Despite dramatic drum beats, the sky is not falling

Chicken Little, courtesy Disney clipartMy friend Jay Rosen has been writing a blog for many years now called “PressThink.” Throughout its entries, Jay makes the case that “the press” generally moves as one in our culture. It is influenced by many things, but more often than you might think, its biggest influence is what each other is writing and saying.

We all may talk about being independent, but we seem to come together on what the stories are, and this, Jay argues, is not necessarily good for the culture. I agree with Jay, and the latest illustration is what’s taking place in our economy. Stung by accusations that the media itself played a role in the collapse of the financial sector — we apparently failed to ask the right questions and failed to understand what was taking place — the press is now scrambling to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the right thing seems to be pounding the case that we’re all somehow going to die (or worse).

The cumulative effect of all this is a relentless dose of bad news followed by more bad news, with everybody frantically working to see who can make the most mileage out of dire predictions. Every day brings more market woes, and the sky definitely appears to be falling.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers released data this week about internet advertising in the first half of the year. It was up, but that didn’t get much attention. What did were questions about what the second half of the year will be like. Take a look at this graph. The only reason anybody would care about how growth “slowed” a wee bit is if they’re using it to tee up a bad forecast for the second half of the year.

chart from IAB/PWC online advertising report

That’s a pretty healthy-looking chart, and I agree with the analysts who don’t believe that online advertising will crash and burn as a result of what’s happening in the financial markets. Advertising didn’t end during the great depression; in fact, creativity and innovation flourished, and that’s where we need to be today.

There was a time in my journalistic life when reaction was the second-day lead. The first day was all about absorbing the story, which, in this case, is that web advertising was up 15% in the first half of the year. But the need to scoop the next guy has moved the second-day lead (reaction) to the first. This overwhelms the real story here, and this is one of the reasons we only get the negative.

There’s also the cumulative factor, something anybody who has worked in a hyphenated market will understand. If it bleeds, it leads is on steroids when a station is serving multiple population centers, and the cumulative newscast effect is one of wall-to-wall death and destruction.

This has an effect on the psyche of the community, and so it is with our current economy. People are holding back, waiting to see what happens in the weeks and months to come. This is different than it was during the depression of my parents, because we have access to information like they didn’t have. When the run on banks began, that’s all anybody saw.

The economy of the West is based on faith, not actual numbers, and confidence impacts its ebb and flow. Those of us in “the press” must exercise a degree of responsibility to that end, and this is a Herculean task in today’s competitive environment. Meanwhile, let’s keep moving forward with innovation, tapping the growth market of the Web in ways we perhaps haven’t before.

For all the bad news we’re hearing, it IS a time of incredible opportunity as well. The sky isn’t falling; it’s only a storm.

(Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)


  1. this sounds like i’m preaching to the choir, but is this nothing more than a move past modernism?

    we’ve seen “the institution” of wall street with 1/8th to 1/2 spreads go to spreads of a penny due to the computer. walking talking brokers are all but on dispaly in a museum because of this.

    maybe real estate agents are next?

    maybe ad sales forces are somewhere down the road?

    it makes you wonder.

    it’s an interesting time to be alive.

  2. The sky may not be falling, but those looking up are also looking all around, screaming their displeasure with their present condition. In the past week I’ve heard normally neutral people spewing everything from a class action lawsuit by taxpayers aimed at all the CEOs and government bureaucrats — to calls for a US “no confidence” vote to fire every elected politician, as well as “EAT THE RICH” protest plans in front of lobbyist and CEO mansions. Watching the far right and far left taking to the same streets at the same time, while joined by wild-eyed newcomers is mind boggling. The role of the Internet is now firmly established as the pipeline for all, with the MSM left to muse over the results. How mighty is democracy and the pipes that keep it flowing!

  3. I was home sick the day the failed House vote on the bailout occurred, and was watching marathon coverage on CNBC. As a financial journalist myself, I was appalled at the irresponsible coverage. As the “nay” votes accrued at a higher than expected rate, it was as if each anchor/guest/analyst was trying to outdo the previous in speculating (in as much detail as possible) just how badly the world was about to suck if the bill didn’t pass.

    Needless to say, this was hardly the remedy for my flu.

  4. Agree with you 100% — the sky is not falling and those that manage to survive the storm will be the strongest ones. Probably such recessions are exactly what we need to maintain a healthy environment. After all, we caused these problems with our own actions and now we will simply have to clean the mess a little.


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    […] Despite dramatic drum beats, the sky is not falling […]

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