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Covering retailing: An introduction

The good news about covering retail is that it’s one of the most accessible beats in business: We all buy stuff, so both reporters and readers have a basic understanding of how the industry works.

window shopping

Photo by Flickr user SpecialKRB

But the retail beat is about much more than going to the mall. It is about how merchandise is manufactured and transported around the globe. It is about new technologies that are changing the way we buy products and how we pay for them. It can tell the story of a local mom-and-pop or of the biggest company in the world, Walmart. It delves into psychology to explain brand identity – Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts? – and captures our cultural zeitgeist. Silly Bandz, anyone?

The Great Recession also reminded us that shoppers remain at the heart of our country’s economy.

How we choose to spend – or not spend – our money speaks volumes about the nation’s financial health. The boom years gave birth to $300 designer jeans. The bust spawned extreme couponing. Retail reporting requires the ability to parse economic and market data to unveil hidden truths about the state of the nation.

This Beat Basic will help you understand the most common types of retail stories and provide you with ideas for approaching them in a fresh way. It will cover the challenges of the beat, from ways to gain access to a store to walking the fine line between reporting a trend and promoting a product.

This introduction to the retail beat will also explain jargon and break down the sales reports and economic data released each month. And of course, it will also cover the all-important Christmas shopping season. (Hint: It’s never too early to start thinking about the holidays!)

Retail is one of the most fun beats on the business desk. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

About the Author

Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering consumers and the economy. She has interviewed CEOs at the nation's largest companies, leading politicians and senior government officials as well as unemployed workers, distraught fishermen and disaster victims. She frequently appears on MSNBC, CNBC and National Public Radio and has filed stories from Vietnam, Brazil, Las Vegas and the Gulf Coast. Ylan taught journalism at the University of Maryland and volunteers with several nonprofits that work with the Vietnamese American community.

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