Searching for Christmas, and Case of the Missing Layoff Stories

APxmasShoppingPhoto112409

This is the fifth year I have looked into how the media treats these two topics:

  • The use of "Christmas shopping season" vs. "holiday shopping season" (note how the AP photo at right uses "holiday" and not "shopping," even though there is a C-C-, Chr-Chr-Christmas tree in the picture).
  • The frequency of Christmas and holiday layoff references.

I have done three sets of simple Google News searches each year in late November, followed by identical searches roughly two and four weeks later.

The cumulative results of all three search sets during the past four years are in this graphic.

Year-to-year changes have often been subtle. That is anything but the case with the results of the first set of searches I did at roughly 10 a.m. ET. In the context of the current economy, they are stunning, and very revealing:

XmasShoppingAndLayoffs112409

The red boxes demonstrate that the relative frequency of references to the phrase "Christmas shopping season" vs. "holiday shopping season" is down almost 60% (58.6% to be more exact) in the past four years.

That's bad enough. But the green boxes demonstrate that while searches on "Christmas layoffs," "holiday layoffs," and "holidays layoffs" (all entered without quotes) understandably came back with a huge combined number of hits last year, their frequency has dropped back to not very far above 2007 levels.

So how is that existing or impending layoffs during the Christmas/holiday season are almost back to pre-recessionary levels, even though the unemployment rate has jumped to over 10%, and is projected by most analysts to go even higher?

These charts vividly make the points:

XmasShoppingAndLayoffChart112409

There may be some variances due to Google News's apparently tighter rules this year on who is and isn't allowed to be a news source. But even after considering that matter, it's clear from the first chart that there is press reluctance to refer to Christmas in connection with commerce, and that this reluctance is on the increase. If there wasn't, we would not see the steep four-year decline in in the proportion of references to the "Christmas shopping season."

Even after considering the overall reduction in the number of news stories, it's also quite clear from the second chart that even though the economy is in worse shape than it was a year ago (GDP is down 1.1% during the first three quarters of this calendar year, and October's unemployment rate of 10.2% is 3% higher than December's 7.2%), the establishment media would prefer not to cover clearly continuing layoffs while a Democrat is in the White House. Last year, there were 31% more stories about layoffs associated with the Christmas/holiday season than there were about shopping (14,017 divided by 10,696). This year, in a far worse economy, there are 87% fewer (1,105 divided by 8,703).

Consider showing this post the next time someone tries to tell you that establishment media outlets play news about the economy straight. They don't, and it's really not arguable.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.