By: Charles Bowen
As our readers take an ever-increasing pride in defining smaller and smaller groups to which they belong (I, incidentally, represent an exclusive group of aging Kennedy Democrats with mortgages, growing bald spots, and an affinity for old Bob Dylan recordings), there is one label to which almost all of us seem to happily submit: The Consumers.
Regardless of our economic status, our jobs, and our beliefs, most of us are proud to be savvy parts of the great American buying public. And “savvy” is the keyword. Remember when Americans declined to re-elect Bush the Elder, in part because he gave the distinct impression during a public forum that he didn’t know the going price of a loaf of bread or a half gallon of milk? We don’t forgive consumer cluelessness. Consumerism may be the closest that America comes to a state religion.
So Web sites that help us cover consumerism probably will always have a broad appeal among our readers, not to mention among the staffers in your newsroom. Consumer World is a free site with a huge pool of product information, including daily news stories from various sources, much of it geared to seasonal topics. Where else near Valentine’s Day would you find consumer reports on the best assorted chocolates? The site catalogs more than 2,000 useful consumer features, so you probably will want to have your business and consumer reporters bookmark this baby.
To use the resource, visit the site at http://www.consumerworld.org, where a busy introductory page devotes a large section to consumer news of the day, with topics ranging from car safety reports and the exposing of quick-buck schemes to news of legitimate bargains in everything from online coupons to new long-distance telephone deals.
Along the left side of the screen, under the heading “Contents,” are hot links to the site’s assorted departments. Topics and titles include “Shopping” with product reviews and comparative prices, “Bargains” from discounts to travel deals, “Consumer Resources” such as guides and directories, “Money” for news on investments and credit cards, “Consumer Agencies” from the states and from the federal level, “Companies,” “Travel,” and “Internet.” Click on any subject for more details.
On the right side of the main screen are frequently updated links to the latest hot sites. At this writing, these included Web locations that specialized in car prices and “lemon reports,” long-distance plans, mortgage rates, low airfares, and home-buying aids.
The site also can be mined with a keyword search. Click the “Site Search” link at the top of the left “Contents” column. You also can search for the latest additions to the site by entering the current month and year, such as 3/2002.
Other considerations for using Consumer World in your writing and editing:
1. For a fast comparison of prices and products online, use the “Price Checker” feature located at the top of the center panel on the introductory screen. Select a type of product from the drop-down list (electronics, books, clothes and accessories, food and wine, etc.), then enter a keyword in the second box, such as a brand name, title, model number, etc. Click the Search button to see the results.
2. If you write about the site in your news columns, you might want to tell your readers about its “Sound Off” section listed under the Hot Sites. Connected with a site called PlanetFeedback, this feature facilitates e-mail to assorted companies to complain, commend, question, or suggest specific things.
3. You also can browse back issues of Consumer World. Select the “Archives” feature listed at the top of the “Contents” column for guidance.
To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.