A Christmas Story Deadline

For me, Christmas officially ends each year with the last scene in A Christmas Story. The parents are sitting by the Christmas tree, enjoying a drink, as the snow flutters down through the window. It’s that calming last breath of Christmas before TBS dumps six episodes of Big Bang Theory on us.

Television news producers and reporters have an opportunity to extend that festive spirit a little while longer. With some planning and creative thinking, you can develop a story with more than a Christmas facade; one with depth and humanity. Most importantly, you can ‘turn the story’ on the most difficult day of the year to find an interview.

There are two ways to go about this.

Plan Ahead

One week out from Christmas, start searching for stories that will play out on Christmas day. Make phone calls. Set up interviews. Here are some places to mine for ideas:

Children’s Hospital – It sucks, but there are children who have to spend Christmas at the hospital. What doesn’t suck are the good people who take care of them. They are the nurses who put on plays; musicians, athletes, and stars who visit; and random people who dress up as Santa. Contact a hospital media representative several days out. It can lead to one of those stories really touches viewers.

Homeless Shelters – Not all homeless people lead tragic lives. At homeless shelters, you can find stories of adversity and triumph, resilience and recovery. There are people whose positive attitudes will tell you: Just because I’m not sitting around your Christmas tree with your matching sweaters, doesn’t mean I’m not exactly where I want to be right now. This is a chance to uplift your viewers.

Animal Shelters and Zoos – Sorry, Bob Geldof, animals don’t know it’s Christmastime. The people who care for them do know what day it is. And just like me in my Santa hat, eating chow mein at my newsroom computer, they have Christmas customs of their own. Make a call. See if there’s a special holiday meal for the polar bears or catnip stockings for shelter kittens. Even if there’s not enough for a reporter story, you can send a photographer, or just ask the zookeeper or shelter employee to send you pics and video. These stories make for incredible teases and will help deliver a fun and festive show.

Ghosts of Christmas Past – Did you know Massachusetts banned Christmas in the 1600’s? Did you know the poinsettia is named after a man from Charleston, South Carolina even though it’s native to Mexico? Did you know Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by a marketer for Montgomery Ward in Chicago? Every city in this country has a history with Christmas. Talk to a historian. Google your town’s history. Even the smallest connection could turn into a story with a much larger context.

Christmas Workers – Newsfolk aren’t the only ones punching a time clock on Christmas Day. Firefighters, police, ER staff, and others are working. Reporters, set up a ride-along or tag-along. The story may require a little nuance to thread out, but it’s there if you are desperate and capable.

Same Day Planning

On Christmas Day you don’t want to waste a reporter covering a shooting or accident. There are more thoughtful stories for them to pursue, even if there’s no plan in place.

Beat Calls – I can’t say this enough. Make your beat calls. Dispatch and on-desk crews are an incredible resource for stories, not just crime and grime. They are in touch with all corners of the community. You’ll learn about shooting victims who returned home just in time for Christmas; successful firefighter fundraisers for under-served children; and if you’re lucky, family dogs who chased off Christmas morning burglars – with video! Make those calls and be clear that you want to tell an uplifting story.

Follow the Fire – Fire is destructive. It will ruin a Christmas. However, a surprising thing often happens with fire stories. The survivors say about their losses: “Those are just material items. My family is safe. And on a day like today, that’s all that matters.” It’s a miraculous thing that lends itself to incredible television viewing. Go to the fire, talk to Red Cross and firefighters, and try to talk to the family who lost their home and all of their presents. People will surprise you, but you’ll never know if you don’t talk to them.

Social Media – We’re all Kevin Bacon now, connected to each other by four other Facebook friends. The morning of Christmas, post a picture of yourself in your festive work outfit, and ask if anyone has an uplifting story lead. The elevated mood of the day pushes people to be a little more outgoing. A great story could appear to you from the friend of a friend of a friend.

Go To People – Stories are out there. Sometimes you have to find them. Don’t sit on your ass in the newsroom trying to google newspaper stories. Go generate a lead. There’s one specific question that can make that happen. Ask people outside Chinese restaurants and movie theaters: What are you thankful for this holiday season? You may get some emotional responses. And if you’ve got a nose for news, you can sniff out the story from there.

Feel free to tell me your techniques for digging up story leads on Christmas Day. I can update the list with your ideas. Be sure to follow me here and on Twitter. Happy holidays!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: