Does bad news have you running scared?
Good news does not sell newspapers. There’s no money in good news. No one clicks on a hyperlink that promotes an article called “Life is Good.” But come across a link that says “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar” and you’re clicking through – because that’s news!
While we’d like to think all news outlets work tirelessly to create balanced reports that reflect the good and the bad, the news industry is as capitalistic as any other. Simply put, good news doesn’t draw audiences so it doesn’t generate revenue. News is supposed to be bad. They show you really bad news and then try to sell you the “Addiction Cure” book. I’m not the leading authority on addiction, but I’m pretty sure it takes more to sober up than some guy’s book! Though I’ll admit that CNN and Fox News these days would drive my church-going grandmother to shots of tequila!
In our busy world, round-the-clock news channels are useful and popular. After we’ve put in long hours on the job to make ourselves look indispensable, we like to sit down at whatever hour of the day to catch the news. The problem is that there’s not enough sensationally bad stuff happening to take up all the airtime, so they have to make things look terrible. Crime is down about 35 percent since the ’70s, but that kind of truth will make us grab the remote and switch to reruns of Star Trek.
As I watched CNN a few weeks ago, the anchor literally said, “Here is a story that may be developing.” May be developing? That means there’s no real news, but they’re going to try to make something into news because they’ve got to fill 24 hours. The other day I saw Wolf Blitzer (no way that’s his real name – it sounds like a hair gel for dogs!) appear in the “Situation Room.” I think if you create a “Situation Room,” you are going to have yourself a … situation. It’s like creating a vacuum that sucks bad news into it!
The local news outlets don’t have as much airtime to fill, but they still try to promote panic through teasers leading up to the late-night broadcast. Panic is great for ratings. On my local station I once heard something like “Coming up at 11: Things that are killing your children.” But it’s only six o’clock now! In five hours my children could be dead from this stuff you won’t tell me about yet!
Media feeds the worry-prone
Don’t let the media tell you what your life looks like. It’s their job to put us on edge and keep us tuning in to see what we need to be worrying about next. That’s how they pay their bills. And we’re gullible enough to make all these new outlets solvent – prosperous, even! We are programmed for bad news. You are stuck in a traffic jam because of an alleged car accident, but when you finally pull alongside the wreck, you think, “That’s nothing! For the 20 minutes I’m delayed, I should at least see an injured person on a stretcher.”
If only we could convert worry into a viable fuel source, we could get busy consuming it instead of letting it consume us. Think about it: Worry is sustainable. It’s renewable. Self-perpetuating, even – I know people who get worried if they run short on things to worry about. “Things are going too well,” they reason. “Something’s bound to go wrong soon.”
We all know people who think like that. We also know many people aren’t thinking like that right now. Most people would say things aren’t going so well at the moment. We saw gas prices surge over the summer and we’ve watched unemployment rates creep steadily upward. Now we’re wondering whether our jobs are safe and obsessing over a recession – are we in one? Are we headed for one? How long will it last? Will I end up a bag lady (which is a hard thing for a man to deal with)?
Who determines such things?
Apparently it’s the news media. Back in mid March, CNN reported “Three-Quarters Think U.S. in Recession.” The source? A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey. The 74 percent of respondents who said they believe we’re in recession probably got the idea from watching CNN in the first place. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the survey headline convinced the other 26 percent to change their minds!
Keep in mind that television news programs qualify as entertainment. Unlike newspapers, their credibility doesn’t suffer much if they misinform; they don’t often issue retractions. They can say things that are untrue and you will believe it. TV news shows cast for talent just like sitcoms do. That’s why you see so many blond female lawyers in their late 30s telling us what’s going on these days. Demographic studies show we are more likely to watch and trust them. They cast people like Nancy Grace to tell us about tragedy because she carries so much tragedy and anger in her eyes. If she were doing toothpaste commercials, she would still personally freak me out.
Worrying about something cannot prevent it from happening. And if something we’ve worried about does happen, all that fretting won’t increase our odds of surviving it. When we face tough times, attitude and action help; angst does not. Action and adaptability create opportunity. No one has ever worried themselves out of worry!
So don’t let the media work you into a frenzy about some prolonged recession that dominates your every thought. If you fret about it all day, life will still be nothing more than a series of great times, good times, mediocre times, and bad times. And, true to life, markets go up and markets go down. That’s how the world works. But the prevailing tendency is for recession to be short-lived and for steady gain over the long term.
If we could hold tight to that thought even as news outlets harp about the horrid here-and-now, the fog of worry that brings some people to a standstill might fade to a light mist, giving them enough visibility to inch their way forward.
Even so, some folks will still allow worry to warp their worldview. Here are some words of advice for those who hope not to be one of them: Worry is not the symptom of a problematic life; it’s the problem. Situations pass that make our lives difficult; it’s the worry that stays with us that makes us ultimately unhappy.
Imagine how conversion of anxiety into a fuel source could reduce our worries about the economy and environment …There’s just one problem with that: Less worry would mean less fuel. And then we’d have to find more stuff to worry about so we could keep chugging along.