Nearly 1 million sign petition to boycott Target: Will the news media quote any of them?

I have a problem with Target.

There, I did it. I admitted my bias.

But inevitably, the store closest to my house only opens a handful of checkout lanes, and I find myself waiting in a long line to buy milk and a loaf of bread. 

Oh, you thought I was going to talk about bathrooms?

OK, I guess I can do that, too.

Maybe you've heard that a #BoycottTarget online petition has gained nearly 1 million signatures. I'm not one of them, mind you. I think boycotts are silly and have no intention to stop shopping at Target (although I'll take this opportunity to call on management to hire more cashiers). I'll also keep eating at Chick-fil-A (as often as possible!). And I'll maintain my PayPal account, even though I hardly ever use it. 

However, from a journalistic perspective, I am interested in news coverage of the Target boycott.

Religion News Service had the basics in a story earlier this week (the number of signatures has kept growing since this report):

(RNS) Less than a week after Target, the nation’s second-largest discount retailer, announced that transgender customers may use the restroom that “corresponds with their gender identity,” nearly 500,000 people have signed a #BoycottTarget online petition launched by the conservative American Family Association.
In its April 19 announcement, the Minneapolis-based retailer with 1,802 outlets said, “We believe that everyone — every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally.”
The retailer, which had $74 billion in revenue last year, said it was motivated by legislation in about 15 states that would require individuals to use the restroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate. The Williams Institute, a think tank based at UCLA, estimates there are 300,000 transgender people (13 or older) in those 15 states.
The day after Target’s statement, the AFA launched the boycott, saying, “Target’s policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. Target’s dangerous new policy poses a danger to wives and daughters.”
Mississippi-based AFA called on Target to install additional restrooms to be designated as single occupancy and unisex.

Other major media outlets that have covered the boycott include ABC News, CBS News, NPR, the New York Times and USA Today.

In his GetReligion post this week on "Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities," Godbeat legend Richard N. Ostling notes that "Christian organizations judged to be 'anti-LGBT' are on the list of 'hate groups' from liberals’ influential Southern Poverty Law Center." Indeed, several of the Target boycott stories cite the SPLC as calling the American Family Association "extremist." Interestingly, those same media reports neglect to describe the SPLC as a "left-wing" group.

Mostly, the coverage I'm seeing quotes "talking heads" — official spokespeople types from Target, the AFA and various advocacy groups. It's pretty standard fare and doesn't make for real exciting journalism or reading. The conversations from my friends on social media (both for and against the boycott) are much more interesting. (The Washington Post did embed a few tweets from ordinary people.)

Here's what I'd love to see: an actual person who signed the petition quoted and given a chance to explain why. (Or maybe even more than one!)

Some questions a journalist could ask: Are you really concerned about bathroom safety? What's your religious background, and how does that play into your view of opening restrooms to transgenders? How much did you shop at Target previously, and what will be the real impact on you of this boycott decision? What if Walmart issues a similar statement? Will you boycott them, too? Those questions are off the top of my head and by no means all-encompassing.

I also think it would be interesting to send a reporter to a Target store to interview actual customers. I'd love to hear, in particular, from folks (including conservative Christians) who disagree with the retail chain's decision yet don't see a boycott as the answer. I know those people exist because they're all over my Facebook feed.

My point is simple: There's a real conversation occurring, and news organizations going beyond the familiar right/left talking points could tap into it and produce relevant, informative journalism.

If I've missed stories along those lines, by all means, share links by tweeting us at @GetReligion or leaving a comment below.



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