Mea Culpa

Wrong on IKEA


            About a year ago I fussed about the attention given the opening of the IKEA furniture store in Emeryville.


            Last March the Chronicle ran a front page story touting the opening of “The Mother of All Furniture Stores” as the headline read. On the very same day the Chron’s business section gushed: “Shopping will never be the same after giant Swedish home goods retailer opens in Emeryville.” Forty-five miles to the south on the same day, March 10, the Mercury covered much of its lifestyle section front with a story headlined: “Countdown to IKEA.” The subhead swooned: “IKEA will furnish Bay Area, finally.”


            I suggested that the Chronicle and Mercury were confusing promotion with news. That the stories abandoned the skeptical detachment of objectivity for the throbbing hyperbole of PR. The Chronicle, for example, enthused that “The grand opening promises to be the closest a Scandinavian entitiy¾other than Abba¾can get to causing a frenzy.”


            I still think that’s true.


            But I also speculated that the two papers were “greasing the skids” for a barrage of ads from IKEA that would greatly enrich them. I implied a “quid pro quo.” I argued that the papers were providing advertising disguised as news to establish the credibility of¾and invite¾later paid ads. I spoke of the declining trust in American journalism.


            Over the past year I’ve noticed very few IKEA ads in either paper. I’ve also noticed no other promotional copy about IKEA.


            One might argue that with that kind of “news” coverage, the store had little need for paid advertising. But I think that goes too easy on me. I went too far. I speculated about the future rather than analyzing and commenting on the past. Worse, I imputed motives violating the journalistic rule that reporters stick to facts and leave mind-reading to psychics.


            I’m sorry.


            I’m particularly sorry because my critique made the papers appear more venal than they were. I contributed to the cynicism of the public.


            That’s the opposite of what this project is about. We are trying to generate enthusiasm and appreciation for good journalism and awareness of poor journalism. We are trying to remind the Bay Area’s news firms of their ethical responsibilities.


            In the future, I’ll try to stick to the established record and not speculate about motives or the future. And I invite you to call me on it, if you feel that I’ve failed.


                        ¾John McManus