You know you’ve been in this business a long time when you’re scheduled to work a major holiday and you don’t even flinch.
But for many young journalists just starting out in broadcast news it is a shock to the system. You can imagine why. They’ve just left an institution where they didn’t just get Christmas off but often wrapped-up final exams in mid-December and didn’t have to return to campus until the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
For young journalists who are close to their family — and let’s hope most of them are — not being able to take part in Christmas traditions that have been repeated year after year since they were born can be emotionally wrenching.
And I want to include Jewish, Muslim, and journalists from other religious traditions in this, too, because from Hanukah to Yom Kippur from Ramadan to the Day of Ashura, all of these observances have one thing in common: coming together with family.
But entering journalism can mean putting the wider society and your profession above these traditions. After all, even on these holy days, the killings won’t stop, cars will still crash into other cars, and houses will catch on fire. Our communities need someone to document these things and tell the stories of the people whose lives have been forever altered.
So if you have to work on a major holiday during your career – and if you’re a journalist, you will – I humbly offer you Matthew Nordin’s Holiday Survival Guide:
1) Clear, doable story ideas: Don’t wait until Christmas morning when you show-up in the newsroom at – ahem! – 9 a.m. to worry about what story you’re going to turn. Maybe there won’t be any breaking news in your market that day. Go to the news director or executive producer at least two days in advance and get them to approve Story A, Story B if the first story falls through, and Story C if the first two fall through. Better yet, start shooting interviews and b-roll for Story A as soon as you get approval. It can be almost impossible to get an interview on Christmas Day. All the people you usually want to talk with on-camera who need someone’s approval to do an interview on an average day still need it on Christmas. And they don’t want to call their supervisor in the middle of her family opening presents to ask if they can go on Eyewitness News.
2) Plea to managers: Yes, I know your brand is “On Your Side.” But unless you’ve got your team of reporters executing stories that meet the brand days in advance, let’s cut the reporters a little slack here. Trying to solve someone’s problem on Christmas Day is going to be next to impossible when all corporate offices and City Hall are closed. The viewers who do tune-in Christmas Night will want to catch-up on the major events in your community that they might have missed. I doubt they’re tuning-in to see how you’re holding a major retailer accountable for selling the Smith Family a bad flat screen TV. (Don’t worry, news directors. The consultant won’t be dialing-up your show on the Internet on Christmas Night either.)
3) Bring your lunch/dinner! Early in my career, when I had to report on Christmas Day, I made the mistake of thinking I could just roll-up to McDonald’s or Wendy’s like any old day of the year. Nope. Have a good meal prepared for yourself that’s microwavable. Make sure it’s better than your average lunch/dinner at work. Treat yourself since it’s a holiday. It’ll make you feel better.
4) Don’t gripe. Your producer has a huge hole to fill because there’s probably not a lot going on in your market. So don’t yell at him about having to make a smallish story into a package and going live during the newscast. We all want to go home. You’ll get there eventually that night.
5) Celebrate on your schedule. If you have a significant other, you can always have that big meal and gift exchange after you get off work that night. If you’re a young journalist and missing your family, consider asking your parents if they’ll hold-off opening some of their presents until you get home and can join them via Skype. Then they can watch you open the gifts they got you, too.
Finally, here’s a secret that will sound ridiculous to any well-adjusted person, which is perhaps why it’s coming from a television journalist, but working a major holiday isn’t all that bad. It’s usually a slower day. The managers are gone. The people who are in the newsroom are usually in a good mood. And you’ve got a comp day coming!
Matthew Nordin is an investigative reporter/anchor at WXIX-TV. You can talk with him on Twitter @MatthewNordin.