That got me thinking about the days when some of my media colleagues and I used to determine who the New Year's Baby was.
The Way We Were
Many years ago, when I was doing radio news at CHQT in Edmonton, we were asked whether we wanted a few days off at Christmas or over New Year’s.
Our News Director, the late Ed Mason did his best to give everyone what they wanted, but some people drew the short straw and had to work Christmas and got New Year’s off.
That wasn’t such a bad thing though, because working the morning shift on New Year’s Day meant you had to arrive early so you could spend about a half an hour calling hospitals in Edmonton and area to figure out who had the New Year’s Baby.
You see, there was no official news release back then. The news media more or less determined who the New Year’s Baby was. I was part of that “process’ a couple of times.
In this day and age of privacy considerations, it was amazing how simply it worked.
Naming a Winner
At CHQT, we kept a list of phone numbers for hospitals in Edmonton and area, that at times included direct lines to maternity wards. Nurses working until 7am on New Year’s Day knew they would be getting a few calls from journalists asking when their first baby had arrived, so they generally had the info when I called.
I usually hit the phones around 5am and called every hospital on the list. Sometimes I needed to call two or three times before I got an answer, but nurses were generally quite pleased to talk to me about when their babies arrived and were delighted to hear they had a New Year’s Baby candidate.
After making my calls and talking to everyone from area hospitals, I had a winner and called the hospital back to let it know the good news and get the names of the mother and father, the baby (if there was one at that point), the length and weight.
I’m pretty sure the parents never gave their written permission to have that information shared with the media, but in 1980 who cared about those things?
I knew if there absolutely nothing else going on in Edmonton on New Year’s Eve, or the world for that matter, I had a fresh local story about Edmonton’s New Year’s Baby.
There was one year though that a gave myself a lesson in basic journalism when I got the name of the mother wrong. I can't recall the name of the proud parents of the New Year's Baby, but here's what happened, using fictitious names. The nurse told me the parents were Mike Jones and his wife Debbie. I reported Debbie and Mike Jones as the proud parents, only to find out the next day in the Edmonton Journal that Debbie had a different last name than Jones, as she likely kept her maiden name.
Not all radio stations did the work that we did at CHQT. It was interesting how often I had the story about the New Year’s Baby on the 6am news, while my competitors didn’t mention it. However, at 7am or 8am, they had the story with the same details as I had.
By the way, that one year they also had Debbie Jones as the mother.
Fast forward some 40 years or so, and Alberta Health Services is again playing the New Year’s Baby grinch by telling the media there would be no New Year’s Baby announcements once again for 2023.
After a couple of years of blaming COVID for not naming a New Year’s Baby, now the burden of other viruses has AHS saying the media can’t enter hospitals to talk to the proud parents, so there will be no winning babies announced.
A photo in the newspaper on January 2 of the New Year’s Baby with his or her parents and a quick interview on the TV news used to be standard stuff across the nation at the start of the year. It was always great to hear parents talk about how Mom went the extra mile to not deliver until the clock struck midnight. Not anymore.
Many years ago, we moved to a provincial model for health care delivery with a central Communications department. Much of the news coming out of hospitals needs to come through the Communications department and quite frankly that makes sense. Maternity ward nurses shouldn’t be speaking to the media without some oversight from Communications, which didn’t used to happen at 5am on New Year’s Day.
If that’s the case though, I do think there’s an obligation on the part of AHS to do advance coordination and the legwork to deliver (pun intended) at least a news release on the New Year’s Baby for the larger cities in Alberta.
It seems like AHS is taking the easy way out by saying that since the media shouldn't enter hospitals, then there will be no New Year's Baby. There are other ways to get the job done.
The New Year’s Baby is a tradition that lasted for generations. It was a fun way to start the new year. It was nice to have a “good news” story on New Year’s Day.
It’s too bad it may be gone in Alberta.