exclusive: Holiday media coverage

Those bemoaning the media's role in the ever-increasing consumerism of the holidays may want to revisit these news outlets this Christmas.

Those bemoaning the media's role in the ever-increasing consumerism of the holidays may want to revisit these news outlets this Christmas.

Yes, there are still plenty of stories on iPods, plasma TVs, videogames and Ugg boots. But along with that are a great many pieces devoted to the spiritual and family issues of the season as well. Time and Newsweek, for instance, both had competing cover stories on the birth of Christ in the same week earlier this month. Arturo Marquez, director of operations for Catholic Online, says that people tend to rediscover their faith during the holidays, noting that traffic at his web site always increases during the Christmas period. But he adds that this year may mark an even greater emphasis on the religious and moral aspects of the holidays because of the media's realization of the huge part faith played during the recent elections. "I think there's a better understanding of the moral issues that are driving our political and social issues," he says. "Eight months ago there may have been more a narrow focus on advocacy issues such as right to life, but this time of year it's the more macro view of morality that people are looking at and want to read about." Beyond religion and goodies, many outlets also produce annual advice stories on how to control everything from finances to weight and even behavior during what can be a period of excess for some people. "It's our busiest time of the year," says Elizabeth Howell, director of PR for the Emily Post Institute, which produces books and articles on manners and etiquette. "It starts like clockwork the week before Thanksgiving and it will not end until after New Year's." Howell says the media inquiries run the gamut from personal finance reporters doing stories on tipping to family relationship journalists looking at how to make sure kids' manners are up to date for the holidays. "Re-gifting is an extremely popular topic," she adds. "As are questions such as is it OK to give money as a gift and should I ever give my boss a gift?" In many cases, reporters simply need some basic background information or a short answer. But Howell says whenever possible she tries to get reporters on the phone with a member of the book writing Post family - Peggy, Cindy, or Peter - adding that many of those requests are from TV and radio. "This year we tried to be proactive and hired a radio and satellite coordinator who worked to bunch all the radio and TV interviews together," she says. "We devoted four entire days for radio interviews alone and did between 15-20 interviews each day." "During the holidays I have the luxury of sitting back and letting the phone calls come to me," says Deidre Parkes, publicity manager at greeting card giant Hallmark. "You might think that people would know how to send out a Christmas card. But people's attitudes and environments are constantly changing. You might have a Muslim neighbor and don't know if you should send them a card." While the flurry of holiday calls is predictable, Parkes notes, "Every single year there's a different topic. A lot of times the reporter comes to us with an agenda." This year the major media theme seems to be mixed faith holidays, highlighted by a "Christmukah" celebration on a recent episode on Fox Network's The OC. "I've been inundated with mix faith calls," she says. "Hallmark's had those products for 10 years, but only now have reporters decided it's a hot topic." Pamela Willenz, manager of public affairs for the American Psychological Association, also notes that a great many stories this year will offer tips on the best way for blended and divorced families to celebrate the season. Like the gifts and gadgets features, many of the non-product holiday stories are put together as early as possible so newsrooms can give their staff a few weeks off at the end of the year. "Usually they call us in the late summer and I'll put them in touch with experts for subjects such as coping with holiday stress," Willenz says, adding, "For the most part it tends to be general interest reporters doing these stories. I don't see a lot of dedicated health or science reporters writing about the holidays." Tips Pitch early even for non-gift guide stories-many outlets produce a lot of their holiday stories several months in advance to reduce the workload at year-end. While the holidays are an evergreen story, each year seems to bring a new twist, so look for trends such as the rise of mixed faith celebrations. Many reporters may only be looking for basic information on the season, so use your or your client's web site for basic fact sheets and other backgrounders that can cut down on the routine questions.

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