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Ken Magill

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Stupid Media Watch: A Word on Christmas and 'Spam'

10/9/12

By Ken Magill

Christmas is coming! Yay! We love Christmas in the Magill household. Actually, I love Christmas.

One of the big reasons I love Christmas is because I married the coolest woman in the world. Wanna know how cool? This year, she’s checking into buying me a still. Someday, I may never have to leave the house.

There’s also a major change afoot. This is the year we tell our nine-year-old son that Santa doesn’t exist.

We think he’s known for quite some time but doesn’t want to ruin a good thing. Fair enough. Who in their right mind would want to put all that loot in jeopardy?

One thing that will not change this year, however, has nothing to do with the Magill household’s approach to Christmas. What will not change is the consumer press’s approach to it.

First, they will find it impossible to refer to Christmas shopping by its proper name. They will call it “holiday” shopping, like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are equally responsible for the surge in consumer spending.

As I’ve stated before, my beef with referring to Christmas shopping as holiday shopping has nothing to do with religion. It’s about accuracy. Journalism is supposed to be all about accuracy. Without facts, a journalist has nothing. Calling Christmas shopping holiday shopping is purposely misreporting a fact.

[Author’s note: I have called Christmas shopping holiday shopping, but it was in a sponsored interview. I didn’t feel it would be right to get prickly over this issue with the folks writing the check.]

In any case, there is one more bit of behavior that won’t change this year, an area where consumer reporters’ work will be even more distorted—the issue of commercial email and spam.

In the world of the consumer press, people are drowning in spam. Their inboxes are practically useless because they’re so filled with junk. And they’re practically helpless to do anything about it.

The stories have already begun. A piece last week on Today.com ran with the headline: “‘Spam season’ is upon us; keep your inbox clean.”

“Checking your email can seem like playing ‘Spam Invaders,’ where your objective is to kill as many retailer email messages before they reach your brain and drive you crazy,” began the piece. “Just in time for the holidays, three new online services, Shopilly, Azigo, and Hipti, aim to help you extract the ‘spiced ham’ from the spam.”

Never mind that if people are drowning in commercial email, it’s their own damn fault because they signed up for too much of it and the problem is easily solved. It’s called opting out.

And if they don’t like the idea of unsubscribing from, say, Kohl’s email program—because some nitwit reporter wrote that unsubscribing verifies their address and will result in more spam—they can simply report the messages as spam and they will never have to deal with mail from that sender again.

Not that I’m advocating falsely reporting spam. I’m simply pointing out it’s an option.

Long time readers know I have a dummy email address I use to communicate with Nigerian 419 scammers and other seemingly shifty characters: ShuvittInyurasss_at_Yahoo.com.

I logged into that address a couple weeks ago and saw that some suspected spammer or spammers had clearly gotten hold of it somehow. I say “suspected” because I may have fed them the address.

But the messages were typical non-pornographic spammy pitches for dating services, distance learning, loans, job searches, and the like. There were a ton of them.

Guess what? I unsubscribed from several of the senders and deleted every message in the inbox back to August 14. As of late last week, the most recent message in that inbox is from August 14.

Problem—if it can be called that—solved.

Consumer reporters blaming retailers for the supposed deluge in people’s inboxes are not only being inaccurate, they’re committing actual harm.

Everyone reading this newsletter knows email inboxes can be very dangerous places.

Rather than reporting on the predicable uptick in commercial email messages, the consumer press should be educating people about the dangers that lurk in messages from unknown senders or senders pretending to be companies and people they aren’t.

However, to accomplish this, they would have to buck the yearly “holiday spam” narrative and someone would have to buck it first. And trust me, I’ve witnessed it personally. You have never seen herd mentality the way it exists in the consumer press.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

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