The Paralytic Power of the Media

I was speaking with a remodeling contractor the other day and he described our current economic downturn as a "Doomsday Scenario." Doomsday? Where did he get that idea?

Answer: The Media: TV, radio, internet, etc.

In the mad scramble to hang onto viewers and readers, the media have had to resort to ever more tabloid coverage of everything. A sneeze becomes a pandemic. A recession becomes a depression. The trivial becomes the catastrophic. 

And what is the end result of this media coverage? People actually become convinced that the end is near and they give up.

Productivity and Mindset

Studies have shown that with a clear mind, people will work at about 85 percent of their capacity. When troubled by national or corporate events (e.g., recessions or downsizing), their productivity falls to only 60 percent; a drop of almost a third.

My wife worked in a company that continues to go through a seemingly endless series of downsizings. She is pretty buoyant, but I could see the toll it took on her. And when I visited her workplace, it was like the Night of the Living Dead--zombies slouching through their tasks. It's no wonder they couldn't finish projects on time with quality.

The same thing is true with the media's coverage of the current recession. "It's the worst since the Great Depression," they say. Maybe so, but is it really that bad?

My metric is people in restaurants. My wife and I go out to eat on the weekends and I haven't really noticed a decline in people eating in restaurants. People are still shopping. In a Doomsday Scenario, no one would have money to spend on restaurant food.

My business is down about a third (which matches the productivity downturn we would expect), but that means that two-thirds of businesses are working hard to improve their productivity and profitability, seemingly unaffected by the current downturn.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

I guess my ultimate fear is that people will become so anesthetized to paralytic journalism that when there really is something to worry about, we won't be able to hear it.

So, what can you do?

  • Take the media's coverage with a grain of salt.
  • Develop your own metrics of good/bad. Is it really as bad as it seems?
  • Downsize your media consumption. If it's making you feel bad, stop reading or viewing it.
  • Take action. What can you do to be more productive, add more value, or create a solution to the problem?

When 9/11 happened, I was in a workshop in Utah. Our instructor, Alberto Villoldo, wisely said: "The terrorists hope to paralyze us into inaction." He had us light a fire for those lost and we kept it burning throughout the week. An hour later, we started the workshop.

In many ways, I fear that the media have become the new terrorists of society. And we have become addicted to bad news because it makes us feel something.

Here's my point: Turn your attention to what you want and start taking action toward it, or allow yourself to become paralyzed by the media's incendiary coverage of almost everything. It's up to you.

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