Saturday, March 10, 2012

Playing to emotion and burying the lead

One of the biggest problems, in my opinion, with the current crop of media outlets--be they online, TV, radio, or print--is a tendency to play to the emotions of the reader/listener. I say "current crop," but this has always been a problem. And to be fair, I don't think there's a solution, given the need to attract an audience in order to stay in business (luckily I don't have that problem, which is why there is often a lack of emotion in my posts). Still, it disturbs me to see unnecessary rhetoric and/or terminology in a piece, which otherwise contains some good information.

For instance, consider this article from MarketWatch. Entitled "U.S. gains 227,000 jobs in February" and subtitled "Best stretch of job growth since 2006; jobless rate remains at 8.3%," one can only assume the article is full of positive news. And indeed, the article opens up with bits designed to paint a happy picture, but sufficiently hedged to make such conclusions a product of the reader. Like this:
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.3% as nearly half-a-million workers re-entered the labor force in search of jobs, the Labor Department reported. That’s usually a good sign because it means people believe more work is available.
"Usually a good sign." Bu it may not be a good sign. And even if it is a good sign, it doesn't absolutely indicate a rebounding a economy. Yet, it seems positive. Here's another bit:

The past three months of full-time job growth — aided by unusually warm winter weather — is the fastest since the end of the 2007-2009 recession and marks the best performance since early 2006.
That sounds even better, right? "The best performance" of full-time job growth since 2006. But in context of a growing population and an unchanged unemployment rate, what does this really signify? Certainly, it couldn't--somehow--be bad news? Or could it? Much of the second half of this article details what's wrong with the rosy picture painted so far, from the fact that the warm weather led to early job growth that will subtract from future months, to the fact that hourly pay--adjusted for inflation--is actually down, to the idea that moving people off the job seeking rolls is why the unemployment rate is not substantially higher (it even notes that the U6 rate is at 14.9%).

And as we learned from the February numbers, the participation rate was knocked down by subtracting over a million people from job-seeking rolls. The article notes an increase of this number by 476,000 people, but that doesn't even amount to half of what had fallen out in the previous month.

Then, there's this bit:
At the current rate of hiring, the U.S. would not return to precession levels of employment for at least four years. The jobless rate hovered around 5% to 6% before the downturn.
Get that? At the current rate--a rate that likely cannot be maintained--the economy is still four years away from achieving a true recovery. There's the lead for the story, right there. But it's been buried on the second page, after a majority of the article tries to make us feel good about the latest numbers.

I guess what bothers me the most about articles like this one is that most of the truth is there, but it's being packaged in a way that seems disingenuous, to put it mildly.

Cheers, all.

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