Ah, the Fourth of July.
Across the country, people are firing up grills, stocking up on sunscreen and six-packs, and heading to the nearest body of water. You … are scrambling to figure out what to put in your Monday morning newscast. You … are doing the no-news dance because boy are you in trouble if something “Big” happens over the holiday weekend.
Holiday planning in newsrooms can sometimes come down to three things:
Hope, Faith, … and Dread
“Hopefully, there won’t be any breaking news.”
Nevermind that tropical storm off the east coast, floods in the midwest, wildfires in the west, and lots of people running around with alcohol in their bloodstreams and fireworks in their back seats.
“If news does break, we have faith that our journalists will jump on the story.”
Nevermind that Reporter Joe is visiting family out of state, Producer Jane is hosting a boozy barbeque, Engineer Mary got food poisoning from some questionable potato salad, and Editor Bob is taking care of his three young children and their five cousins.
“If news doesn’t break, we have faith in the Monday morning host to find something to talk about and scrounge up some sound.”
All I can say is, there must be a special place in the afterlife for people who host the morning after holidays.
The dread comes because, in the deepest parts of our journalistic souls, we know the train wrecks and pitfalls that can come from the hope-and-faith model.
Power’s in the Planning: Three Easy Steps
The good news is, there’s an easy way to avoid the holiday dread: start planning!
1. Beat the Monday Morning Dilemma
Holidays are just weekends on steroids. One of the best pieces of advice I got while I was running newsrooms was to start planning for Monday’s newscasts in the middle of the week. We should start planning for holidays even earlier, in proportion to the length of the holiday. And post-holiday newscasts don’t have to be boring! Look at your futures calendar (if you don’t have one, start one now), and find something to preview. Maybe this is a chance to get some sound into your newscast spots on a story that’s slightly more evergreen. Be creative! Have fun!
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Be clear about your weekend and holiday coverage strategy. A small newsroom probably won’t be able to cover anything but the highest level emergency or crisis (i.e., don’t cover the political town halls unless a riot’s expected to break out). A larger organization may want to commit to staffing lower-level events on off-days. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, make sure the expectations are clearly communicated to staff inside and outside the newsroom.
3. Know Who’s On Call
I wrote fairly extensively about this issue in a recent post, but in short, I think it’s important for people to know when they can and cannot be called in. Formalizing the process makes things infinitely more efficient from a management point of view – the news director or assignment editor knows exactly who to call when a story breaks, and s/he knows for a fact that the person will be available, rather than having to rely on hope and faith. I also think the on-call system is important from a fairness point of view, because without it, everyone is always in a wobbly state of unspoken on-call.
In closing, I wish you all a happy, safe Fourth of July with just enough news to keep things interesting without ruining anyone’s fun. And if you’re on call, know that your newsroom thanks you … and make sure someone else takes Labor Day!