The Media Is The Message

I read Seth Godin’s blog almost every day.  I don’t learn something every day but I learn something often enough that it is worth my trouble.

Monday the 27th was no exception.  I did not learn anything I did not previously know but I found the article collected up several thoughts that were not previously coherent.  You can read “Munchausen By Proxy and the Media”  here.

The point is that the media feasts on bad news.  Why?  Because we tend to stay involved.  To track its progress.  To assess our risk.  We do so because bad news makes us feel better, albeit a bit anxious.  Big accident on the freeway just after I passed by the spot.  Someone I don’t know contracted a deadly disease.  Someone I don’t know died in a plane crash.  Lucky me.

Good news makes us feel insecure.  Entrepreneurs are threatening.  Pro golfers are frustrating to watch.  High marks are a problem for others.  Promotions.  Bonuses.  All threatening.

In the article above, we learn that despite the world being much safer than it once was, we are concerned about safety and security.  Why?  Because of what we focus our attention upon.  That is the media’s doing.

I recall in the OJ Simpson trial that CNN was fully invested.  There was a one week adjournment beginning on the 17th of April to deal with a juror issue.  On the 19th Timothy McVeigh and others destroyed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.  A cynical son estimated that CNN probably did it so they would have something to obsess about while the trial was on the back burner.

Seth Godin believes that the media does not create the news, but as you cans see, there are times when you might wonder.

Big, unique or spectacularly unexpected events draw our attention.  Most of the time there is nothing to learn from these, but their unusual characteristics fascinate us.  The media is a business.  Of course they will deliver what their customers want to see and hear.

As with every other thing in our life, consider context.  Most of the time you will end up saying, “It is just the media doing what they do.  It really does not affect me.”  Not my circus.

I recently had discussions about the shooting on Parliament Hill and ISIS.  The consensus is that ISIS membership is about 1 in every 250,000 people on earth and geographically is important in eastern Syria and Northern Iraq.  We further estimated that if we surveyed every person on earth about ISIS, at least five billion would not know of what we were speaking.

People have trouble with context or perspective.  ISIS is a concern.  They should be isolated, limited, and eventually eradicated, but they are not a clear and present danger if you live outside their geography.

The same is true with day to day economic and investment news.  Media folks are entertainers.  Pundits are seeking attention.  Find what works for you and notice but not obsess over the rest.

Enjoy the good things in life.  Try obsessing over a grandchild or a neighborhood project.  Take a course.  Learn a skill.  Appreciate beauty.  Enjoy a chat with a friend.  Go to the gym.  Bake a cake.

There are many ways to make yourself feel good and the media supports few of them.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact:  

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