We'll have a Red (or a Blue) Christmas news story

That sound you hear out in newsrooms is the "thunk" of digital memos hitting the computer in-boxes of unlucky general-assignment reporters at small- and middle-sized newspapers across America.

The sad reality is that there are many, many newspapers in this fair land that do not have trained, committed, religion-beat specialists. You know, the kind of professional religion scribe who can handle the pressure -- year after year -- of finding creative news-feature-story hooks for all of those ultra-familiar religious holidays that terrify city-desk editors.

If you don't have a Godbeat specialist, who are you going to call?

Only those of us who have to carry this heavy burden know how bad this can be. I mean, in addition to finding a good story, you also need page-one worthy color art and it has to be shot days in advance so it can be worked into the page design. How do you photograph a natural-looking, newsworthy piece of Easter art at the start of Holy Week?

But I digress.

OK, so you have survived Hanukkah. Good job.

Now is the time when an assistant city editor is going to scan the room, trying to decide which unlucky general-assignment reporter is going to have to handle -- you know what.

You need a story that captures the spirit of Christmas, which means that it may need to have something to do with Christianity. But you also need a story that does not offend too many of the people who are almost always offended by, well, Christianity. You could do a news feature on how modern scholars believe that everything associated with Christmas is a myth, but you know that the newsweeklies are going to do that one every other year.

Right about now is the time when the editors send out these memos. A friend of this blog recently sent me a perfect example of one such assignment, which we will say was passed along by another friend. We can't get into details, other than to say that it originated in a newsroom in one of the half dozen or so cities in North America that are, from time to time, referred to as the Mecca of Evangelical Christianity. Or the Vatican. Or Jerusalem on the Brazos. Whatever.

But the dreaded memo starts out by saying that the editors have assigned this reporter to write -- you know what.

There's more. The editor has already decided on the news hook for this as-yet-to-be-determined feature story. This reporter has been predestined by her or his editor to find a Christmas 2004 story that is connected to -- you knew this was coming, didn't you? -- that hot, hot, hot social group of the moment. You got it. It's going to be Christmas with the Evangelical value voters.

I can see the headline now: "America's Dreaming of a Red Christmas." Or, you could flip that around and deal with the grief of the losers. This would, obviously, lead straight to The King (that would be Elvis) and "(I'll Have a) Blue Christmas."

So good people out there who give us feedback here at GetReligion -- let's come to the aid of this anonymous reporter. I mean, let's give him or her some help other than pointing toward the December holiday files of the Religion Newswriters Association.

I hope that some of you will answer these questions:

* Can you think of a genuine value-voter Christmas story for 2004?

* What is the absolutely worst value-voter, red-Christmas story hook that you can think of?

* Have you already seen a story written along these lines?

Please help. It's the time of year for sharing. Help a general-assignment reporter, today.

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