News & Politics

How DC-Area Newsrooms Plan to Celebrate the Holidays During the Pandemic

Parties are mostly virtual this year, though some are giving staffers gifts instead

Photograph by Adrian Vidal/iStock.

Attending, or, okay, crashing other publications’ holiday parties is a cherished tradition among Washington, DC, journalists. Among other benefits, they present an annual opportunity to, say, spend the next 12 months worrying about how you introduced yourself to Robert Allbritton after you downed several event-specific cocktails and not quite enough hors d’oeuvres. The lack of those big shindigs is admittedly among the less-catastrophic privations of this year but we decided to go ahead and ask dozens of DC-area newsrooms how they plan to ring in the festive season safely.

This story will be updated. Please check your inbox for my email or just send me your plans: abeaujon@washingtonian.com.

Axios

No holiday party this year, says spokesperson Sam Gentile, but Axios has given every employee end-of-year bonuses and “is launching a company swag store where Axions get credits to buy what they want.” Axions! Also: “instead of sending client gifts, we are redirecting those funds and making charitable donations to Feeding America.”

BuzzFeed News

No party plans yet, but there will be a $500 holiday bonus for “full-time and fixed term” employees and all staffers will get $100 code to “shop a small business of their choice from this list of 15 different small businesses,” says spokesperson Matt Mittenthal.

CNN

No party plans, but CNN has been sending employees care packages throughout the pandemic, spokesperson Matt Dornic says. Watch your mail, CNNers: “There is also a holiday shipment planned.”

Current

The public-broadcasting publication doesn’t have a date for its virtual party yet, says one staffer, but Executive Director Julie Drizin “is encouraging us to wear ‘your ugliest holiday clothing or jewelry.'” Activities will include saying what you’re grateful for and “we’ll play two truths and a lie (no judgment – make it surprising!)”

The Daily Beast

All virtual this year, says EIC Noah Shachtman, with a gag-gift exchange and “holiday-themed trivia battles.”

Fox News

Individual departments and teams will hold virtual parties via Zoom this year, Fox says.

A “local industry publication”

“We’re still doing Secret Santa this year, which poses a logistical challenge in figuring out how to send something through the mail while retaining anonymity. And if you draw someone who was hired this year, you’re getting a gift for someone who basically only exists to you as a Slack bubble.”

NBCWashington/Telemundo 44/NBCSports Washington

The party will be virtual this year, Assistant News Director Matt Glassman says. One of the station’s traditions is a poem written by GM Jackie Bradford, “and she promises this year’s to be EPIC.”

The New York Times

The DC bureau will host a virtual gathering this year, says spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha, and “The Times as a whole is celebrating the holidays with a range of virtual self-directed activities; including contests, giveaways, discounts, and charitable giving.”

NPR

The public-broadcasting network will hold a marathon virtual holiday party on Friday, December 11, from 4:30-9 PM, spokesperson Isabel Lara says. If staffers can’t join in—really? you can’t make a four-and-a-half-hour-long event at some point?—the network will record all sessions. Here’s the sked:
4:30pm ET – Holiday Baking for Kids (and Adults!)
Join Chef Janis as she teaches you how to make and decorate pumpkin cheesecake bites and “haystacks!”
5:30pm ET – Holiday Trivia with Stephen Thompson
Put your holiday knowledge to the test and create a trivia team with your family, roommates, colleagues, or self! Hosted by NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson.
6:30pm ET – Magic Show with Magician Dave
Tune in for a special live performance from magician Dave Thomen, an NPR holiday party tradition.
7:15pm ET – Storytime with Susan Stamberg
NPR’s very own Susan Stamberg will read a classic holiday story to Nippers young and old.
7:45pm ET – Holiday Message from John Lansing
A special video message from our CEO.
8:00pm ET – Dance Party with Bobby Carter
It wouldn’t be an NPR holiday party without a dance party set from DJ Bobby Carter to close us out!

PBS NewsHour

Last year, NewsHour staffers got a bookbag, and in years past they’ve received branded fleeces and jackets, says spokesperson Nick Massella. This year, they’re getting NewsHour branded sweatshirts “in addition to a holiday gift card and summer care package WETA sent to all local station staff this year.” And: “a soon-to-be-announced second installment of virtual trivia!”

