Thursday, September 25, 2008

Unbiased News in the Fine Print

A coping mechanism in this era of information overload is to wade through the scores of trade articles, op-eds, blog posts, thought leadership pieces, etc. by merely reading the headlines. In a brief moment you can get a sense of the direction of an article and recognize industry trends from common themes that emerge across a myriad of news sources.

However, due to editorial bias this Cliffs Notes approach to news consumption is wrought with risk. Consider this gloomy headline that arrived in my Email inbox compliments of BrandRepublic news:

“Ad Industry Leaders Predict Deep Recession”

The first paragraph of the article reports that the marketing communications industry is now facing a “deep and long” recession that will result in many agencies going out of business. The writer cites a number of global agency heads to validate this position.

"At first, I thought we were going through a normal cyclical downturn. Now I think the scenario is much less predictable, which reinforces the need for agencies to keep their balance sheets as strong as they can." Bob Willott, the editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence

"The smell of fear is incredible. “People are terrified." And he warned: "The next 15 months are not going to be easy." WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell
Yikes! Smell of fear…people terrified…it’s obvious that agency heads need to take drastic cost-cutting action immediately to ensure survival. Or should they?

Drill down a little deeper in the article and the story is quite different.

"We're seeing some signs of a slowdown in fourth-quarter spending, especially in the auto and financial sectors, but it's not heavy and nobody is panicking." Maurice Lévy, the Publicis Groupe

"I've been waiting for my numbers to drop off the cliff but they haven't. People are still shopping and repaying their mortgages." Lord Bell, Chime chairman

My takeaway here is to consume news and analysis as you would a legal agreement: read the fine print. Even the best intentioned journalists, pundits and bloggers have a natural bias in their thinking that shapes how they structure a story.


Carol said...

Marc, I believe you're right. We cannot be well informed without drilling deeper. Scanning headlines or reading digests has to be a filtering step, followed by closer examination of selected topics. It's smart to look at multiple sources, too, because of bias.The trick is how to accomplish that when information and other stimuli flood us every day and so much demands our time. It's foolish not to try, though. And those of us in communications must do our best to operate ethically.

kenw said...


It is getting harder to manage life, business, family, and stay up with current events (news) without finding some way to abbreviate the feed. You will have to "short" a lot of things in life unless you find a middle ground to tread.

I catch what I can in snippets throughout the day, but the issues are becoming so complicated, and so many talking heads are pontificating what sounds like learned opinions I find it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I find my better action is to learn which pundits I have a bit of trust developed with and concentrate on what they say.