Friday, November 16, 2012

Bye-Bye, Ho-Hos

There's lots of wailing and moaning today about the demise of Hostess snack foods. It's a long, complicated road to bankruptcy that terminated in a labor union strike which has led to the usual outpouring of pro vs. con union arguments, and it's true that union relations between Hostess management and union officials was not exactly chummy. Unfortunately, this is a story that requires far too much detail, back story, and comprehension of financial terminology such as "hedge funds" for most television news anchors to handle. So the national conversation via the Big Three broadcast networks has been more about reminiscing about Hostess fruit pies on the lunchbox, and what's in those Twinkies anyway? Omygod! No more Twinkies? As Rush says, that's the Drive By Media reaction.

Here's a detailed chronicle of the Hostess demise courtesy of CNBC. As you can see, it's a story that involves thousands of people losing their jobs, a segment of the US economy taking a hit, and the loss of American icons tantamount to giving Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald the boot. This story demands a little more mental effort from the lens meat than simply giggling over the life span of a Twinkie.

(We used to have morning show radio DJ's to make Twinkie jokes. Nowadays, it's up to Matt Lauer.)

And, if you read deeper than just the punchlines, you'll see that what really killed Hostess wasn't so much poor vulture fund management, or labor union disputes. At the bottom of it all is that fact that Hostess sales were down. The products were outdated. It was junk food, pure and simple. We adults who ignored our doctors and partook of a Ding Dong once in a while - OK, maybe once a week - knew full well we were consuming a package of chemicals that, assembled in another form, might be used to construct a car bumper. Nowadays, we take our cholesterol meds and munch on carrot sticks or grapes, or anything that won't send me to the ER. And we found healthier alternatives for our children. If you must find a way to blame Democrats for this, point to Michelle Obama for insisting children eat healthy meals, although she's only picking up on a trend that began decades ago. Hostess management, AND the labor unions, had plenty of time to read the writing on the wall, but failed to respond to changing American eating habits and concerns for child nutrition. The demise of Hostess ultimately rests on the Free Market.

Free Market choice. That's something broadcast news organizations might want to keep in mind the next time they feel the urge to giggle at a major news event.

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