Yesterday I analyzed an article by Ron Lieber in the Saturday “Business Day” section of the New York Times. I want to take a broader look at the entire section today, because it exemplifies what has been the norm in business feature reporting for decades.
The business section of virtually all American newspapers and news magazines has always sprinkled consumer finance features into true business news like recalls, market movements, mergers and economic reports. These consumer finance features seem to always focus on solving a problem or addressing a trend. But in fact at the heart of all of them is the selling of a product or service.
Let’s take a look at the consumer finance features in Saturday’s New York Times:
- We’ve already spoken of the Lieber article, which isn’t selling you on any product, except the subtle hint that your journey to love begins by buying an on-line ad. The Lieber article instead, sells you on the concept that buying things is the essence of any relationship.
- “The Bean, the Pod and the Battle” sells us on buying the environmental disaster that is the home pod system for brewing espresso.
- “A Buying Guide for the Cheap” sells us on using an on-line shopping service.
- “Sizing up FreshDirect” sells us on buying food through an on-line supermarket.
- “As Private Tutoring Booms, Parents Look at the Returns” sells us on the need to get a private tutor if we want our kids to do well on the SATs and get into a good school.
- “Birth Control Doesn’t Have to Mean the Pill” sells us on intrauterine devices (I.U.D.) for birth control.
In all these articles, the writers advocate the ideology of consumerism in subtext and asides, typically with unproven assertions such as “a product that has become a must-have among the chic urbanites,” “Some physician practices are not very familiar with longer-lasting, more expensive methods…” and “since money is still no object when it comes to their children.” The implication always is that money will buy what you want and what you want can only be bought.
The New York Times is far from alone in filling its pages with features that do little more than sell products and services. Selling goods and services is the primary function of most news media and serves as the core topic for most feature stories in business, lifestyle, entertainment, health and other non-hard news sections of newspapers, broadcast news, consumer and business magazines, e-zines and news websites.