A Christmas tradition

December 22, 2011 1:23:33 PM PST
Ten years ago this week we had an idea about how to anchor our Christmas morning newscasts. It would be different this year, we said, because people were still shell-shocked from the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

And so why not acknowledge that and at the same time do something we had been doing more often anyway trying to get viewers' comments and video on the air.

This was before the web had taken off as an integral part of news organizations' operations.

But how do we get the viewers comments on Christmas morning into our newsroom? There was only one way, I said.

So I offered up my email address. We'd promote the write-in, put my email on the air, and hope people would send me their thoughts and hopes and fears and anxieties (this was right after 9/11 after all). I'd print the emails from the set and we'd divvy up the letters.

It would be me, Lee Goldberg and Lauren Glassberg holding down the fort on Christmas morning. I brought the bagels and cream cheese, and we crossed our fingers that someone would write in.

We had no reason to worry.

We got a couple of hundred that first year. And there was something magical to it giving people a chance to emote about the holidays and what it meant to them, especially in the wake of the terror attacks and the sense of fear and panic that had become part of the fiber of life in our area.

The messages that first year I remember as filled with emotion raw and honest and right on the surface.

For me it was more than just a chance to talk about our own feelings about Sept. 11 covering it and living through it, because people asked us in those first emails ? but also to talk about deep-seeded emotions about the holidays. My mom died in January, 1989 just 12 weeks after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. So every year since then, the period from October through early January has been filled with a kind of numbing dread. I was never a big holiday kinda guy anyway, but for the past 22 years, that feeling has been exacerbated by knowing that this period doesn't just mark the end of the year; it also has come to mean the end of my mom's life.

I'm usually a fairly generous guy, but my family and my friends know me as a Scrooge-like curmudgeon during the holidays. My mom's holiday-time death plays a big part in that.

Anyway, just like that, what started that Christmas morning, 2001, became a tradition. (I think I've done all but one of the Christmas morning newscasts since then.)

As it turned out, our little holiday experiment coincided perfectly with the beginning of the Internet's growing emphasis on interaction. And the next month, with the Christmas morning emails very much top of mind, I started my daily blog called "Behind The News."

I'm using the 10th anniversary of our little tradition as a way to look back and recount its beginnings. But also as way to ask that, if you want to, send in your thoughts for this Sunday's Christmas morning show.

We've expanded how you can reach me this time around. You can, still, send your messagesHERE or to my email, Bill.S.Ritter@ABC.Com or write it directly on our Facebook page. (That's a big change in the past 10 years.)

Now to the 11 p.m. newscast tonight.

It looks like there's been a deal or just a wearing down in Washington on the payroll tax cut. A compromise meaning a 2-month extension,means that the average American worker will not have their paychecks cut by $40 a week. Republicans in the House faced with a Senate that had already passed the bill and then went home for the holidays ? had some less-than-attractive choices, with the worst-case having a tax hike for Americans who can ill-afford it right after the holidays.

We'll have the latest, and reaction, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, Sandra Bookman takes a look at some end-of-year tax saving tips that could help reduce your tax bill come April 15. Worth watching!

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.


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