it’s before then it serves as a promo for the interview and if it runs after, it provides a decent local story for a newscast when the station gets back to regular programming.
The year end interview works much the same for daily newspapers. Don’t forget a paper needs to be cranked out on Boxing Day because of all the last minute Boxing Day sale ads that need to run. Like trying to find ways to get as much food on your plate at the Christmas dinner, proper news story management becomes critical. You know you have a paper to fill almost every day over the holidays, so you don’t want to blow your wad too early with stories that have been banked for the season.
Going to the Bank
Another great trick is doing interviews before Christmas, turning the interview into a final product and then choosing a date over the holidays to run them. Once again news management becomes critical with what are called “banked” stories.
The first decision that needs to be made is what stories to do in advance and who to interview. I remember being a reporter for CHQT radio in Edmonton around 1979 and I knew I had to work several shifts over the holidays. In those days seniority ruled and I didn’t have it. The senior guys had paid their dues, so they weren’t about to go out of their way to produce banked stories I could run when I worked over the holidays.
I remember arranging an interview with a nutritionist about how to eat properly over the holidays. After getting answers to several questions (many of which included her using the word “moderation”), I then shifted to questions about the best way for people to cut down on calories if they decide to go on a diet in the new year. In between I asked if she had any advice on food that people should eat before drinking on New Year’s Eve, so they wouldn’t be drinking on an empty stomach. That one interview gave me local news audio clips I eventually ran on three days over the holidays. Even though that nutritionist was on the air more than most of our news staff that holiday season, I was pretty proud of myself.
There’s always classic interviews a smart reporter can do in advance and wait for the right time to air the clips or quotes. Self help items like Tasty Things to do With Your Leftover Turkey and Great Exercise Ideas to Kickstart Your Diet are two beauties that work as well today as they did 40 years ago.
Highlights + Lists + Review = Content
Another classic way of filling news time and space are year end reviews and lists. Newspapers will tell their beat reporters to crank out 800 – 1,000 words that cover the highlights from their beat. Between Christmas and New Year’s I saw an interesting story in the Edmonton Journal on high profile court cases in 2016 and other good reviews of major decisions made at City Hall and by the school boards in Edmonton.
The Journal’s Legislature Reporter Graham Thomson had an interesting year end quiz asking readers to identify who was responsible for famous quotes in the news. I’m betting Graham wasn’t cranking that one out on Christmas morning.
A fairly new trick is to get reporters reflect on their most memorable stories they covered during the year. This is quickly becoming a classic to run on December 31, as the Journal slotted it in for this year.
Famous people who died each year always make for an interesting list. You have to be careful with this one though because it can’t be put to bed too early. That was especially true with the deaths of George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds within four days of each other.
Warm Fuzzy Feeling
I don’t want to leave the impression that I take exception to news stories being written in advance. Far from it. It really takes a lot of journalistic sense to figure out what people will be interested in a week or two in advance. It’s actually more difficult than just covering the news like the media does in the other 50 weeks of the year.
Quite honestly I also get a warm feeling when I read the year end reviews, because they come during the holidays when most of us have more time to sit, read and reflect.
With more cutbacks to the number of journalists across Canada, I fully expect creative ways to create content will be an even bigger part of holiday coverage in the future. Let’s face it, we all need to know what else we can do with that leftover turkey.