Christmas is a time to unwind – but for many local journalists, the big day is not so relaxing.
Depending on their newspapers – and breaking news – reporters drawing the short straw this year would at the very least be expecting an unwelcome phone call to draw their lunch to a swift conclusion.
Let’s not pretend the majority of us have it as tough as others: the tireless emergency services, those on unwavering night shifts or any other role where the festivities never halt their day job.
But despite this, I think it’s always worth knowing what goes on behind the scenes at a local newspaper during the yuletide – and how hard people work throughout to deliver a relatively unchanged local news service.
The bane of bank holidays
I’ve always said, to some scoffing, that bank holidays are never a good thing.
A day off looks lovely – but that extended weekend simply creates more work for us in weekly news, having to produce the same papers in less time.
Think of Christmas like a souped-up bank holiday. This year, Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those days tend to be the busiest, as our papers come out on a Thursday and we’re scrabbling to finish them, proofing pages and sending them to press.
At our papers, like many others, nearly everyone is allowed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day off. On days like this, a reporter will be on call, awaiting any major news from across the county and breaking off from the fun to do their duty. Other bank holidays will see a reporter spending closer to a typical day in the office.
If it’s quiet, then little has been lost. Covering a wide patch, though, means odds are something will kick off – and despite being the season of good cheer, it appears to be highly unusual if there isn’t a murder, or something equally nasty.
A murder nearly always happens at Christmas…
And so it came to pass on Christmas Eve – after most of the office had been allowed the afternoon off – that someone was arrested for, and charged with, attempted murder on my patch. Any plans for the late reporter to pack up and head for some last-minute panic shopping were dashed.
It’s not just those on the rota who suffer. Those pesky off days meant this week’s papers (out on the 27th), had to be done and dusted by Monday lunchtime.
No matter which day the main event falls upon, inevitably the time pressures mean the papers have to be smaller. Fewer people write letters complaining about dog poo, or Brexit, when it comes to Christmas week, let alone the challenges in getting the paper done on time.
Holidays are coming
Like the Coca Cola advert, the phrase ‘holidays are coming’ also rings true in journalism. The papers are generally completed with fewer staff in the office, with most taking either the days around Christmas or the new year off.
On my side of the operation, editing, I worked the days up to and including Christmas Eve, as well as the two days following Boxing Day. My editor colleague returns on Monday while I take a few days off.
I have been lucky in my six years to have had a kind draw when it came to Christmas.
There was no worrying about Christmas Day or Boxing Day in 2018 – aside from a call to the press during the latter to check the near-catastrophic printing issue had been rectified as hoped on Monday.
But given we like to have an extended festive period in our family, the reality of returning to work after just two days off was difficult this year. Leaving Albie behind to enjoy his presents meant spending time in the office was more difficult than in years gone by.
A final thought
Producing papers at this time of the year is never easy. Those inevitable reductions in paper size leave local newspapers vulnerable to criticism.
Yet, particularly at this time of year it’s worth remembering that there are real human beings working doubly hard to produce anything. Reporters torn away from their families when something big kicks off, others working more unsociable hours to keep things ticking.
Local newspapers need your support throughout the year, else they will wither and rot.
I’d love to hear your positive stories of how your local newspaper has helped you – whether it be shedding light on your campaign, covering your community event or simply keeping you informed with what’s going on.
Best wishes for 2019.