When the media spoils freebies - Joel Hall

Journalism, like anything else, is a business, and newspapers, television news networks, and radio stations do their best to listen to the needs of their customers and fulfill those needs. With the way the economy is right now, there has been a lot of emphasis on the part of the media to lead people to things that are free.

The idea is a noble one. Gone are the days when the average, single parent could take three or four kids to a regular-priced movie and still have enough money to pay the rent. People everywhere are struggling, and sometimes, a free movie, a free pair of shoes, or even a free sandwich, can make a world of difference.

However, I think media outlets need to think a little harder before they send the tired and hungry masses to encroach upon a place that obviously can't handle the attention. We all saw the frenzy that free anything can create, during last year's Oprah/Kentucky Fried Chicken debacle. I was one of the many gullible people who wasted an entire lunch hour in line at KFC for a free, grilled, two-piece value meal, because Oprah told me to.

After traveling to multiple KFC restaurants, I was always told that they were either out of chicken (a key ingredient for restaurants that serve fried chicken), or that I would have to sign up for a voucher, which I would receive in the mail in several weeks. It was about three months from the time that I stood in line, to the time that I actually got to see what KFC's grilled chicken tasted like. In the meantime, the lure of free chicken created Georiga Tech-versus-UGA-football traffic around pretty much every KFC in America.

Although the process was slow, KFC actually delivered on its free chicken vouchers, but in other cases, businesses offering free stuff end up having to renege on the whole thing once the media gets too involved.

Another freebie that was ruined for me by too much media coverage was a free shoe offer at a store that opened nearby last year. A local radio station hosted a full day of radio ads telling people that they would be able to buy one pair of shoes and get the second pair free, if they came to the store during it's grand opening. Either the shoe store lied, or the pressure was too much for them, because by the time I got there (which was only an hour after the store opened for business that day), there were no free shoes. It was ultimately a waste of gas and a waste of time.

The latest freebie disappointment, and probably what inspired me to write this column, was a free offer advertised last week by a local news station. This deal was good for a free pair of movie tickets to see any movie at the new Studio Movie Grill, which recently opened in Alpharetta. The movie theater is on Holcomb Bridge Road, which for most people in the Southern Crescent, might as well be in another country. Luckily, I had some business on that side of town, so I braved my way to the new movie theater.

As I made my way to the box office with my free tickets to see "Predators," an usher by the door told me nonchalantly that they had sold out on every single movie playing in every single theater that day. The free ticket was only good for that weekend, so I wasted more gas getting there than it would have cost to see it at the local AMC Theatre, which I ended up doing, anyway.

Maybe, we should go back to letting people clip coupons, and rewarding those who are diligent enough to stumble across good finds, instead of broadcasting freebies to the entire world. Just like finding loose change in your couch cushions, the soda you buy with it tastes much sweeter when it's unexpected.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.