An explanation for climate 'doom and gloom' in the media – 'people demand all that bad news'

From Washington State University

Buyer’s remorse — model shows people demand all that bad news

PULLMAN, Wash. – Bad news in the media got you down? News consumers have only themselves to blame, says new research showing that it’s actually buying habits that drive negative press.

The research looks at the negative news phenomenon through the prism of economic science. And while previous studies have focused on the supply side by examining media output, the current analysis is among the first to investigate a negative news bias from the consumer or demand side.

Washington State University Professor Jill McCluskey and her colleagues at the University of Leuven in Belgium created a theoretical model that illustrates how consumers get more value from negative news than positive news.

Focusing on newspapers, the researchers looked at the way people use information from news articles to enhance their well-being and avoid losses. Their model analyzed how much happiness consumers derived from choosing either bad or good news. The results showed greater individual benefit from reading the bad news.

Collectively, this tendency creates a societal preference for negative news stories said McCluskey.

“Newspapers act on this demand by reporting more bad news to attract readers and sell more papers,” she said.

The study was published in the journal Information Economics and Policy and funded by Research Foundation – Flanders and the KU Leuven Research Fund.

Avoid risk and make wise choices

The researchers built their model on an economic theory asserting that as an individual’s income increases, the impact of each additional dollar diminishes.

“When you are very poor and hungry, for example, each dollar is worth a lot as it helps you buy enough food to eat,” McCluskey said. “But once you have more money and can count on regular meals, it’s the losses that will affect you more. In terms of happiness and well-being, a $1,000 loss will affect you more than a $1,000 windfall.”

The same idea applies to information offered in newspapers, the Internet, TV or radio. In their model, the researchers used a measurement called utility to assess the benefits or drawbacks people get from consuming a good or service – in this case, positive and negative news stories.

Their findings highlight a strong human tendency to avoid risk.

McCluskey said consumers read good news to glean information about benefits from a positive event, which might improve their own income or welfare. Reading about the success of a Fortune 500 company, for example, might help one decide to invest in their stock.

Bad news, on the other hand, provides information on how to avoid a negative event or loss to one’s well-being. Reading bad news helps consumers avoid making bad choices.

“Food scares are a good illustration as they are widely covered by the media,” McCluskey said. To protect their health, “people choose to avoid the suspected food – such as beef during the Mad Cow scare, or spinach with the E.coli outbreaks.”

Over time, McCluskey said the model clearly showed individuals gain a greater advantage from reading bad news than good news. These consumers, either consciously or subconsciously, then continue to choose newspapers with more negative reporting. In response, news outlets take advantage of that risk aversion to maximize their profits.

Downside to bad news

Despite its benefits to readers, bad news generates negative consequences of its own, the researchers found. For instance, too much bad news can be depressing to some people.

Skewing media toward bad news can also cause heightened fear of risk that differs from the scientific consensus, like concerns about genetic engineering, said McCluskey.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed that 88 percent of scientists believe genetically modified foods are safe, while only 37 percent of the public agrees. 87 percent of the scientists also said humans are the primary cause of climate change, in contrast to 50 percent of the public.

And bad news can lead to extended or exaggerated responses to a negative event. “Even after the E. coli scare was over, people still wouldn’t buy spinach. There can be a lot of impact on growers and wasted food with these scares,” she said.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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March 18, 2015 6:48 am

Wow, that’s bad news!
Or is it good news?
I’m so confused!
/Vinnie Barbarino

Evan Jones
Reply to  JohnWho
March 18, 2015 7:08 am

Or is it good news?
(Welcome baaaack . . .)

Reply to  JohnWho
March 18, 2015 3:36 pm

As always; “No news is good news”. Also, read Henrik Ibsen’s “An enemy of the people” to learn more about these mechanisms.

March 18, 2015 6:53 am

There must be some kind of natural post-false crisis dopamine release from the brain that rewards addiction to “bad news”.
News Report: “Ahhhh! we’re all gonna die!!!”
News Consumer: “Oh noes!!!”
News Report: “Ooops, OK, maybe things aren’t so bad.”
(or News Consumer’s Real-Life Observation of No Danger)
News Consumer: “Whew! That was close!”

