Thursday, January 26, 2012

Penney want a cracker?

You may have heard that J.C. Penney is permanently cutting its prices

Well, no, it isn’t. I didn’t go to business school, but I think it’s safe to say that selling your fine Stafford Signature no-iron shirts at 2012 prices is a piss-poor strategy for 2015 and 2020 and 2050. I doubt that’s what the current executives have in mind, and even if they did, I really doubt the current executives are immortal. Not that the company will necessarily outlast them, especially if I’m somehow wrong about all this. (Note to self: Invent time machine and stock up on 20-cent shirts, just in case.)

But I’m not wrong. And so, Journalism 101: Do not report that anybody is going to do anything. You’re not a seer. You can report that the company says it’s going to do so-and-so, and even then you have to first ask yourself whether the CEO or the spokesman really meant what was said. 

In this case, the wording is clearly a mistake. The company meant “permanent” in the sense of regular prices as opposed to sale prices. It’s lowering regular prices and cutting back on sales in a strategy that may or may not work. If the strategy doesn’t work, the company has every right to change course -- and if it does, a bunch of news outlets will be revealed as big, fat liars. Even if it does work, the company has every right to raise its lowered prices a bit every once in a while to keep up with inflation. And a bunch of news outlets will be revealed as big, fat liars. 

Don’t be a parrot. When a cop tells you the suspect produced a weapon, you’re allowed to say the robber pulled out a gun. When Reuters tells you about lorries and trainers and high-calorie biscuits, you’re allowed to say trucks and sneakers and energy bars. I don’t care what J.C. Penney’s news release says; your job is to use your own words to tell the story. Journalists should not be stenographers. If your editor tells you to “type in this here press release,” you should start looking for another job, one at a real news organization. 

1 comment:

Jim said...

...and if the news release says "JCPenney" (or, as their current logo would have it, "jcpenney"), you're free to write "J.C. Penney."