January 06, 2003

Holiday Chestnut Roasted

Washington Post columnist Paul Farhi, who toiled in the trenches for 11 years as a Post business reporter, reveals the meaning of the annual holiday shopping story: "almost nothing."

The reason "this time-honored media cliché" is meaningless as an economic indicator, argues Farhi, is that retail sales don't necessarily reflect GDP levels and consumer spending is relatively stable even during recessions.

Worse, says Farhi, "holiday shopping stories don't even accurately measure holiday shopping … because they are based on the most scant and superficial evidence, and they rely on experts who can't possibly see the big picture they're purporting to describe."

Scant? Superficial? Experts who are not expert? Sounds like a recipe for a typical daily news budget.

Why then, asks Farhi, do these stories appear year after year? He answers: "The media are creatures of habit, reflexively recycling the same seasonal chestnuts."

These chestnuts should be roasted.

For more, see Jeff Jarvis' list of cliché holiday stories.

Posted by Tim Porter at January 6, 2003 09:30 AM