Politico

The Arlington-based political-reporting powerhouse will forgo a party and provide employees with a $100 Uber Eats credit instead. It will also make a “meaningful donation” to the Capital Area Food Bank.

Slate

Slate pitch: Actually, Zoom parties can be good! This year’s virtual party will take place on Friday, December 18 at 4:30 PM, says spokesperson Katie Rayford. The party will be limited to one hour “as we know it’s easy to overstay your Zoom welcome,” Rayford says. To the bullet points!

• “And while there may be significantly less karaoke than previous years, that’s not to say there will be no singing…”
• “We know it’s hard to recreate an event where one of the main activities is mingling in person (crosstalk, the true Zoom nightmare!) so instead, we’re going to produce an event in different “segments” if you will (podcasting, it’s in our nature…). We decided to split the company into teams based on divisions (Edit, Business, Tech, Operations) and gave each an activity to own, collaborate on and bring back to the group. The activities are broad–talent show, games, toast and surprise guest–so the teams can put their own spin on it.”
• “We thought this combined all the things that make us, us (we’re a collaborative and creative bunch) while still solving for the virtual aspect of a big holiday party. And though many of us work with people across the company, it’s also an opportunity to both do something different with colleagues you may not see every day now that we’re all working from home and let loose at the end of a hard and crazy year.”

Smithsonian

Whatever happens, says Executive Editor Debra Rosenberg, it will be ” low-key and virtual.”

The Wall Street Journal

The Journal’s DC bureau will hold a virtual party on Friday, December 11, for staff and families, says spokesperson Steve Severinghaus.

Washington Free Beacon

This year, employees will receive a Free Beacon-branded bathrobe as a token of their employer’s gratitude.

The Washington Post

“We will host our annual year-end celebration—the Eugene Meyer Awards—virtually this year,” spokesperson Molly Gannon says. “The awards recognize employees with at least 10 years of service who exemplify the seven principles for which Eugene Meyer stood. The event also includes the Ben Bradlee Award, which was established in 2014 in recognition of the values that embodied the Post editor’s life and career, in particular to honor the relentless pursuit of truth by an individual or team of Post journalists.”

Washingtonian

The regional lifestyle publication will hold an hour-long virtual holiday party on Wednesday, December 16 at 5 PM. Festivities will include “poll quizzes about what we all miss the most of being in the office, a celebration of staff anniversaries, a trivia game with prizes, announcement of staff awards and finally break out rooms where we’ll all chat and hang out until we want to drop off,” says Senior Events Director Sherene Joseph.

WTOP

A holiday bonanza awaits staffers at the glass-enclosed nerve center. Gatherings and shared food and drink at Holiday Week, a beloved WTOP tradition, can’t happen, says Director of News and Programming Julia Ziegler, so “Our HR director has come up with a fun week of alternative activities that people can do at home or in the office.” These include:
Monday, December 14
“Spotify holiday playlist. Compiled list of holiday music created by staff.”
Tuesday, December 15
“Scavenger Hunt – The hunt can be done wherever employees are and the winner gets a prize.
Guessing Game – emailed to staff. Prizes awarded.”
• Wednesday, December 16

  • “Hot Cocoa in the News Bites Café (for those in the office).
  • Holiday Movie trivia game – created with the help of our Entertainment Reporter Jason Fraley. A prize awaits the first person to answer all questions correctly.
  • Guess Joel’s weight (Joel is our general manager). This has become a running joke with the staff and Joel is a great sport about it. Every year, we ask him to get on the scale and the staff member who guesses closest to his actual weight gets a prize. Despite the pandemic, he’s not getting out of this one. :)”

• Thursday, December 17
“Guessing game emailed to staff. You win a prize if you guess correctly.”
• Friday, December 18
“Virtual ornament making classes.”

WTOP also typically provides a full catered buffet on Christmas Day for people who work in the office. This year, the station will serve individually packaged hot meals instead, Ziegler says.

WTTG Fox 5 DC

SVP Patrick Paolini won’t get to play Santa this year, but every employee is getting an Uber Eats gift card, because the station “has ben dedicated to struggling local restaurants,” says spokesperson Victoria Gurrieri.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.