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Journalists, Heal Thyselves

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On December 26, 2006 @ 11:15 am In Data Analysis,Financial Press,Retail | Comments Disabled

As sub par as Retail sales were this holiday season, the Media coverage was even more disappointing. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, but here it is: The reportage by major media of the holiday season ranged from "not bad" to "pretty awful."

There were all too many column inches that merely repeated Industry press releases; At the same time, there was a surprising dearth of skepticism. Otherwise respectable media morphed into mere dictation
machines. Retail reporting took on the air of relentless cheerleading,
as shopping became a competitive sport.

One would imagine that breathless accounts of 19% year-over-year
gains (wrong again), combined with a god-awful track record of hype and inaccurate
forecasts from the same specific industry sources would raise a few eyebrows amongst the more senior editors. That apparently happened rather infrequently.

Some of the more egregious errors we witnessed were:

Surveys of consumers (NRF) expected shopping budgets were reported as actual retail sales;

Foot traffic (Shopper-trac) was extrapolated to actual sales reciepts; This was reported (for the most part) w/o qualifying the estimated nature of this calculation;

Credit card gains were reported as total sales gains;

The distinction between Mall Stores, Discounters, and Specialty stores numbers were often left ambiguous. Relative size of these different retail outlets was typically omitted;

Given the obvious agendas that various industry trade groups have in promoting a "feel good shopping environment," one would have hoped that there would be more fact checking and verification, and less stenography. Apparently, fact checking is a decreasingly important priority.


As I was scratching my head over some of the more horrifying errors these past weeks, I also came across a related pedantic screed in,of allplaces, the WSJ’s OpEd section: The Blog Mob [1], written by fools to be read by imbeciles.

Well, let this fool speak to that one particular imbecile:  The writer of this polemic decries the self important blog, the boring predictability, the lack of original reporting. Yet nowhere in his creed does he discuss what blogs actually have evolved to be: An alternative to the decreasing standards, reduced budgets, and corporatization of once separate News divisions of mainstream media.

I guess its the merest of coincidences that blogs have risen, gained traffic, and a small measure of respect concurrent with the decline of media standards and sales. Gee, funny how those things happen.

Anyway, Mr. Clueless bravely opines:

"Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting
the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage.
Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks,
picking at the scraps."

This is the one thing he got right in his entire polemic. There has been a notable dearth of journalists, and their failures have impacted the nation as a whole.

A large part of the Fourth Estate went AWOL after 9/11, becoming timid and weak-kneed. They failed to challenge the status quo, repeated obvious mistruths and falsehoods — okay, outright lies — and generally did not live up to their duty as a watchdog of democracy. (And back in March 2003, I supported the War [2]).

It took the transparent disaster of Katrina to force the media to confront an excessively secretive government with a terrible habit of lying constantly to its citizenry. And not to paint with to broad a brush, 2006 saw a record number of Journalists killed [3] trying to do their jobs.

The irony here is self apparent: Medicore and timid reportage is occurring just as the media is suffering through further declines in readership, viewership, and ad pages. Newsroom budgets
are being pinched even further. We already know that fact-checking
costs money; I wonder how expensive NOT fact checking is in the long

Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog

URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2006/12/journalists-heal-thyselves/

URLs in this post:

[1] The Blog Mob: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110009409

[2] I supported the War: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2003/03/notsohidden_age.html

[3] record number of Journalists killed: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2006/killed_06/killed_06.html

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