Chain Reactions

Bad News Sells Better Than Good News

Here's the headline from a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers' press release:

"U.S. Industrial Manufacturers Expect Lower Growth Rates for the Next 12 Months." Hmmm, that doesn't sound so good, does it? But when you drill down into the actual text of the press release (which is publicizing a new study), what's really going on, and what could just as easily have been trumpeted in the headline, is this:

"U.S. Industrial Manufacturers Expect Growth Rate of 5.7% for the Next 12 Months."

It's curious that PWC chose to accentuate the negative in the headline rather than the positive. True, there is a downside to the story -- growth projections are down a few percentage points from a previous report -- but why lead with the bad news, which really isn't "news" at all? Of course, the answer is obvious: Bad news is more likely to attract a casual reader's eye than good news. It's a secret journalists have known for years (and in fact, we even succumbed ourselves to the negative slant when we posted the story here): bad news gets more attention than good news, meaning more people are likely to read a story if the headline implies something rotten rather than something wonderful. Doesn't mean people want for bad things to happen, of course -- just that they're more inclined to want to read about them.

In this particular instance, PWC surveyed 61 industrial manufacturing executives, as they do every quarter, and these execs opine on how optimistic they're feeling. What ends up happening, then, is that news outlets pick up on the story and run with it as breaking news on the economy, when of course that's not what's actually going on. It's a survey, based on the opinion of a very small group of people.

In any event, as you read further into the press release, you'll see that the expected growth rate of 5.7% is down from the much more optimistic 8.1% expected in the previous quarter. You would at the very least then assume that the press release from three months ago would've been very upbeat and positive, right? Well, no. Here's the headline from April 25, 2007:

"Continued slowing of U.S. economy leads to decrease in domestic optimism."

Huh? You can read through the entire press release and not even see a single mention of that 8.1% growth rate "statistic." Instead, PWC used an entirely different yardstickthe number of people who were optimistic, rather than the expected rate of growthto come up with a "decrease." And even that is somewhat negated by the actual findings, where we discover that "only 5% of manufacturers were reported as being pessimistic about the current U.S. economy."

This sounds like I'm singling out PWC, but that's not the case. It's part of a trend that's as old as speech itselfbad news is inherently "juicier" than good news, and the press (and I'm not giving IndustryWeek a pass here, either) is as much to blame as anybody. People Magazine, for instance, isn't going to sell very many copies with a headline like this:

"Lindsay Lohan Enjoys Quiet Evening Reading Robert Frost Poems."

While everybody wants to hear only good news when it comes to their own financial and personal health, apparently the thought that other people are suffering makes for good reading. Go figure.

So is there any chance in the world that this "bad news trumps good news" trend will change any time soon? Probably not. Here's a headline from today's USAToday:

"Manufacturing expands but at slowest pace since March."

And so it goes

TAGS: Supply Chain
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.