Thursday, December 9, 2010

Does the Media Take a Holiday?

No, Not Really

In the “golden days” of traditional media the holidays were special. One KXAN TV (NBC) holiday party was very special for me. It was the first date for me and the lady who exactly one year later became my wife.

That holiday party was at the elite Green Pastures restaurant in South Austin. It was icy cold that winter night. It was the sort of “norther” that would burn your face with the chill, but it was warm and special inside the fine old mansion. There was food, beverages, music, and dancing. There was a special room for those who wished to indulge in what were said to be excellent cigars. They all smell the same to me. And, there was murmuring.

That night, there was a certain buzz. I wasn’t aware that everyone was talking about my date for the evening. I was managing editor at KXAN then. For several years past, I had attended the holiday parties alone, but that year was different. I had a date.

Media holiday parties in past years were formal in many ways. We dressed up, and there were speeches and awards. In what might have been the glory days of the golden days of TV in Austin when I was at KVUE TV (ABC), KVET/KASE radio, and KTBC TV, AM and FM going back to the 1970s, holiday celebrations were grand. At KTBC when Lyndon Johnson was still among us we were invited out to the LBJ Ranch for the party.

Some eschewed the parties, but I always considered them a fringe benefit for working at that particular Austin medium.

That was then. This is now. Gone are the formal, glittering events with ice sculptures and dancing. Although media stocks advanced somewhat recently, the formal parties disappeared several years ago.

The Austin Post ( media party this past week at a South Austin bar was somewhat of a throwback. No, it wasn’t formal. There was laughter, food, snacks, drink, a photographer, and, well, joy, at this party. Editor Karie Meltzer explained that Austin Post could do this for its unpaid writers because of the site’s low budget. Austin Post is a not-for-profit, citizen contribution “news” site.

There may have been fun and even joy at other media in town too, but it wasn’t the same as it was in the past.

“We have not had Christmas parties for several years,” says Fred Zipp of the Austin American Statesman. “We continue to offer year-end bonuses, though.” Bonuses could be an entirely viable source of joy. Money or party? You choose.

“Instead of having a Christmas party this year, we instead had a summer party,” Says Frank Volpicella, KVUE TV (ABC) news director. “We asked the staff if they would rather have a picnic with their children, or a Christmas party. They choose a picnic, so we had one in mid-September.”

In the 1980s and 1990s we used to have BOTH summer and holiday parties at KVUE and KXAN.

KVUE did have a “diversity lunch” in the newsroom this week. The TV station provided the main course, and the staff brought side dishes. Staff members were recognized for their years of service. Many received “swag”, stuff that builds up during the year—caps, T-shirts, and other things held back for distribution to the staff. This kind of thing is typical of all media.

KEYE-TV used to have formal parties too, says Suzanne Black, news director, but that changed with the times. “Even with the change, we have some pretty phenomenal employee gifts and door prizes for this year, as well as years past,” Black says. “We do still have our [station-wide, catered] holiday lunch – and I’m looking forward to it! The news managers are also holding a holiday lunch for the news staff. We’re cooking for them!”

Nowadays, however, most members of the media celebrate the holidays in their work places with no formal attire, no ice sculptures, and no bands. Then, they go back to work, banging out the news of the day. Some of the staff is stuck at the court house or elsewhere unable to make it, but that’s the way it is. If they have seniority or if they’re lucky, they may have the holiday off to celebrate with family and friends.

Me? I’m glad for the “glory days”. Our anniversary is coming up!

© Jim McNabb, 2010


d-rap said...

LOVE it! Happy wait, HAPPY Anniversary!


Anonymous said...

What "holiday" are your refering to? AKA "Holy Day"