The Times' Bright Idea

To kick off the new year, The New York Times applied its journalistic might to a pretty cool story that landed on this morning's front page: "Wal-Mart Puts Some Muscle Behind Power-Sipping Bulbs."

It's a fascinating report: "Wal-Mart Stores, the giant discount retailer, is determined to push [compact flourescent light bulbs] into at least 100 million homes. And its ambitions extend even further, spurred by a sweeping commitment from its chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., to reduce energy use across the country, a move that could also improve Wal-Mart’s appeal to the more affluent consumers the chain must win over to keep growing in the United States."

Fascinating—but not exactly news. Readers of Fast Company, which include the Times' story's author, will recall the 10-page story by Charles Fishman in our September issue: "How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One." Wherein we observed: "In the next 12 months, starting with a major push this month, Wal-Mart wants to sell every one of its regular customers—100 million in all—one [compact flourescent] bulb. In the process, Wal-Mart wants to change energy consumption in the United States, and energy consciousness, too. It also aims to change its own reputation, to use swirls to make clear how seriously Wal-Mart takes its new positioning as an environmental activist."

Over the last four months, Fishman's story has been cited by hundreds of blogs and web sites, all of which credited the author and Fast Company. The Times is so good, apparently, it doesn't have to acknowledge anyone—despite its own "Guidelines on Integrity", which specify: "Our preference, when time and distance permit, is to do our own reporting and verify another organization’s story; in that case, we need not attribute the facts. But even then, as a matter of courtesy and candor, we credit an exclusive to the organization that first broke the news."

Ah, well. The Times did break one important bit of news that we'd missed. At a meeting between Wal-Mart's Scott and Brown University professor Steven Hamburg (which the Fast Company piece did dwell on), it revealed, the dinner consisted of turkey and mashed potatoes. Thank goodness we have the Times to make that clear.

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  • Lavinia Weissman

    This is a tough one for me to think about.

    YEA for influencing change in energy consumption and
    what about influencing change in the way the company pays, rewards and manages profits?

    Todays news from WalMart is that over 40% of employees don't need health insurance because they get it from a spouse.

    How about picking up the full cost of insurance for single parents and their children? and developed a pay for performance system that measured contribution to the bottom line, sales and customer service in a way that gave people the opportunity to earn a liveable wage in major cities and states where the cost of living is greater than Arkansas?

  • M. Russell Stewart

    My apologies, Dan, for missing your tongue-in-cheek post. I redirect mine to all those who may have agreed with yours in a purely serious tone. Hopefully, next time my I.Q. won't be diminished by my inability to recognize humor hidden in the Web's subtlety.


  • Dan Seidman

    Oh MAS, no MAS!

    A measure of intelligence might be related to one's ability to recognize humor when it hits him, even though only a bit brighter than a flourescent bulb.

  • M. Russell Stewart

    Of course, in a "Dan Seidman perfect world," all companies would only contribute positively to the environment, public health, or humanity in general if they didn't make any money at the same time. How many companies do you think could muscle that one over on Wall Street, let alone survive the financial impact of such a one-sided practice?

    I credit Wal-Mart for doing SOMETHING toward reducing energy consumption on a very large scale, even if they may make some money at it. There will always be short-sighted scoffers such as Mr. Seidman.


  • Christopher

    MSM has been not attributing content for decades - how's this any different? Not that I agree with the practice, just that, well, in the MSM world it *is* standard practice -- it's only since the advent of blogs that funny notions about "giving credit where credit is due" have come back into favor. ;)

  • Dan Seidman

    What a coincidence!

    Exactly while Wal-Mart management is taking an environmental stand, other Wal-Mart execs (certainly not the same people) are calculating the value of 100 million buyers times the price of a lightbulb or two.

    Hurray for energy conscious companies!