[Dopamine released – wow that feels better]

Evan Jones
Reply to  PiperPaul
March 18, 2015 7:07 am

Yes, I think so.

Reply to  PiperPaul
March 18, 2015 11:29 am

If that’s the case, we’re going to witness a GIANT dopamine release when the public finally realizes that MMGW was a false alarm.

Reply to  dbstealey
March 18, 2015 11:46 am

This just in – really bad news – after 30 years of careful modeling, money grubbing, and back patting, global warming was false.
It’s going to get much colder!! Feel better?

Gunga Din
Reply to  dbstealey
March 18, 2015 2:46 pm

Bubba, that has potential. The Media also likes to report scandals.

March 18, 2015 6:59 am

(Another wasted effort by a banned sockpuppet. Comment DELETED. -mod)

Evan Jones
March 18, 2015 7:02 am

Always good to look at an effect from both sides. Top-down, you know. A lot of posters here have pessimistic outlooks — in direct contravention to the basic demographic data. Y’all are as badly wrong as the climate activists — and for much the same basic reasons.
As for GE, I like having strawberries all year ’round, half as big as my fist, sweet and firm and with no bad spots. In 1970, they were a lot more expensive, after inflation. You had to throw out several, and there was hardly a one you didn’t have to cut the bad spots out of. Furthermore, golden rice, now saves thousands of children per day from going blind or purblind from lack of vitamin A, and that alone pays for all, and then some. GMOs are a godsend.

Sun Spot
Reply to  Evan Jones
March 18, 2015 9:41 am

Except those large strawberries taste like cardboard, designed as they are for shipping and long shelf life to maximize profit. You would have a good point if the designers of these edible pseudo-fruits and vegetables actually put some effort into the taste !

Tom O
Reply to  Sun Spot
March 19, 2015 12:05 pm

On the other hand, they do grow those that taste GREAT! Of course, from a nutrition standpoint, they may as well BE cardboard.

Dodgy Geezer
March 18, 2015 7:03 am

I remember (a long time ago) reading about an experiment carried out by the editor of a local weekly magazine in New Zealand.
For one month, he printed only good news. At the end of the month, he had lost a significant level of circulation.
So he returned to the practices he had been following before. After all, which of the news headlines below would make you buy a paper (both picked to be equally unlikely)?
…Airliners collide over major city…
…”No one killed in wars today” says UN…

Alex A.
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
March 19, 2015 11:15 am

I don’t think that an absence of an event (in your example) would count as news though. I would revamp your analogy with something like this :
…Airliners collide over major city
…Airliners avoid collision over major city
Which one would you read first, or at all? As for me, I never read news of crashes, but I do read heroic stories. But I’m not normal I suppose.

Tom G(ologist)
March 18, 2015 7:05 am

Bad news can be sold over and over again, whereas good news can be sold only once. Look at our situation: a media outlet can state daily that CAGW is going to result in X, Y or Z. But once it is definitive that there is no crisis and the media reports that – the gravy train will have left the station for good.

Evan Jones
March 18, 2015 7:06 am

“No one killed in wars today” says UN…
I’d like to read that one. (And does that include massacres?)

Jerry Henson
March 18, 2015 7:09 am

Bad news for Obama. “Consensus” has dropped 10 points.

March 18, 2015 7:11 am

Cave men who got the news that a saber tooth cat was lurking at the watering hole, survived. People who didn’t want to hear “bad news” got eaten.

Reply to  rh
March 18, 2015 9:37 am

rh has got it right. Evolution wise, it only made sense for man to be aware of danger and our brains spend most time assessing the past to determine correct behaviour/response for better outcome in the future. Hence we take in danger and warning stories more readily because we were programmed to need them. It doesnt however simply mean that we accept them all as valid.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  mikegeo
March 18, 2015 5:43 pm

Perhaps thats the magic of the Grimm Fairy Tales.
They do educate.

