Journalism / Public relations

Familiar ‘news’: National Retail Federation predicts holiday shopping increase — and release is used

It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . . for a media commentator to question the value of some reflexive holiday-theme coverage we see – or look away from — every year.

That four-letter word is highlighted above because I’m no Scrooge when it comes to certain chestnuts sure to be on front pages and newscasts in coming weeks:

  • Community service features about people in need, generous volunteers and other benefactors
  • Poignant heart-warmers about reunited families, military gift drives and folks with special blessings to count.

All good.

Not so good are a barumpa-bum-bum drumbeat of clichés already resurfacing in heads and lead paragraphs, or cheerleading for malls, merchants and the Gift-Buying Industrial Complex.

I get the business imperative that makes publishers and station managers love advertisers, each and every one – a fact of media life even in jollier times. But although inevitable, it’s still painful to see the lovefest trump editorial objectivity as boosterism creeps into business sections and other news pages.

This week, for instance, some papers and news sites lap up a handout from the National Retail Federation – which says its mission is “to advance the interests of the retail industry.” More than a few media outlets present its annual survey of consumer shopping plans without additional sources, such as independent economists or retail analysts.

The trade group’s release has a head suitable for any city, any region, any year: Consumers Eager to Get a Jump on Holiday Shopping.

It projects a 4-percent rise in U.S. holiday sales over 2011, reports that “45 percent of people say they will buy toys” and adds that “22.5 percent of shoppers will go the extra mile and surprise someone special with jewelry.” 

At a time of smaller news staffs, releases like that may seem like . . . well, a gift.

Examples of upbeat coverage are at right. Some reports include this handout quote:

“In order to win over savvy shoppers this year, retailers are well aware that their deals have to stand out, and it looks like there’s plenty of people eager to get their hands on the exclusive promotions we are already seeing,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “With more promotions to come, gift givers will have ample opportunities this holiday season to seek out the perfect gift – either for themselves or for others.”

Shopping forecasts are legitimate, and as enduring as fruitcakes. But even in lean newsrooms, they should quote more than one source seeking to “advance the interests of the retail industry.”

Relying solely on the National Retail Federation for a holiday sales prediction is like asking only the National Association of Theatre Owners if seeing films will be popular this season.

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