One of my first memories involves a lesson that applies to today’s economy. I was about 7, and my dad and I were on our way home from a movie. Its title is long-gone from my mind, but I remember that one of the main characters had cried in the film. I was impressed.
“How does an actress make herself cry?” I asked Dad. “I could never do that.”
He smiled. “Sure you could. Just find the saddest thing ever and think about it really hard, and pretty soon you’ll start crying.”
“OK.” I closed my eyes and imagined my mother dying. I pictured life without her, zooming in on every detail I could think of, and then suddenly I was crying. Hard. “See?” my father said.
I saw, but I couldn’t stop. My mother’s death had swiftly become much too real, and it felt as if she were actually gone. I cried and cried.
“Hey.” My father put his arm around me. “Remember Sweetie, you can always bring the tears, just don’t start a flood.”
Today, 77 percent of Americans think the media is actually worsening the economic situation by projecting fear into the minds of consumers, according to the Opinion Research Corporation.
Conducted in December, their poll found that, “the financial press, by focusing on and embellishing negative news, is damaging consumer confidence and damping investment, making a difficult situation much worse.”
The federal government, the media and the American people are constantly engaged in a sort of conversation that ricochets round and round, building volume as it goes. That conversation forms our national dialogue.
The experts selected as sources for stories, and how their ideas are presented, can go a long way toward influencing behavior on a national level. Fear is contagious, and as I learned that day with my dad, it’s also self-perpetuating.
Though I blame the mainstream media for its role in worsening the situation, I also understand it. On the Website of Builder magazine there’s a discussion of the nation’s 15 weakest housing markets, as well as the 15 healthiest. The healthier markets proved to be extremely popular with readers, generating a record number of page views…until the weakest markets were released.
As of today, that scarier, more depressing list is pulling the highest number of eyes to the page. (Both rankings are actually interesting — though not surprising.)
There’s an old motto in journalism that says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” But to my mind that doesn’t justify scaring an entire nation to the point where firms are laying off workers just in case their revenues continue to drop. Today, most people are too frightened to spend a dime, which makes me wonder how this country is going to recover if we don’t believe we can.
I realize I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, but last night I sent a letter to four major news organizations complaining about their fear mongering and asking for more solution-oriented coverage. We have a flood on our hands — let’s clean it up before it’s too late.