Monday, May 11, 2009

How to Write A Wal-Mart Story

As I read a lot about Wal-Mart in researching a novel I'm writing, I've begun to notice that those in the national media who write about the retail behemoth seem to adhere to a standard template and rhetorical pattern in writing their stories. A recent story on Wal-Mart in Newsweek, "Watching Us Save, One Cart At A Time," fits this pattern perfectly.

First, attend the store's morning meeting:
It's 9:20 a.m. inside a Wal-Martsupercenter just north of Denver, and
three-dozen employees are gathered in the back of the electronics department.
Their boss, Karisa Sprague, steps to the center of the huddle. "GOOD MORNING,
KARISA," they thunder, then stamp their feet twice, clap their hands twice and
shout: "TEAMWORK, HUH!" Sprague congratulates an employee named Crystal on her 10th anniversary with the company, and offers a quick pep talk. Then the
employees stretch: touching toes, bending elbows, rotating wrists.
Next, call it weird, odd, cultish, spastic or some other fill-in adjective. Newsweek chooses "odd."

Quote company mottoes (such as "Save Money," and "Live Better," then paint them with Christian overtones. "That mission," Newsweek says, "starts in the grocery aisle . . ."

Overanalyze or prompt a source to overanalyze a quirky Wal-Mart shoppers' habit:
Sprague admits she's puzzled by some of the store's hot recession sellers, like
$5 white toilet seats. "It seems bizarre," she says, "but I can't keep them in
stock." Her best guess: unemployment and cocooning are leading people to put
more wear on their home bathrooms, and they're choosing her $5 seats over
pricier ones at Home Depot.
Point out that Wal-Mart's incredible revenue is always overshadowed by something, thin this case the "fear" that Wal-Mart is ranked 56th out of 59 grocery chains by Consumer Reports, "due to poor service and lackluster perishables," and point out that Wal-Mart is always traying to improve their stores but make note that "cleanliess" is always an issue.

Nowadays, they don't have to point out that Wal-Mart gets a lot of its merchandise from China, because commenters will do that for them in droves, while at the same time glossing over the fact that Target, and even some of your Mom and Pop stores (which are always mentioned as a bastion of American commerce by the commenters) also get some of their stuff from China.

Do I think these reporters aren't telling the truth about Wal-Mart's performance, dirty stores and the like? No. I'm sure they report things accurately. I'd just like to see a reporter or two pop out of the same Wal-Mart story template once and a while and do something original with their rhetoric.

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