The business media have made a Thanksgiving tradition of melodramatic coverage of Black Friday, so named for its purported ability to put retailers in the black for the year. Year after year, reporters, with their trytophan hangovers, stake out malls and Wal-Marts (WMT) - Get Report, portraying fights between shoppers waiting in line as evidence of strong demand and rarely relating heavy discounting to lack of future profits.
Over the years, coverage has expanded to Cyber Monday and last-minute Thursday, but these are all media creations. And this year is bound to be different.
But when it comes to the business media and Black Friday, old habits die hard.
Look at a banner headline that ran on the Drudge Report. You'd think this year was as giddy and good as any other:
Sticking, even in this obviously lean year, with this traditional story line about how Christmas shopping starts earlier and earlier, was CBS with this headline: "
Shoppers Get Thanksgiving Jump On 'Black Friday'
And this lead: "A post-Thanksgiving tradition is coming early this year.
"The streets in Herald Square were relatively quiet Thursday, and Friday promises to bring out the holiday shoppers and those early risers eager to get the best deals.
"But some didn't have to worry about setting their alarm clocks for Friday's early morning, because they were out Thursday night.
"Debra Ernestine of Crown Heights topped off her Thanksgiving night with a stop at the midtown K-Mart, one of the few stores open.
"She says as a new mom, with new financial responsibilities, she wanted an early start to get the deals before they're gone."
The anecdotes about sleep-deprived shoppers skipping out on Thanksgiving dessert to go out and shop are so ingrained that the statics don't need to bear it out. Reporters just need one or two hungry, shivering shoppers to interview.
, a Westchester County, N.Y., paper, cut right to the chase. It didn't even bother naming a specific shopper
in its lead
"They'll wipe the sleep out of their eyes and pull on layers of sweatshirts, sweaters and jackets.
"Then they'll head to a favorite store and stand in line before daybreak with dozens of other shopping warriors waiting for a manager to slip a key in the lock, turn his wrist and let them inside."
But maybe this year is different after all. The
article, like a lot of others today, takes an immediate turn. Some might call it a lurch. Apparently, Black Friday will draw the same sleepless crowds it does every year, but this year they won't be buying as much:
"Once these Black Friday shoppers hit the aisles, they'll look to buy what they need for loved ones while spending as little money as possible, retail experts say."
Then there's the
. At first glance, it seems to set itself apart as the one business media outlet looking at this Black Friday through a completely new lens. The mellow headline "
Black Friday losing some of its punch
" tops a story that assumes that the "black" in Black Friday stands not for profits but for funeral bunting, to be displayed in honor of retailers soon to fail.
"Black Friday -- which falls on the day after Thanksgiving and officially starts the holiday shopping period -- received its name because it historically was the day when a surge of shoppers helped stores break into profitability for the full year.
"But this year, with rampant promotions of up to 70 percent throughout the month amid a deteriorating economy, the power of this landmark day for the retail industry is fading.
"This year, Black Friday might also mark the beginning of the end for a growing number of struggling retailers who could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after the holidays if they don't make their sales and profit goals."
But at the same time, the
, with comparative promise and none of the deathly undertones, to Monday and what has come to be known as Cyber Monday, even though it is not clear, or even probable, that it is any permanently special day:
"As the online shopping season begins with 'Cyber Monday,' retailers ramp up promotions, deals."
Never say that news services don't, all by their lonesome, bounce between extremes.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven� column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
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