Sleazy “Journalism”

“When did you stop beating your wife?”

We all know that for the loaded question it is.

But a headline “30 Walmart Ripoffs You Should Avoid” seems pretty straightforward, right?

Wrong.

The Curmudgeon encountered that headline last week on the philly.com web site, internet home of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News – both respectable newspapers.

The source of the article, though, wasn’t an Inquirer or Daily News reporter or a philly.com writer (The Curmudgeon isn’t quite sure whether the people who write directly for the site and not for the newspapers are reporters). No, it was attributed to gobankingrates.com, a personal finance web site that offers information on bank accounts, loans, investments, credit cards, things like that.

So what “ripoffs” was Walmart perpetrating on its customers?

Apparently, not having the absolute lowest prices in the world on thirty items, including ground beef, organic milk, toys, jewelry, and more. The purpose of the article was to point out that for some products, you can spend less by shopping somewhere other than Walmart.

In other words, Walmart isn’t ripping off anyone; it’s simply doing business and not failing to live up to any claims it’s ever made. Nary a ripoff in sight.

Interestingly, the headline on the philly.com web site read “30 Walmart ripoffs you should avoid,” and when you search the gobankingrates.com site for “Walmart” you get that same title. When you hit the link for that article on the gobankingrates.com web site, though, you’re taken to an article titled “30 Items to Avoid at Wal-Mart.”

Which is quite different.

It’s sleazy all around. Both sites are guilty of creating and sensationalizing a non-story to lure readers into clicking onto the linked headlines (and they succeeded in luring The Curmudgeon). For gobankingrates.com it’s almost understandable (although still wrong): the site probably makes most of its money from clicks and advertisers that pay to place their “news” on the site.

But for philly.com it demonstrates a lack of integrity that can, if exhibited too often, lead readers to wonder if they can believe anything from its “real” reporters.

And that’s something that newspapers, with their declining circulation and advertising revenue, can hardly afford these days.

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