There has been a lot of discussion about the future of journalism. Are blogs and independent writers going to replace old school institutions of news reporting? Is The Huffington Post the replacement for the New York Times?
I have argued strongly before that we need traditional media news outlets. Sure, a blogger can write a good first hand report of something happening near them. But we need larger institutions with more resources to do the kind of in-depth, deep reporting that is needed. Further, it is far to easy to just make things up. We need accountability in our news media, and if you just cobble together reports from individuals, how can any entity carry a badge of reliability?
However, this week I ran across something that made me adjust my thinking just a bit. The New York Times ran a editorial discussing why Tide seems to be stolen in disproportionally large amounts. What makes something so utilitarian, and so widely available so attractive for theft? The author didn’t really come up with a final conclusion noting:
My best guess is that decisions about what products people steal are just as irrational and fashion-driven as decisions about what people buy. The “must-have” brands of last season become the brands that one would not be caught dead with this season – think of Crocs. No one knows exactly why consumers make some brands popular and others not – for marketers, that is the Holy Grail. Similarly, no one knows exactly why thieves choose to steal certain products over others. Yet, as unlikely as it seems, Tide detergent has become the “must-steal” product of the season.
But when you look to the comments, from readers of the site, they come up with solid rational reasons that sound a bit like they know this from experience.
TIDE is stolen not from everywhere, but from grocery stores that are within the vicinity of other (smaller) grocery stores that are independently owned. A person can palm off a pack of Tide at a discount. When it reappears on the shelf, it is indistinguishable (there is no RFID on pack).
I.e., there is a ready market for it.
Everyone overlooks one important factor, the people who steal Tide do not have washing machines in their residence, they go to laundromats. Like a pub owner who buys a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey for $15 and sells 20 shots, the Tide thieves are selling “shots” of Tide in the laundromat.
That same commenter notes that perhaps the writers of the Times don’t likely use public laundromats and so don’t run across this activity and just arent aware of it. Smacks a little bit of classism, but I think its true.
So, is this the future of journalism? Where we can not just watch a screen or read an article, but help follow up with clarifications and counterpoints? There is a concern for drowning out real discussion and trolls when things get too popular. I’d hate to see the NYTimes comment area become the scummy comment underworld of YouTube.