Recently, some random on Twitter facetiously asked if we were having a Slow News Day ™. Oh, how we laughed. For the record, that day's shows included stories on the fabled Teapot Tapes, more election-related guff, Zac Guildford's drunken escapades, the latest instance of schoolyard bullying, and an expose on a dodgy business syndicate. Now, admittedly, it may not all have been news people agreed with, or were interested in, but it was nothing even resembling a Slow News Day ™. Funnily enough no-one ever seems to ask if it was a Slow News Day™ on actual Slow News Days™. The reason I bring this up is because, very shortly, we’ll be smack bang in the middle of Slow News Day™ season.
It's a time of year that strikes fear into any News Reporter. A season during which weary journalists will swoop upon the merest sniff of a story idea, much as a starving man in the desert would fall upon a cool watermelon and devour it, skin and all. A time of year when News Producers will splay the entrails of a chicken upon their desk, hoping that their dabbling in the dark arts will see a nice, fat, juicy controversy materialise before them. It never does, and it creates an awful mess.
So this summer, as you stretch out under the warm sun and push your toes into golden sands, please spare a thought for those poor souls left to inhabit the nation’s newsrooms.
Throughout summer these miserable wretches will be trooping into dreary grey offices, picking over story ideas the same way you'd pick at a turkey carcass still inhabiting the fridge a week after Christmas, while outside their friends and families are playing merrily in the bright sunshine and enjoying the fruits of the season.
Not me, I should point out. I’m one of those awful people actually having a summer holiday this year, but I’ll definitely be keeping my poor News colleagues in mind. Mainly out of pity.
I’ve been there myself, and it’s a grind. It’s a time when any clever PR person (hint, hint) should be firing out press releases and getting their clients faces and opinions out there. (One piece of advice, if you’re going to send out a press release, make sure the contact isn’t on holiday and unavailable.)
While you may curse the preponderance of fluffy dog stories, of endless updates on the road toll, of the latest near-drowning at Muriwai, please remember - it's all your fault.
Yes, your fault. Because you’re on holiday, and with you, resplendent in their swimming costumes and floppy hats, are the newsmakers. Throughout the country people just aren’t doing the stuff that they normally do, and it’s that stuff that creates News. Parliament is in recess, many businesses have closed for the holidays, the usual movers and shakers have all shut down for the summer.
When seemingly half the country has escaped to the coast, or the campgrounds, or the lakes, the reality is someone still has to cobble together a 60 minute bulletin each and every day.
Those are the real Slow News Days™.
There’s little point complaining – we do this job because we love it and there’s a bulletin every night that we have to fill. Some of those bulletins are bigger than others.
New Zealand’s ludicrous broadcasting laws mean Christmas Day features no ads and therefore there are an extra 12 minutes or so to fill. From a news production perspective – that makes for a very busy, stressful day. In fact, we usually have more people working on December 25th than most other days of the holiday period.
Working Christmas Day isn’t all bad – it’s one day of the year when otherwise questionable story ideas (I’m full of them!) are made all the more bearable by the fact it’s Christmas. I mean, come on, if you can’t have a bit of fun with stories on Christmas Day, when can you?
It’s not known as the Silly Season for nothing.
One year, it was a little piece on a professional Santa Claus. Stig Eldred lived in a lovely villa on Sumner beach, played piano, and enjoyed surfing and a beer, and had a beard like an overgrown rose bush. It was delightful.
Another year, it was how the animals kept at Orana Park and the Antarctic Centre got treated for Christmas. For the record the little blue penguins got salmon, the monkeys got grapes...and I can think of worse ways to spend the day than watching the Orana Park otters chase fishy iceblocks around their pool on a sunny Christchurch afternoon.
Christmas lunch in Christchurch was usually at the now demolished Oxford on Avon, just down from the old TV3 offices. It involved a festive smorgasbord being wolfed down at unhealthy speed, a hastily drained glass (or two) of Lindauer, before we’d trot back to the office for an afternoon of writing and editing before we could burst from the door and try to salvage what remained of the day.
Barring the Christmas speed-eating and festive dearth of ads, it’s a pattern that’s repeated for a few painful weeks. It also explains why the odd pairing of suit jackets and jandals become standard newsroom attire – it allows for a quick and easy exit from the office and straight into an early evening session by the barbecue.
So, this Christmas, please spare a thought for the nation’s friendly journalists. And if you hear of a possible story while you’re enjoying your holidays, please, for the love of all that is good, let us know!