Friday, 26 September 2008

Myth busting or myth making?

A piece in today's on-line Retail Bulletin is about the current success stories of the growing discounter food retailers. It is written on the premise that the sector is sheathed in a veil of mystery and myth and that the growth of the sector is perceived by some as an aberration. The problem that I have with it is that it may create as many myths as it dispels and those readers without further information may well be misinformed.

There has certainly been a great deal of nonsense in the media concerning predictions within the retail industry and the likely impact of prevailing economic conditions upon the public's buying patterns. Even in the specialist industry press there have been continuous reports that appear to have contradicted similar reports in the same journal only a week before, with a similar change in opinion following on behind. We have heard, for instance, that the John Lewis numbers are up, then down, then up again - to be followed by the inevitable down. With each turn these reports are accompanied by predictions that all is well, then all is woe etc... it is true that the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) are ordinarily a good bellweather for middle England spending and thus of the state of the retail sector in general, but the danger of the media focussing on a single group is that if the majority of a retailer's core customer group is adversely affected by economic or other factors then that retailer may instantly cease to be an effective benchmark.

Where are the real analyses, it certainly was not that described in the Discounter Myth story in Retail Bulletin - it was written by the marketing manager of Netto Foodstores, and it just might be that he has a biased viewpoint. That's not to say that he should not be able to express his own opinion or that of his employer, because he should, but Retail Bulletin ought to balance this with an independent and informed correspondent to provide a wider view that is less influenced by the 'golden rule'. For the uninitiated, the 'golden rule' is 'He who pays the gold makes the rule'; which makes for chauvinistic rather than non-partisan outcomes, whatever the endeavour unless the paymasters are themselves neutral.

It is clear, we have the opinion of no less an authority than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that this country is moving into recession. It will not be alone - Ireland, Spain, Germany and others will be there too, if that is any comfort to anyone. With this being a fact then the media has a more pronounced responsibility to ensure that its reporting is accurate and that its opinion and prediction is based upon broad based research with good analysis. Short term, knee jerk reporting is potentially harmful, since it may feed a particular viewpoint and not actually address the underlying key issues that actually affect the economy. The danger is that these cock-eyed reports may serve to undermine any recovery when it begins to develop.

I do wish to point out that this blog is NOT a criticism of Retail Bulletin specifically, it just happens that the example that I have happened to choose was in their daily bulletin today. The
criticism is a general one of the specialist and general media and the manner in which 'sound-bite' reporting seems to have become the norm - there are, as ever, exceptions and I hope that these exceptional reporters will be emulated throughout the press.

No comments: