The Australian media, the world media has become obsessed with headlining every tiny piece of economic bad news. Picking up the newspaper is like hopping on the ghost train: with every turn of the page, someone tries to scare you witless. Turning on the radio or television is worse: the news is an endless catalogue of pain; reasons to be cheerful, parts one, two and three.
Can we get this straight: we all know things are going badly. We don't need to be told again and again and again.
The world economy may look like a car crash but do we really need to slow down and stare so hard at the site of the accident? Just as on the roads, the more we stare, the worse we jam up the system.
We all know we are in a recession; we also know the stockmarket is stuffed. The answer to both is a return of confidence, so why do we work so hard to knock confidence on the head? The misery-mongers would rather indulge in a festival of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Suddenly Hanrahan is back, dominating the conversation: "We'll all be rooned......"
I'm not arguing we should live in a fool's paradise, cotton-wooled from bad news. It's just that there's so much real bad news, we could be spared the made-up stuff.
Lobby groups are saying to the Government: "Give us what we want or something really terrible will happen." The honest headline would be: "Lobby groups post begging letters to Government." Instead, the media goes with the lurid threat: "Jobs to fall by third."
The aim of a quality news service is to give people an accurate sense of the world in which they are living. The aim is not just to yell "boo" with such force that everyone chokes on their Weet-Bix.
To be given an accurate sense of reality, we need to be exposed to a fair amount of bad news, that's true. But there comes a point where it is overplayed. By reporting every protection-racket threat as if it were already fact, the world becomes a darker place than it really is.
This represents a serious failure of reporting - of giving people an accurate and nuanced sense of the world. More importantly, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It leads to more job losses; further drops on the stockmarket; more human misery.
Human beings have an inbuilt tendency to stick with the crowd; we lurch as a group towards optimism, and then we stampede towards pessimism.
It's why stockmarkets always overshoot both on the upside and on the downside. It's why Warren Buffett has made a fortune through following the adage: "Get greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy."
The media has to report the news, good or bad. But it also has to try to rise above the mood of the moment, rather than simply reinforce it. The easiest thing when presented with a stampede is to join it.
How did Kipling put it? "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs . . . "
Blues Point Reserve, Milsons Point, Sydney - Feb 2007 - Tree roots struggling against the odds to find water and succeeding.
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