The Media’s Mixed Messages on the Mall

David Carr is right to expose the media’s hypocrisy in its hand-wringing over the Black Friday mania that ended up with a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death on Long Island. The media coverage, including an above-the-fold NYT story on Saturday, has been overdone, and Carr’s column is part of that, but he raises some points worth pondering about the press assisting its funders in spreading crazed consumerism.

Media and retail outfits are economic peas in a pod. Part of the reason that the Thanksgiving newspaper and local morning television show are stuffed with soft features about shopping frenzies is that they are stuffed in return with ads from retailers. Yes, Black Friday is a big day for retailers — stores did as much as 13 percent of their holiday business this last weekend — but it is also a huge day for newspapers and television.

In partnership with retail advertising clients, the news media have worked steadily and systematically to turn Black Friday into a broad cultural event. A decade ago, it was barely in the top 10 shopping days of the year. But once retailers hit on the formula of offering one or two very-low-priced items as loss leaders, media groups began to cover the post-Thanksgiving outing as a kind of consumer sporting event.

Carr runs down a list of newspapers that overheated in their “Black Friday” hype, including this from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Strollers and crowds just don’t mix, though we know a few shoppers willing to use four wheels and a child as a weapon. Younger children may also be seduced by the shopping mania and pitch a tantrum that slows your progress. That said, teens and young adults can be an asset to a divide-and-conquer shopping strategy. And you’ll have someone to help carry the bags.”

And he quotes Adbusters (Adbusters!) railing against the consumer culture. That’s a sign that the apocalypse may really be impending.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.