Bad News is Good Business

The evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC have been 150 times more negative when covering President Trump compared to presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to a new study.  News stories in general and reports focused on President Donald Trump in particular will continue to be reported negatively because its highly profitable for the mainstream media. (No, its not purely for ideological reasons.) In this episode I discuss research focused on the media, the psychological effects of so much negative news coverage and why nothing will change despite the adverse effects on the public. Subscribe to “The Things I Think About Podcast” on your favorite podcast platform

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

If you spend any time at all watching the news, at some point you will hear some negative news concerning President Trump and its been a trend since he first entered office. Let me share with you quotes from two very interesting articles; well, I thought they were interesting. The first one I’ll share is from a 2017 article in The Washington Examiner.

How negative was press coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days in office? Far more than that of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, according to a new report from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The Harvard scholars analyzed the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the main newscasts (not talk shows) of CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC during Trump’s initial time in office. They found, to no one’s surprise, that Trump absolutely dominated news coverage in the first 100 days. And then they found that news coverage was solidly negative80 percent negative among those outlets studied, versus 20 percent positive.

Again, that was back in 2017. My next quote comes from a Fox News report dated August 17, 2020. 

The evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC have been 150 times more negative when covering President Trump compared to presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to a new study. The Media Research Center analyzed all statements made by reporters, anchors and nonpartisan sources, such as experts or voters, made on CBS’ “Evening News,” “NBC Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News Tonight” from June 1 through July 31.

MRC research director Rich Noyes, who conducted the study, feels that “millions of viewers are witnessing the most biased presidential campaign coverage in modern media history.”

That last comment really caught my attention. Is the mainstream media only interested in making President Trump look bad for ideological reasons? Sure, that’s part of the story but, its not the whole story. Bear with me and I will fill in the blanks, after this word from my sponsor.

When it comes to negative news coverage – President Donald Trump is an easy target but to be fair, there are plenty of negative news reports to go around. Why is that? Well, no big mystery there, they do it for the money. Let me share a few quotes about the media from a variety of sources that are sad, but true. The links to all my sources can be found at JimStroud.com.

Nielson ratings account for 50% of negative news statistics. Most journalists attribute the Nielson ratings as the biggest reason that news reports are either sensationalized or are simply inaccurate. The ratings boost viewership, which in turn attracts advertising dollars and investment. So as a result, many media outlets stress the importance of delivering negative and emotionally jarring news reports. This burden falls squarely on the shoulders of journalists, who feel pressure to deliver over exaggerated news stories.

Negative media coverage reports show that negative words such as “bad,” or “worst,” and “never” are 30% more effective at catching people’s attention as opposed to positive. The studies also revealed that negative words improved the average click-through rate. Headlines with negative bias showed a 63% higher result when compared to positive ones.

In theory, the news should be an unbiased presentation of the truth. However, in reality, the news is anything but that. Studies show that the majority of articles are biased and represent a media distortion of reality. Contrary evidence is often omitted, and 79% of media articles have been shown to be divisive.

So, putting Trump is a negative light and bad news in general, makes news organizations money. Such being the case, its no wonder why it continues. But I have to ask, why does the public put up with it? Isn’t all the negativity on the news having an adverse effect on the viewers? Yes! Yes, it is, But on a perverse level, we (the public) buy into it, we crave it. After all, they would not feed us SO MUCH bad news if we were not willing to consume it. And that’s not speculation, that’s science.  2 more quotes for you. This first one from Psychology Today and it references a psychological study where people were shown positive news, negative news and news that was emotionally neutral.

As we predicted, those who watched the negative news bulletin all reported being significantly more anxious and sadder after watching this bulletin than those people who watched either the positive or neutral news bulletin.

But what was more interesting was the effect that watching negative news had on peoples’ worries. We asked each participant to tell us what their main worry was at the time, and we then asked them to think about this worry during a structured interview. We found that those people who had watched the negative news bulletin spent more time thinking and talking about their worry and were more likely to catastrophize their worry than people in the other two groups. Catastrophizing is when you think about a worry so persistently that you begin to make it seem much worse than it was at the outset and much worse than it is in reality—a tendency to make mountains out of molehills!

So not only are negatively valenced news broadcasts likely to make you sadder and more anxious, they are also likely to exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties.

Bad news makes money. Too much bad news makes you anxious, sad and full of worry. So, why can’t we give it up? Time magazine has an answer for us…

While increased anxiety and stress are reason enough to be wary of overdoing it when it comes to the news, these and other mental health afflictions can also fuel physical ailments. Stress-related hormones, namely cortisol, have been linked to inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and other serious health concerns. So if the evidence suggests the news can stress people out, why do they keep going back for more? For one thing, it’s entertaining, Davey says. The human brain is also wired to pay attention to information that scares or unsettles us—a concept known as “negativity bias“.

“In a state of nature, our survival depends on finding rewards and avoiding harm, but avoiding harm takes priority,” says Loretta Breuning, a former professor of management at California State University, East Bay and author of Habits of a Happy Brain.

Breuning explains that the human brain is attracted to troubling information because it’s programmed to detect threats, not to overlook them. “This can make it hard for us to ignore the negatives and seek out the positives around us,” she says. “Our brain is predisposed to go negative, and the news we consume reflects this.”

This is too funny to me. Funny, ironic; not funny ha-ha. Its like we’re caught in a parasitic relationship with the media. We know its not good for us to consume too much news because it has a negative effect on our mental health and yet, our brains are wired to seek out the kind of bad news that is hurting us.  Sigh… I’ll leave you with this.

A Russian newspaper, The City Reporter, decided to publish only positive stories in their publication for a day. The social experiment was undertaken in order to see the effect negative vs positive news stories have on people. Stories were all written from a positive stance. They included things like how the roads were clear despite heavy snow. The result of the experiment led to the newspaper losing ⅔ of their readership that day!

Yeah, the newspaper workers were just as shocked as you are.