Tom O
Reply to  mikegeo
March 19, 2015 12:18 pm

The truth is we learn from bad news, yes. The trouble is, when you read bad news often enough, you grow numb to what it is saying. Everyone knows the story of the boy cried wolf, so that is why we go from CAGW to AGW to climate change to climate catastrophe to climate controversy to what ever the next one is. That is why we get the constant changes in “science researchers say” and the topics they use. In that way the climate scare doesn’t become “old news” to the point of people growing numb.
I don’t agree, however, that people SEEK bad news. They seek news and recognize that disaster affects their lives far more frequently than something nice happening to someone else. The media pumps bad news because bad news sells, true, but that isn’t the news we seek, just what we get.
If the New Zealand paper only published good news for a month and the circulation dropped off, perhaps it was because to retain the size of the paper, he added more ads, thus giving the consumer less value for his money. Besides, “good news” is something very difficult to define as what is good news to me might very well be “no news” to someone else, and vice versa. Bad news is east to define, good news is less so.

Gunga Din
Reply to  rh
March 19, 2015 1:37 pm

And those who gave the news that a saber tooth was lurking at the water hole when there really wasn’t one controlled the water hole.
(They also didn’t want anyone to go see if they were right.)

March 18, 2015 7:17 am

It is not “bad news” per se. Just like porn, what sells is morbidity. As people we have a morbid curiosity that scams like CAGW and such exploit.
Thus rubbernecking while passing accidents, movies with gore and violence and so forth.
Seems that the majority of the population needs/craves an impending doom so great that is not easy to comprehend but it is looming there. Religions have also exploited this very efficiently throughout the ages.

Reply to  Francisco
March 18, 2015 8:23 am

Politicians, priests, and salesmen, all profit from selling fear (bad news), real or fabricated. Still, I think they are exploiting a human brain that is hard-wired to be curious about possible threats.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Francisco
March 18, 2015 11:59 am

“Seems that the majority of the population needs/craves an impending doom so great that is not easy to comprehend but it is looming there. Religions have also exploited this very efficiently throughout the ages.”
It might surprise you to hear that in many countries people do not think like that. In collapsing societies where people like to worry more, there is more to worry about. I am not sure if that means Western society is collapsing but in the West this endless impending doom seems more prevalent. That is my experience as a traveller.
It seems that a lot of religious leaders have exploited it. Not so sure about all religions. In Africa people are preoccupied by fears of witchcraft which is not part of their religion, it is part of what religion protects you from. In other words, doom and gloom are external.
On the climate front, people promoting the idea that everything that happens is ‘because of us and our carbon sins’ can ‘do something’ and feel they are better than their neighbour, can be self-sacrificing for the betterment of mankind (martyr syndrome) and become a ‘little leader’ just like those big leaders on TV. Once invested, no one wants to look like a fool and admit they were taken in by something they could have and should have checked more closely.

March 18, 2015 7:21 am

“its good news week
someone’s dropped a bomb somewhere
contaminating atmosphere
and blackening the sky”
(From “Its good news week” by Hedgehoppers Anonymous, 1965)

March 18, 2015 7:29 am

There is an assumption in the text which is as follows: ‘by reading bad news, you avoid making bad choices’.
Now is that really true?
It requires two things to be true:
1. The bad news you read is accurately reported.
2. You trust the source of that bad news as honest and having your best interests at heart.
My considered opinion since 2000 is that newpapers report very little accurately (since increasing amounts are paid-for advertorials) and there is no doubt that they absolutely do NOT have their readers’ best interests at heart.
Here are some examples:
1. Football journalists get a never ending gravy train of freebies going to matches both in England and abroad. They are full of advice for fans, opinions about players and even claim to report accurately on proceedings. I bought season tickets for 5 consecutive seasons between 2006 and 2011 and concluded:
A: Journalists bias match reports for reasons best known to themselves, but perhaps to increase or decrease the sale value of a player, to influence selection for national sides etc etc.
B: They make up lies in between games solely for the purpose of generating internet traffic – > 90% of what you read about the EPL is simply made up rubbish emanating either from newsrooms, players’ agents or club hierarchies.
C: They tell paying fans what they should not expect or demand to preserve their own gravy train of freebies.
2. War reporting comes straight out of the misinformation departments of Langley, the State Department and MI6.
A: Lies about leaders to be overthrown are printed without fear of libel since they always couched with just sufficient doubt to get away with it. Any resemblance to the truth is just coincidental.
B: Blanket bribes to get the UK to go to war are plastered over newspapers and conveniently forgotten about as soon as the armed forces fly off to war.
C: Those who actually get close to the truth are smeared, tarnished and, in extreme cases, murdered.
3. Climate Change reporting is anti-journalism at its finest.
A: Journalists who are wrong cannot admit they are wrong and nor can editors and publishers who backed that errant journalism.
B: Brainwashing becomes an industry of government grants and subsidies, rigging of energy market pricing structures and guaranteed profits for sponging corporations and rich individuals.
C: A litany of anonymous bloggers, paid or unpaid, deliver never-ending ad hominems to those who challenge the lies being printed.
This argument has all the cogency of a dirty old men claiming that some 21 year old girl was ‘asking him for it by eyeing him up….’
The Press are entirely responsible for what they have done……….

