Reporters have much to be thankful for. Some of us still have jobs, which is nice. Many of us can someday hope for larger obituaries than we'd otherwise deserve. And when the holidays come around, there's one thing we can all be grateful for: people who camp outside of stores overnight in advance of Black Friday sales.
If it weren't for Jesse Bredholt and Ryan Seech, after all, how would the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have filled that front-page space in its Nov. 19 edition? With news on Congolese rebels taking over the country? Please. How would KDKA have used up that 1 minute and 17 seconds of airtime, if not with a Nov. 18 story that anchor Paul Martino introduced thusly: "Some people [are] already lined up for those hot holiday items ..." followed with a wry shake of the head.
Seech and Bredholt, it seems, began camping out in front of the Best Buy a week in advance, hoping to be the first through the doors when the post-Thanksgiving holiday frenzy began. And yet as Bredholt told KDKA's Sarah Arbogast, "We're not even really sure what we're camping out for."
"[N]either Mr. Bredholt [nor camping buddy Seech] could care less about what's on sale," echoed the P-G. "We're just in line for the enjoyment," Bredholt told the paper.
So to sum up: Two of our leading news outlets (and the daily paper of McKeesport) made celebrities of some guys who, for no apparent reason, camped outside a store for several days — a store that was, in fact, open during much of that time.
Nor is this an isolated case. These stories appear all across the country, every year ... and on every newscast, the Black Friday footage from strip-mall Pamplonas, as bargain-maddened throngs rush the opened doors. It's no secret why: "Black Friday" shopping stories make for light holiday fare, and it never hurts to send valentines to current or potential advertisers. Plus, there's always the possibility of carnage at the electronics counter.
But not every sidewalk vigil receives the same attention. On Friday afternoon, more than 100 demonstrators showed up outside the Walmart at the Waterworks mall, denouncing the company's low wages and anti-union activity with reworked Christmas carols ("Deck the aisles with living wages / Fa la la la la, la la la la"). This time, the media response was:
Actually, that's not entirely fair. The P-G noted the protest in one sentence — "Protesters did show up outside the Walmart store at the Waterworks Mall along Freeport Road on Friday afternoon" — at the very end of an 1,870-word story that was otherwise filled with tales from doughty shoppers who saved money on new TV sets. KDKA did a preview focusing on concerns that Walmart was opening Thanksgiving eve. And the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also wrote a preview of the protest. Being the Trib, however, its Nov. 21 piece found room to note the salary of a union president supporting the Walmart campaign ($133,515 in wages and benefits) ... without mentioning the salary of, say, Wal-Mart's CEO ($18.1 million in salary and incentives). But at least the Trib put in an appearance. You can't say that of some other outlets in town.
Which is too bad, because at least protesters like Elise Power know why they're standing outside. "It's important for middle-class people, especially union people, to stick together," said Power, a schoolteacher from Shadyside. As City Paper first reported last week, members of the Walton family, which owns Walmart, contribute huge sums to politicians who support school-voucher programs. And as Power said, "I'm very concerned that public schools are being taken out of the hands of the public." If you're a teacher, you may spend less money by shopping at Walmart ... but in the long run, that may leave you with less money to spend.
But most of us don't think about our purchases in that way. It's all about the bargains. For just one holiday season, I wish you couldn't say the same of the resulting media coverage.
While I'm at it, I'd also like a pony. In case anyone out there would like to get in line early to buy me one.