Consumer journalism
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Consumer journalism . What it seeks to do How it seeks to do it Presentation to Jeanz Conference, Dec 2005 Grant Hannis Dept of Communication and Journalism, 2005 Massey University. Introduction. Declaration of interest What consumer journalism is Techniques used in Consumer magazine

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Consumer journalism l.jpg

Consumer journalism

What it seeks to do

How it seeks to do it

Presentation to Jeanz Conference, Dec 2005

Grant Hannis

Dept of Communication and Journalism, 2005

Massey University


Introduction l.jpg
Introduction

  • Declaration of interest

  • What consumer journalism is

  • Techniques used in Consumer magazine

  • Conclusions


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What consumer journalism is

  • Consumer journalism is any text made available to the general public on contemporary matters affecting consumers.

  • Consumer journalism in modern society is popular and highly influential in highlighting consumer issues. Consumer reporters, Fair Go, Target, 6pm TV News, Consumer.


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What consumer journalism is

  • Consumer journalism as a specialist form of writing is, in essence, a recent innovation.

  • Consumer Reports; Which?; Choice; and Consumers' Institute in New Zealand, publisher of Consumer.

  • Consumer magazine has about 70,000 subscribers and 20,000 subscribers to Consumer Online. Published for nearly 50 years.


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Good journalism is entertaining, informing and influential. But in the busy modern world, magazines must constantly fight their potential readers’ inclination simply not to bother reading them.

  • The popularity and influence of Consumer indicates that the magazine is utilising a host of successful journalistic techniques to convince people to read its articles and act on its advice. What are those techniques?


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • The material in the magazine is inherently dry, factual and perhaps even dull. Easy to assume that’s all the magazine can be. The writing and the visuals must change that.

  • Solid advice for people to help them live their lives: major purchases, health, finances, children, etc. all told from disinterested expert position. Verification.

  • Consumer is magazine for affluent middle-class. Entertaining, but authoritative. Technical analysis.


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Consumer is only available by subscription (avoids browsers), yet the magazine uses many conventions of off-the-shelf magazines:

  • Masthead

  • Cover story

  • Info on other stories (value-packed)

  • Editorial

  • Letters to editor

  • Advertisement on back

  • Done to:

  • Match magazines

  • Encourage reading

  • Readers should feel Consumer is essential reading and full of important information. Often info is for first-time buyers or purchases of large items

  • Older demographic, but probably borrowed by people in 20s, 30s.

  • To appeal to younger people, often have young people on the cover.


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Tone akin to a TV journalist talking to camera: conversational yet authoritative. Contractions and jokes

  • “They say a head cold lasts a week if you treat it and seven days if you don’t”

  • “The internet is stuffed with unreliable and plain wrong information”

  • “Annette Clennell’s Philco washing machine died”

  • “Service that sucks”

  • But doesn’t get too colloquial (wouldn’t say “way too many”) or use expletives (beneath dignity)


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Lists, that hallmark of journalism, used. An article on health insurance: “7 things to think about” and another on bargaining has “10 tips for getting good deal” Businesslike, taut. Comprehensive.

  • Dates, and the names of people, organisations and places are frequently quoted in Consumer. By emphasising this factual content, the stories sound authentic and Consumer appears well informed and accurate:

  • “Adrienne Stewart and her husband Michael of Christchurch are with medical insurer Medic Aid.“

  • “[The] prosecution of BP Oil (NZ) resulted in fines of $40,000 for the oil company and $8,000 for one of its retail managers. The company had pleaded guilty to attempting to fix prices”


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Consumer knows its readers enjoy articles that criticise conventional enemies of the consumer such as banks, insurance companies and telemarketers, and this is one reason Consumer runs articles on these topics.

  • It is clear that Consumer plays to the crowd. The opening section of an article on telemarketing reads:

    Infomercials implore you to pick up the phone and buy their tacky products. Callers repeatedly phone you up at dinner time. It’s all part of telephone selling, or telemarketing, and it’s become the bane of many people’s lives. What are your rights?


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Writing connects with readers: “Your letters” “Watchdog”

  • Conscious effort to provide advice:

    If the manufacturer’s warranty has expired, it doesn’t mean you have to pay for premature repairs. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act the retailer should fix problems that can’t be explained by normal wear and tear, for up to six years

  • Genuine advice, but also: stick with Consumer


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Emphasise the benefits of Consumer:

    “We wrote to the manager of the dealership, and he immediately rang Michael and agreed to pay him $500 compensation. “

    Encourages people to renew sub.

  • Mostly negative news: when traders go bad.


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Longer articles kept relatively short and information telegraphed in tables. Maximise space in small magazine.

  • When Consumer looked at car safety, took 2100 words and a large table, North and South 4600 words

  • Tables telegraph information but also give scientific sheen to the magazine.

  • Consumer made digestible:

  • sub-heads, bullet points,

  • more help, tables


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Expert opinion: adopts the scientific approach of citing scientific studies and the statements of mainstream experts. Fair enough, but also reflects well on Consumer.

  • Tests: emphasise scientific approach (cost-sharing with Australia and multi-nationally). Easy for other magazines to pass off as testing.

  • “More information” section underscores expert approach/encourage sales. Binders/indexes: encyclopaedia of knowledge.


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • “Consumer recommends” is very conspicuous: all some people want to read.


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Variations on a theme: Q and A

  • Invites information from readers: “Can you help us?” Sense of community, keeps info-gathering costs down

  • Information regurgitated. Turnover of readers, readers enter target market


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • Cult of personality: David Russell

  • Profile: reporting in media, Sunday Star-Times

  • Online: zero in on specific information, more up to date (consumerreports.com very successful)


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Techniques used in Consumer

  • There is a balancing act here: too entertaining a style, and Consumer would undermine its claims to authority; too rigorous an approach, and Consumer would be dull.

  • Indeed, unless balanced by an entertaining style, the scientific content in Consumer could prove the magazine’s undoing. Certainly, the magazine always struggles not to appear fuddy-duddy.

  • So far, Consumer seems to have pulled off the balancing act. Consumers' Institute’s success in publishing the magazine for nearly 50 years is a record to be admired.


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Consumer journalism

What it seeks to do

How it seeks to do it

Presentation to Jeanz Conference, Dec 2005

Grant Hannis

Dept of Communication and Journalism, 2005

Massey University


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