DD More
Reply to  rtj1211
March 18, 2015 9:32 am

rtj1211 in addition to your points, can also add a point D – Journalists are now very lazy. How many times have you noticed their written story is just a slightly edited version of the ‘Press Release’ put out by the activist or special interest group. No thinking or research into whether it is accurate or true.

Reply to  rtj1211
March 18, 2015 2:23 pm

“Football journalists get a never ending gravy train of freebies going to matches both in England and abroad.”
Some years ago (don’t remember the game or date) an NFL team made several “mistakes” like throwing to the opposite team when none of their receivers were in the area. It was noted by the commentators that not only would the opposing team not be in the playoffs if they didn’t win but that it appeared that the team that should have won handily was obviously trying to lose the game for that purpose. In addition, there was a later interview with an owner that close game scores drew more fans and that this would be the thing sought after. Of course one assumes that this is from match ups but who actually knows, especially with the amount of money involved. Pretty much lost interest in pro ball after that.

March 18, 2015 7:30 am

Do false bad news is giving the consumer what they want? Is the media responsible for anything? Incredible. In other words gloom and doom bias is our fault. Fantastic.

Reply to  logos_wrench
March 18, 2015 7:40 am

Y2K is a perfect example. People who overly or even somewhat prepared for Y2K suffered losses where as most people who just sat around and did nothing were fine.

James Harlock
Reply to  Tom Trevor
March 19, 2015 8:53 am

Actually, Y2K is a bad example. There are many that believe that the so-called “DotCom Bubble” was mostly fueled by money spent on technology to [i]prevent[/i] Y2K from being a problem. It was the most successful prevention of a major negative event in the history of History.

Reply to  logos_wrench
March 18, 2015 9:15 am

Y2K, Mayan Calendar, new ice age, global warming, AIDS, Ebola, bird flu, Hale Bop, the new world order, and on and on. Doomsday is always around the corner, and some snake oil salesman is always selling the cure.
Take Catastrophic global warming. How did I know it was false, before ever looking at any of the “facts?” Easy, doomsday predictions are always false.

March 18, 2015 7:31 am

Pete Seeger wrote “Newspapermen” in the 1940s, Phil Ochs recorded it (I always thought it was his work).
The chorus goes:
Ting-a-ling-a-ling, city desk;
Hold the press, Hold the press;
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
It’s a mess, meets the test.
Oh, a newspaperman meets such interesting people!
It’s wonderful to represent the press.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 18, 2015 4:06 pm

You reminded me of a poem that I think I remember getting from American Thinker but it might have been WUWT;
English poet William Cowper (1731 – 1800) summarized the power in his 1782 poem, “The Progress of Error”. The focus was already sensationalism and exploitation of fear.
How shall I speak of thee or thy power address,
The God of our idolatry, the press?
By thee, religion, liberty and laws
Exert their influence and advance their cause;
By thee worse plagues than Pharaohs land befell,
Diffused, make Earth the vestibule of Hell:
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise;
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies;
Like Eden’s dead probationary tree,
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee!

