Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saving the Best for Last: Why?

So, today I'm browsing USA Today's Web site, and I'm scanning down the list of news stories.

* Investors scramble after Madoff is charged with $50B fraud
* Why home values may take decades to recover
* GM to temporarily close 20 plants to slash output
* White House, Treasury say they won't let automakers fail
* Fifth Georgia bank closed, 24th nationwide failure in 2008
* Gasoline pushes down retail sales and wholesale prices
* Dollar falls to 13-year low against yen
* FDIC chief sees housing pain into 2010
* Bank of America to slash 35,000 jobs over 3 years
* Foreclosure numbers tumble in November, but bad news looms
* Auto deaths down 10% so far this year

That's a lot of bad news.

A couple of things struck me as odd. First, one of the only two items on the list that weren't bad news said, "Forclosure numbers tumble." That's great news. But, then, because they couldn't just report the good news, they pulled the rug out from under us with "Foreclosure numbers tumble in November, but bad news looms."

"We gotcha! You were feeling good for a second there, weren't you? But, no! Snap! We zigged when you expected us to zag!"

The other thing that struck me as odd was that the only purely good news on the list was positioned in the very, very last slot. Auto deaths are down 10%? That's huge!

You can almost hear the editorial staff at USA Today discussing this news items. "What amazing news! Let's bury it under all the crap!" (They probably used some fancy journalistic term, though.)

I wonder why just about everyone is feeling anxiety about our world and our economy right now? What's the downside of reporting all the news, good and bad? A question as old as reportage itself, I imagine. How about if we lead with the news about foreclosure numbers tumbling and auto deaths being down? What does that do for us? Doesn't it give us an emotional launching point that's optimistic and hopeful and positive rather than a feeling of dread and angst and gloom?

We can't help but have our attitudes shaped by the information we ingest, from a variety of sources. It's garbage in, garbage out. No one's impervious to it. It sticks to you like dog poop on your shoe, and you carry it around with you. And in the case of the economy, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy because fear and uncertainty and pessimism actually cause some of the bad news that's being reported.

So, I say we balance things out. For every story about the doom, we get a story about a dolphin with a prefabricated tail. For every thousand naysayers, we get an Obama. It's our responsibility to communicate this to our media overlords.


Brandon Muller said...

I think I've discovered the problem. Out of all the news websites on the internet, you were browsing the USA Today?


Jonderson said...

Auto deaths were down 10% because high gas prices have decreased the number of drivers by 10%.

Or something like that.

Chris Robinson said...

I still think there should be more suicides.