A few years ago, when I was working as a journalist, my colleague was invited by a supermarket to taste its Christmas menu – in July. By September, reporters across the country are lobbying to get dates off work during the festive period. And in November, editors start sending emails with headlines like CHRISTMAS CONTENT DEADLINES.
In case you didn’t get the point, journalists have already been thinking about Christmas for a long time.
One reason is that, in this day and age, it’s unheard of for a media outlet not to update its website with fresh content (and that’s not to even mention 24-hour TV news). Editors begin planning months in advance how to keep coverage going with a shoestring staff. Reporters try to come up with stories that will hold until 25th December, or land perfectly on New Year’s Day. Stories that are heartwarming, entertaining and lashed with brandy butter.
So, what does this mean for those in the refugee sector?
If you are already planning a wonderful Christmas celebration, tell a journalist early.
If possible, think of a way they can cover it before it actually happens.
The chances are, if it’s not happening till Christmas Eve, the reporter of your choice may have filed their copy and be crammed into a train heading home.
For example, if you’re planning to visit a hotel housing asylum seekers with Christmas presents and carols, you could put forward one of the volunteers for interview a week before, and take photos of the stack of wrapped presents in their garage.
Don’t worry too much if the story you’re trying to pitch doesn’t involve mince pies and mulled wine.
Most journalists and editors are looking for stories that capture the mood as well as Christmas itself.
That means stories of kindness and generosity, families reunited, light in the darkness, and anything that warms your heart as the nights draw in. Of course, a helpful comment that “this captures the Christmas spirit” never goes amiss, as far as a journalist is concerned.
You could also look towards New Year (another terrifying black hole in an editor’s calendar) and think about pledges, predictions or anniversaries for 2022.
Is this the year your community sponsorship scheme hopes to welcome its first refugee family? Has it been a momentous year for someone your charity is supporting? Would they be willing to share their story?
Think about the kinds of non-seasonal stories you’re already sharing, and which ones could hold until Christmas.
Stories from people with lived experience – ‘real life’ stories in media parlance – are a great example of these.
If they are sharing their story to support a campaign, it’s worth thinking of a simple message that will stay fresh, whatever the political developments over the seasonal period, such as welcoming refugees, calling on the government to increase resettlement, or just urging people to be kind.
If you do manage to arrange such an interview, make sure the interviewee is aware the story may not be published immediately, and be prepared to check in with them when it does go live.
Finally, don’t forget all the ingredients that encourage a reporter to cover a story, no matter the time of year.
- Strong, original pictures, or a great setting to film if you’re pitching to a TV crew.
- A compelling story about real human emotions, whether that’s what drives someone to volunteer, how someone felt after arriving in the UK for the first time, or why building a new detention centre makes activists so furious.
- Taking the reader on a journey, and showing them, not telling them what to think. After all, a great story is about life, not just Christmas.