Panic Saturday, an Exercise in Sensationalism

22/12/2014 12:50 GMT | Updated 21/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Usually, the summer Parliamentary recess is referred to as 'the silly season' for journalists, as news dries up and reporters resort to barrel scraping to find stories. It seems that this year, the silly season has copied the tactics of the festive period and extended itself to a few months, if this weekend's extensive coverage of 'Panic Saturday', the last Saturday before Christmas, is anything to go by.

Let's face it, 'people buy things before Christmas' is not news, if news outlets are reporting this fact alone, they might as well also report on the fact bears defecate in woods or that hats exist. The last weekend before Christmas is always a busy shopping period, that's nothing new. What is news, is the information about Britain's economy we can glean from this years Christmas spending patterns, but this went woefully underreported.

This year, the spending in the week just before Christmas has increased 21% when compared with 2013. 21% is a huge increase, and it is this increase that should be reported rather than the density of shoppers on Oxford Street. It indicates that some ordinary people are starting to feel the effects of the growth in the UK economy, rather than just the wealthiest in society, and that can only be good news.

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% of retailers reporting sales increases minus % reporting sales decreases December 2010-2014

When looking at the figures published by the Office For National Statistics (ONS) and the Confederation for British Industry (CBI), the economic picture remains positive. 61% of retailers reported year-on-year sales increases for the run-up to Christmas, the highest amount for decades, showing the strengthening of Britain's retail sector. Sales figures for November also showed the increasing influence of the 'Black Friday' marketing phenomenon, with year on year sales for the month rising by 5.2%, the highest level since the financial crisis. Why is this positive news for the British economy hidden behind sensationalism about busy city centres?

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Value adjusted growth in retail sales for November 2010-2014

Of course, there are still huge divides in Britain. Whilst some people are finally starting to feel the benefits of growth, there are also 13 million people who will be relying on food banks over the festive period just to survive. Again, this should be reported, this is a national scandal, that in the 6th richest nation on earth, almost 1 in 5 households have to rely on charity to eat. Unfortunately, the Independent notwithstanding, the vast majority media ignored the plight of the poorest in society en masse.

When both the suffering of millions across the nation, or positive economic news for the country is buried in faux-news covering the busyness of Oxford Street, the focus of the reporting of some organisations must be questioned. In their 10 o'clock bulletin, the BBC spent their time asking shoppers how busy it was (very, obviously) and following a family down a packed Oxford Street. If that is what's newsworthy, rather than Britain's social divide and economic progress, we should despair for sections of modern journalism.