Advertising disasters. How sensationalism in the news-media only makes it worse.

October 10, 2008

“The sky is falling! The Dow is too!”

Everyone is talking about the economy. Or should I say shrieking? Fueled by hysterical reportage, the topic has become another 9/11. While the credit crisis is real, I think the media has taken it too far. Cable news is downright ghoulish about it. “How low will it go?” bellows the reporter on CNN. Words like “disaster” and “catastrophe” are being tossed around so often they are losing all meaning.

It reminds me of the hurricane coverage on the Weather Channel. A storm brews in the tropics and the media responds accordingly. Reporters put on their raincoats. Experts materialize. We are captivated by the swirling tempest, hypnotized by its evil eye. The journalists and experts speak gravely of dire consequences but beneath the warnings, we can’t help but detect a sense of ghoulish anticipation. Dare I suggest it’s as if the experts and reporters are secretly hoping for the worst. Why? Because the nastier the storm the more people will watch it. We personify the hurricane: Hugo, Katrina. It’s personal now. The drama is real!

Is it not eerily similar to what we are witnessing right now, regarding the markets? Expert analysts, sleeves rolled up, are screaming about “bottoms” and “bailouts.” The women of CNN are genuinely concerned.  I heard one today liken the crashing markets to “a car racing down a huge hill without any brakes.” An apt metaphor, I suppose. But did the hill have to be “huge?” And is the car really “racing?”  Like kids at an auto race, are these journalists watching the markets, hoping for a crash?

In the face of epic bad news the media becomes more like an ad agency. The news is written as copy now, full of melodrama and pathos. They are selling these storms and crashing markets, making volcanoes out of mountains. The drama is real!

And so it is. But is the hyperbolic coverage becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy? My financial advisor said she wished they’d just be quiet, that enough was enough. We get it, already. She feared a “War of the Worlds” effect. That the American people were beginning to fear the worst, and that the worst was yet to come. And since no one (the experts, the Presidential candidates, Oprah) knows what to do, panic ensues. Panic begets chaos. The markets tumble further. The sky falls.


5 Responses to “Advertising disasters. How sensationalism in the news-media only makes it worse.”

  1. Jason Fox said

    Exactly. I’m tired of the sensationalism in the news. Been tired of it long before this. While there are certainly valid reasons for the markets to go down, I suspect they’ve long since over-corrected. And why? Pure FUD. Take a look around, folks. Were (are) things really that bad in your personal economy. For some, sure. But overall? Not so much. And I’m speaking as I guy who hasn’t had a steady gig in two years. Yet we somehow managed to make all of our house payments, pay off a car and have two kids (at once, thank you). While I personally attribute our relatively steady finances to Providence, I do think our situation isn’t unique. Hmmm, but maybe the fact that our debt is our house is. Still, if people would take care of their own business, we’d get over this mess a lot sooner. And turn off the freakin’ TV and your iPhone’s stock ticker.

  2. If you haven’t read david foster wallace’s “infinite Jest” now’s the time. it is all about the ever-increasing white noise that distorts and disturbs modern life. advertising, which dfw was not too fond of–plays a major part in the book, in that each year is sponsored by a company. ie, the year of glad or the year of the depends adult diaper. six years ago wallace threw out his tv, because he realized that in all the time he had watched it, it had never really given him any joy–not a bad idea when you really think about it. there’s very little reason to watch the talking heads, they sensationalize everything to drive ratings. walk your dog. hug your kids. stare at a tree for an hour or so. things will be ok.

  3. Pale Writer said

    RIP David Foster Wallace

  4. Some thoughts from the late, great DFW:

    What TV is extremely good at – and realize that this is “all it does” – is discerning what large numbers of people think they want, and supplying it.

    I think TV promulgates the idea that good art is just art which makes people like and depend on the vehicle that brings them the art.

    Nuclear weapons and TV have simply intensified the consequences of our tendencies, upped the stakes.

    TV-type art’s biggest hook is that it’s figured out ways to “reward” passive spectation.

  5. Andy Webb said

    Aye, the media stir up fear and trembling; it appears as if the sky is falling… and something else appears. Look at those freakin’ great stock-buying opportunities!

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