Head to Head: Post, Times Produce Opposite Headlines from Same Retail Report

“Retailers See Strong Sales For Holidays” – New York Times, September 19

“Holiday Sales Growth Expected to Decline” – Washington Post, September 19

     It’s barely time to think about buying Halloween candy, but for The Washington Post’s Ylan Q. Mui, ’tis the season to be pessimistic about holiday shopping. Yet taking a look at the same 2006 holiday shopping projections by the National Retail Federation, The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro gave readers a much more positive take in his story.

     “The holidays may not be so bad after all,” began Barbaro in September 19 story, “Retailers See Strong Sales For Holidays.” Adding that while “no one is predicting a blockbuster Christmas,” the National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting “a sales increase of 5 percent” over 2005, a growth rate outpacing 2000-2002 but lower than 2005.

     “It is a respectable, even strong figure,” Barbaro noted before quoting NAR’s president Tracy Mullin saying “The worst is over” when it comes to sluggish retail sales earlier in the year.

     But looking at the same report, The Washington Post’s Mui took a much more negative tone in her September 19 story, “Holiday Sales Growth Expected to Decline.”

     Mui characterized the NRF estimate as “an early forecast that set a tepid tone for the most important shopping season of the year.”

    Later, even Mui conceded that the 5-percent projection outpaces the 10-year average of 4.6 percent, before turning back to critics of NRF’s projections.

     In January, the Business & Media Institute tracked Barbaro and Ylan’s coverage of the 2005 holiday shopping season. Oddly enough, Barbaro was more downbeat while Mui gave indications of a strong shopping season.

     In his January 6 article, “Retailers Find Little to Cheer,” New York Times reporter Barbaro called an overall 3.2-percent sales increase in December 2005 for retailers a “decent, if unspectacular” performance, while the same day, Mui chronicled other data reported by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

     “Other industry groups reported better numbers. Market-research firm ShopperTrak said total retail sales grew 4.4 percent in December, compared with the same month in 2004 … Meanwhile, Visa USA said charges on its credit and debit cards rose 17.5 percent this holiday season over the same period in 2004,” Mui noted in the January 6 article, “Strong Finish in December Lifts Holiday Retail Sales.”