It’s a tradition few outside a newsroom will have ever heard of: The battle to get the Christmas Eve front page. Unlike any other day when sales can be expected to be lower (lets face it, it’s pretty much a ninth bank holiday now), in every newsroom I’ve worked in, getting the Christmas Eve front page is a badge of honour. Of sorts.
In several newsrooms I’ve worked in, the Christmas Eve front page came with a prize. In others, it was seen as the pinnacle of the Christmas specials – and I know of several reporters who’ve come out of the Christmas slog with press trips to far flung destinations to look forward to in the new year.
So, what makes for a Christmas Eve front page? (Warning: what follows is unscientific).
Using a (sort of ) representative sample of 57-ish (told you it was unscientific) front pages from December 24th, I’ve compiled the following (mince) pie chart:
Or, in table form, it looks like this:
The most common feature of the Christmas front page was a story of a brave child or teenager overcoming the odds. Such a story appeared on 20% of the front pages, including the Belfast Telegraph, Birmingham Mail, Daily Echo and the East Anglian Daily Times.
Coming second on the list were stories which involved someone heading home for Christmas – in many cases, these were also stories about brave children or teenagers, although not exclusively. The Citizen in Gloucestershire had the story of a soldier heading home for Christmas to see his brave baby for the first time, while the Scarborough Evening News had the story of a woman heading home for Christmas after spending most of the last year in hospital.
Several newspapers even used the most obvious headline of all: Home for Christmas – including the Dorset Echo, Glasgow Evening Times, Hull Daily Mail and the Bristol Evening Post … but if it works, why not?
A number of newspapers used Christmas Eve to celebrate the completion of campaigns. The Lancashire Telegraph in Blackburn celebrated raising the money needed for a local hospice to carry out repair work, while the Leicester Mercury put its toy campaign on the front page and the Peterborough Evening Telegraph celebrated a ‘record year’ for its food donation drive for pensioners in the city. The Coventry Evening Telegraph had a similar success to shout about.
The Hartlepool Mail had a campaign of sorts when it revealed who it was handing festive cash gifts to as part of a promotion, while the Blackpool Evening Gazette was also celebrating campaign success.
If celebrating a campaign of your own didn’t work, then there were always tales of readers rallying round to save Christmas to fall back on. The Edinburgh Evening News led the charge here, claiming to have played a part, with readers, in saving Christmas. The Northampton Chronicle took a more understated approach when celebrating how £50,000 had been raised to pay for a life-saving operation in America for a little girl.
Christmas heartbreak featured on several front pages, including the Wigan Evening Post, which demonstrated the value of a follow-up by interviewing the widow of the of submarine officer who was shot dead by a colleague on a sub earlier this year. The Brighton Argus had a similarly sad story to remind readers that not everyone was due a happy Christmas, while the South Wales Evening Post combined shopping and a festive flood to tick several festive boxes.
One of my favourite front pages was this one from the Sheffield Star which used its front page to celebrate 12 stars from the community who had done great things for the Steel City over the last 12 months.
Some of the more unusual examples of weaving Christmas into the news agenda included the Bradford Telegraph and Argus reporting ‘Christmas in prison for the cat-killing councillor’ while David Cameron got a Father Christmas makeover in East Anglia as a wish list of demands for 2012 was produced by the Eastern Daily Press.
For some titles, it was business as usual, not least at the Paisley Daily Express which had a murder appeal splashed across the front page, while on the south coast, the Western Morning News was reporting on how weekly bin collections were still unlikely to reappear. It did have a rather nice picture of a Christmas tree though.
However, in most cases, even the strongest of splash stories on any other day would have struggled to remove the Christmas special – as demonstrated on several front pages which saw strong news stories playing supporting roles to tales of – generally – festive cheer.
So, from this self-indulgent look at festive front pages, can we determined how you can increase your chances of the Christmas front page? Judge for yourself – as you know, data never lies … honest!
Full gallery of front pages below: Which do you like the best?