I got email from a local retailer who wasn’t pointing out an error, but rather something that seemed like an omission to him.
In Sunday’s House + Home section, an item at the top of Page C2 concerned commercial-grade cookware, suitable for use on high-output cooktops. It gave URLs for three websites where such equipment can be purchased.
My emailer pointed out that he sells the same items in his Kansas City, Kan., store. “We supply local restaurants, churches, schools, clubs and municipalities with cooking supplies and equipment,” he wrote. “We would like for your customers and our community to know that they can ‘buy local’ just like the restaurants do!”
There isn’t anything incorrect in what was published in the paper, but of course I understand fully why the merchant would like to see his store mentioned. And of course, his is only one of many selling similar items around town.
Writing about products or services for sale is always something of a journalistic landmine. Sellers often pitch stories about their wares hoping for coverage, but The Star’s newsroom does not accept money to write about products. So that means it’s up to editors’ discretion when they pick and choose what to write about.
Pointing readers to merchants is the same — and it carries the added concern of giving the impression of favoritism. There are certain brands that readers sometimes tell me they think The Star mentions too often.
One merchant once told me off the record that he resented how one of his competitors seemed to be able to catch the attention of various media sources with their clever press releases, while his similar product (with a much more modest marketing approach) didn’t get those eyeballs.
As with anything, those who communicate their messages best to journalists and the public alike do tend to get attention. But journalists should always weigh coverage of products with the extremely subjective ideas of balance and perspective in mind.