Selling Fear: Why the media makes every financial news story sound scary

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The media is no longer a civil service. It’s a business.

Yes, this statement would have Walter Cronkite turning in his grave. But sorry Walter—the glory days of the stoic newsman presenting a fair and balanced view at 6pm are over.

These days, news is less about journalism and more about bending to our deepest, darkest fears. Because here’s the dirty little secret, people: Bad news sells.

Think of the events where we all consumed news pathologically—the Global Financial Crisis, September 11, the Brisbane floods or the most recent bird flu outbreak. They all had a common theme, didn’t they? They took over the entire front page of the newspaper, the morning news shows raced to the scene so they could broadcast “live from the disaster zone”, and every night there seemed to be another TV special about them.

The world’s media moguls know bad news sells significantly more than good news. People’s interest in news is much more intense when there’s a perceived threat to their way of life—especially their money.

So why are we talking about how news is reported in the media? Well, it’s a perfect example of what’s known as the negativity bias.

You see, there’s part of our brain called the amygdala. Developing as part of our human evolution, it’s our “danger detector”. It quickly works through all the information in front of us and identifies anything that could put us in danger. It’s how our ancestors avoided being preyed on by dangerous animals.

We may not have to worry about tigers pouncing on us too much these days. But that “danger detector” still plays a huge part in our daily lives, particularly how we deal with money and the potential loss of it.

Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen articles telling everyone that the end of the world is near.

Don’t believe everything you read.

There’s nothing wrong with consuming the news in times of distress. We do it religiously for our clients. But take everything you read with a grain of salt. By understanding the psychology and the vested interest behind what you’re reading, you’ll be able to make decisions with your head instead of your heart.

The days of the media helping you understand the issues at play are over. All it’s interested in is selling copies, increasing ratings and increasing their advertising income by getting more people to click on their articles.

And that’s the danger you should really be looking out for.

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