When I started at The Wall Street Journal Online in the 1990s as a wet-behind-the-ears news assistant, I can still recall one of my editors making a crack in the newsroom about “when it bleeds, it leads.” The market had experienced a steep sell off that day and my editor was in the throes of putting a headline on a story about the blood bath stocks had taken.
The recent market volatility harkens back to the all-consuming frenzy that permeated the newsroom when the Dow dropped in a big way, and it got me thinking: Are financial journalists partial to writing stories about negative news, and if so, does that provoke even more irrational fear in the market?
To gain some insight on what people think, I decided to engage Twitter’s polling option, which is free if you tweet the poll to followers. I wanted to drum up more than five votes, so I paid Twitter to promote the poll. Following are the results:
— PondelWilkinson (@PondelWilkinson) January 20, 2016
Even though the question elicited 295 votes, the results were not very conclusive. Nearly a third of respondents believe that media are more inclined to publish stories about a bear market, and the same goes for a bull market. At the same time, 44 percent of voters claimed media are indifferent about publishing bull or bear market news, which is where I take issue. Call me a curmudgeon, but I do believe that media are more inclined to publish negative news, after all who wants to read about positive news unless puppies are involved?
The German word schadenfreude comes to mind, which means to take pleasure in someone else’s misery. A lot of folks have made a lot of money in the stock market during the last several years, and quite frankly, this recent correction may be validating for all of those other folks who haven’t been able to generate solid returns. Getting your comeuppance on Wall Street is a sexy story to tell these days, with the hit movie “The Big Short” drawing hordes of crowds, not to mention Martin Shkreli’s rise to fame as the hedge-fund-turned-pharma-exec devil incarnate.
I fully support holding fraudulent companies, executives and anyone else in the capital markets accountable, although finding that balance can certainly be difficult when journalists’ salaries are miniscule relative to what folks make on Wall Street. Perhaps the only way to ensure that financial media are less biased toward writing bludgeoning stories is to get their salaries more in line with the people they cover. And who knows, that might help ameliorate market volatility and put more money in the hands of everyone.
– Evan Pondel, email@example.com