Media outlets look past Christmas

Though ubiquitous, Christmas is not the only faith-based winter holiday. To spice things up, outlets are paying more attention to other religious events.

Though ubiquitous, Christmas is not the only faith-based winter holiday. To spice things up, outlets are paying more attention to other religious events.

It might be starting to look a lot like Christmas, but PR pros representing organizations for those of other faiths are finding that media are also interested in religion-themed holiday stories without a Christian tone.

"Reporters often do want to talk about different religions that also have holy days or special events around this time of year, such as Hanukkah or Ramadan," says Ellen Price, director of the office of communication for Baha'is of the United States. "The New York Times just contacted us for a story on new religious traditions and what kinds of food are coming out of these celebrations."

Holiday media stress

One reason it might be easier to pitch such stories is that November and December aren't the easiest times of year to be a religion writer.

"Religions change at a snail's pace, so it can be stressful for journalists who are expected and required to come up with a holiday story," says Debra Mason, executive director of Religion Newswriters Association. "So if you can serve up something that is unusual, something that hasn't been written about a lot before and that can easily be localized, you could have a slam dunk."

Adelle Banks, senior correspondent for the Religion News Service, echoes that point. "Holiday stories are always a challenge because it's a struggle to figure out what the new angle will be, simply because it happens every year," she says.

But Norman Birnbach, president of Marblehead, MA-based Birnbach Communications says that, even though religion writers are actively seeking new story ideas, it still can be a challenge to pitch faith-based stories.

"At the same time, religion has moved from a back burner that people didn't really talk about to an issue that's much more front and center, so we are actually seeing fewer religion reporters," says Birnbach, who represents, a nonprofit publisher and advocacy association that seeks to keep Jewish traditions alive in blended-faith families.

But Banks notes that there are also more opportunities during the holidays to place religion-themed stories throughout a publication. "I often say I don't cover religion; it's more religion and 'fill in the blank,'" she says. "So it could be a religion and food story that relates to a particular holiday or it could be a lifestyle story better suited for another section."

Mason suggests that most religion writers are looking to cover religions other than Christianity.

"There are always stories on Hanukkah and Ramadan," she says. "But what is becoming more common is coverage of Buddhist and Hindu and Baha'i and Sikh festivals."

But while Christmas stories are often seen for months before December 25, Stacey Bender, president of the Bender-Hammerling Group, says the window for other holidays can be smaller.

"The days Hanukkah falls on tend to move around between November and December, but the coverage is very much centered on those eight days," says Bender, who represents food- maker Manischewitz. "So it's a much narrower time frame. You have to pitch well in advance because you know food or lifestyle editors will have one page they are probably going to run the week before Hanukkah."

Offering new ideas

In the past, there have been opportunities to pitch stories on interfaith family celebrations. But Birnbach suggests media interest in blended holidays may have peaked last year with the spate of "Christmukkah" coverage after the issue was featured on an episode of The OC.

"The challenge is, reporters are always looking for something new," says Birnbach. "They may have written about interfaith families four years ago, and they or their editors will remember that, even if the readers do not."

Birnbach says that one way to combat that resistance is to generate unique news hooks. "We also offer a tip sheet on how to make the holidays less stressful and more inclusive, which really seems to be effective for smaller-market papers that are looking for more service-oriented news you can use," he says.

Pitching... non-Christian holidays

  • What reporters want more than anything in religion-themed stories is a great local angle, so along with a pitch, provide real world examples of how people celebrate various faiths in the media outlet's hometown
  • Because faith-based traditions change so little from year to year, religion reporters are often scrambling to come up with new story angles during the holidays. So it's a great time to pitch fresh ideas about all types of religious celebrations
  • Don't limit yourself strictly to religion reporters. There can be many opportunities to pitch faith-based celebration stories to other sections of media outlets, especially food pages

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