, Gloucester, MA


November 23, 2012

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Determining retail news coverage

Amid all the events and news stories that come up annually – from city and town budget issues, to first days of school and, yes, Gloucester St. Peter’s Fiesta — none can raise more coverage questions than Black Friday.

It may be, of course, the most manufactured “event” of the year, purely commercial in every way, and from both a good and bad standpoint; it casts an important and generally positive spotlight on local businesses, yet many people still decry the Black Friday rush as the most blatant sign of the commercialism of the holiday season.

It also poses some interesting dilemmas for newspapers and other media outlets. I know I will never forget my own most memorable experience one year with Black Friday coverage. It was the time I was working as a city editor at another newspaper, had a staff reporter leave the office to cover Black Friday shopping — and literally never come back.

The night we were expecting his story, we simply ran with photos of shoppers racing to and from a major local shopping mall. But even after another editor went to our reporter’s house and confirmed he was OK, we still never heard from him, save for a mileage voucher that came in the mail three days later with a brief note saying he had simply decided that day-to-day journalism wasn’t for him. I would learn later that he had talked to so many people and compiled so many notes that he didn’t know where to start his story — so he never did.

An even more challenging scenario, however, came up a few years later, when a local businessman thanked me, as editor, for featuring his shop on our front page as part of our Black Friday coverage — and said he had bought a series of large-scale ads just before the shopping season, hoping it would ensure he’d get good coverage. I told him that was great – but the ads had nothing to do with the front-page news coverage. Our reporter and photographer were drawn to his store by the colorful costumed characters that were out front greeting customers.

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