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Bummed out? It’s really not the media’s fault

Submitted by on Monday, 30 March 2009 No Comment

The headline – Feeling stressed? You can combat the worry line – was enticing enough that I clicked.

It included some interesting anecdotal nuggets about how the economy has taken its toll on our health – candy and liquor sales up, sleeplessness increasing – and tips on how to avoid damage.

But then came the gratuitous bash:

“The media is (sic) a bit out of control, blasting the airwaves with negativity,” says Dr. Richard Bowdle, Sutter Center for Psychiatry medical director. “We’re oversaturated with negative messages about hard times and catastrophic finance.”

I quit reading.

Maybe the media are the only source for Dr. Bowdle’s information about “catastrophic finance,” but the rest of us need only poke our noses out our doors.

A friend notorious for reading newspapers only when something happens in her neighborhood or to check sports scores recently described a mutual acquaintance as “unemployed – just like everyone else I know.”

Take a quick stroll down my street and you’ll see three vacant houses where families used to live. Walk another block further and there are at least that many more for-sale signs, plus a house that’s been empty since September.

Go to the grocery store and leave with a wallet less than $50 lighter. Or visit a deep discount store – the kind you never went to before they started freezing wages and laying off co-workers – and be amazed at how crowded it is.

Unless you’re oblivious, you’ll get a pretty good idea from what you see that things are a little tough out there right now. And you’ll get it without reading or hearing a single news story.

Yet trained psychologists insist on saying that it’s the media’s fault: “I really think the media is (sic) driving much of the bad news out there,” one wrote in November. She also threw in a conspiracy theory, predicting it all would go away after Barack Obama took office. Two months later and counting …

Here are some news flashes:

  • The media did not create unemployment rates that surpass 20 percent in some parts of the country. OK, so media companies did contribute to those rates but, really, newspaper layoffs don’t account for all of it.
  • The media did not create the subprime crisis, though more-aggressive reporting when the jacked-up loans started to emerge might have helped. Except if that had happened, someone would have accused outlets of trying to ruin a good housing drunk.
  • The media did not create was in indeed a major crisis. Kind of amusing now to look back on commenters dismissing financial problems as phantoms in the fall. “My bank, Wells Fargo, is strong and solid,” one wrote about the same time Wells Fargo was accepting federal bailout money and at the beginning of a quarter where it would post a loss.

After decades in the media, I can tell you that on any given day no outlet is going to make even a fraction of its customers happy. That’s why mass media probably no longer works as an organizing concept without a whale of a lot of community involvement, but that’s an unrelated rant.

But to blame newspapers and television for the economic meltdown, if I can call it that without being accused of being part of the conspiracy, is absurd.

I understand that some folks find it hard to avoid obsessing about an endless stream of tragic news even as they complain about saturation. I have a friend who channel flipped and Web surfed for days in search of the latest on John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash, even as she lamented about how much it upset her.

People who fall into that category should be all means avoid 24-7 news coverage. Even folks who don’t fall into that category – a survey last fall showed that the economy was creating stress for 80 percent of those who responded – should make sure they’re taking care of themselves by staying healthy and concentrate on things they can control.

But economy-related depression is far too serious a matter to lump in with everything else the media get blamed for. Particularly since the average person would figure out the economy’s struggling even if the media never printed or aired a single word.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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