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Story ideas for your local Thanksgiving coverage

October 27, 2016

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In the past, we’ve written about how useful the Census Bureau’s “Facts for Features” can be for generating topical business stories. With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s a good time to check back in with the bureau. You can download a pdf of the most recent Thanksgiving “Facts for Features” release here.

The bureau always gathers fun facts for these releases, like the number of places in the United States named after the holiday’s traditional fare. It turns out that there are four municipalities in the U.S. with Turkey in their name.

But there are also a number of meaty figures you can use as the basis of business stories in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

Turkey time

Turkey is the traditional centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner. The bird also has an economic impact in several areas across the country.

According to numbers the bureau pulled from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota, North Carolina and Arkansas lead the country in the projected production of turkeys for 2016. The states are projected to raise 44 million, 33 million and 26 million birds, respectively.

Forecasts expect the country to raise 243 million birds altogether, which is a 4 percent increase from 2015. That is, however, a significant decrease from the more than 270 million raised in 2008.

Reporter’s takeaway

If you live in one of the major turkey-producing states, dig into the USDA numbers and see if production has increased or decreased. Talk to local producers about how the industry in your state and how it affects jobs locally. If you’re not in one of the major producing states, talk to local grocers about where their turkeys are coming from. Talk to consumers as well. Are more shoppers looking for organic, free-range or family farmed birds this year?

A super time for supermarkets

There were close to 66,000 supermarkets and other grocery stores in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Census Bureau. Obviously these stores are going to be busy in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

But just how much will shoppers be spending this year? Last year, a number of news organizations ran articles, like this one from Time, looking at the cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10, which averaged more than $50 last year.

These articles often rely on informal estimates provided by the American Farm Bureau Federation and its annual price survey, which has been keeping an average since 1986. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service also provides helpful retail reports that offer weekly numbers on different meats, fruits and vegetables.

Reporter’s takeaway

It might seem obvious, but the supermarket is a great place to go for business stories. Local audiences want to know how much they can expect to spend during the holiday and why prices might be up or down. Keep an eye out for the AFBF’s annual survey and look for Thanksgiving-related items in retail reports. Talk to your local grocers about what shoppers can expect to see this year.

It’s not just about the food

It’s easy to get caught up with Thanksgiving dinner, but there’s more to the holiday than just food.

Travel is obviously a big topic during the holiday. There’s also the big retail boost from Black Friday.

But it’s a safe bet that millions of people will be watching television. The Census Bureau reports that 98.3 percent of households had televisions in 2011.

Variety reported that NBC scored a 12.6 household Nielson rating for its coverage of the Macy’s Day Parade last year, which was a slight drop from the year before. The network also averaged a 14.6 overnight rating during the NFL’s Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers matchup, a 17 percent increase from the game a year before.

But the NFL is experiencing a dip in its television ratings this year. Of course, the election is probably a factor, but does it also mean that families will be doing something else this Thanksgiving?

Volunteering and donating to charities is a popular alternative, though the influx of help isn’t always needed. Seeing a movie with the family is also a popular tradition.

Reporter’s takeaway

Find out what stores, malls and theaters will be open on Thanksgiving. See if they expect an increase of traffic this year. Talk with some families as well. Are their Thanksgiving traditions changing? What is the holiday like in the age of cord-cutting?


  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

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