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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.