Gary Pearse
March 18, 2015 7:33 am

All these researchers miss an important point and display their biases (not a good thing but typical for this kind of research). She assumes that the global warming scare is based on truth and science. Surely the newspapers shouldn’t be inventing bad news that didn’t happen. The choices are: a) good or bad news about something that happened b) either, about something that they know didn’t happen, c) or either, about something they honestly believed happened but didn’t. Newspapers serve their readers only if they consider all these possibilities and do the background research. With climate science and possibly genetically mod foods, they should report that there is an apparently legitimate controversy at the scientific level. I think GMF are fine, and I discount the knee-jerk, anti-everything constant noise from the nay sayers in society, but expect there are scientists who’ve studied this who are against it – hey show us the evidence. An educated public would ask for the evidence, but….lefty ed has taken care of this to make their message simple and uncluttered with such notions.

March 18, 2015 7:34 am

A theoretical model, Oh boy I love models. While I know polling is akin models, at least in polling they ask real people what they think, and not so model what it thinks. I wonder if these people thought of just conducting a poll.

March 18, 2015 7:37 am

Link to the article …
You get what you want: A note on the economics of bad news
Received 28 September 2011, Revised 16 September 2014, Accepted 18 October 2014, Available online 20 November 2014

March 18, 2015 7:40 am

So, the old adage is correct then… “no news is good news”?

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
March 18, 2015 12:46 pm

I believe that’s “good news is no news”.

Bruce Cobb
March 18, 2015 7:40 am

Ah yes, that would explain why circulation has been dropping like a stone in recent years; all that “good news” they’ve been reporting.

March 18, 2015 7:43 am

This is dog bites man to me. Media over hypes everything. ‘If it bleeds it leads’, and these morons think the planet is bleeding.

Reply to  Greg
March 18, 2015 7:43 am

The planet has a “fe-veer”.

M Courtney
March 18, 2015 7:43 am

This makes sense. All newspapers work on the “If it Bleeds, It Leads” principle. They wouldn’t if people weren’t buying.
But I wonder about the categorisation of Good News.
Is a Royal Baby good news? It’s irrelevant to me – I rarely see Royals in my local (almost a year – you know what it’s like here in England) so it has no impact on my life at all. Likewise with the success of Posh Spice’s new fashion range – it’s positive business news but not important business news.
There ought to be a third category; Good News, Bad News and Not News.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  M Courtney
March 18, 2015 12:09 pm

M Courtney
You have that right – Not News. Contrary evidence is ‘not news’ or is ‘un-news’ the way climate realist scientists are unpersons.
I would like to know how an organisation as large as the CBC could be captured by a cabal of GW promoters. D Suzuki may have had something to do with it because he was Mr Science on CBC for many years.

March 18, 2015 7:43 am

I.e., “If it bleeds, it leads”.
or from Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”:
“…she can tell you about the plane crash
with a gleam in her eye
its interesting when people die
give us dirty laundry”.

March 18, 2015 7:50 am

I would simply settle for accurate and thorough news coverage.
Personally, I think these types of study are largely hokum. They seldom involve debriefs of the respondents/subjects of the study to at least factor in their thinking when making choices and decisions. This applies to most psychological studies ranging from the classic Milgram torture experiments to even the Kahnemann decision making experiments.
As an unscientific data point, I for one read more sports stories when the Patriots or Red Sox or Celtics win as opposed to when they lose. And I stopped reading the Boston Globe because of the unremitting negativity of its journalists.

March 18, 2015 7:50 am

Perhaps Brian Williams would pen some thoughts on this thread. I would find that uniquely insightful.

Steve P
Reply to  Dawtgtomis
March 18, 2015 1:54 pm

Yes, Brian Williams, who spent much of the summer of 2014 trying to convince his viewers that Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad really did use poison gas on rebels, now gets taken down for fibbing about his great helicopter adventure. The irony could make your eyebrows tilt.

Reply to  Steve P
March 18, 2015 2:28 pm
James Harlock
Reply to  Steve P
March 19, 2015 9:12 am

BFL, you do know that O’Reilly is an Editorial Entertainer, while Williams was supposedly an News Anchor and journalist, right? Do you understand the difference between those two positions?

David in Cal
March 18, 2015 7:59 am

And yet, some bad news is under-reported. Examples:
— Iran’s steady movement toward acquiring nuclear weapons and delivery devices.
–Europe’s growing anti-Semitism.
–The large number of attacks by blacks on whites and Asians.
Evidently there are additional factors that affect which types of bad news the public likes to read.

Steve P
Reply to  David in Cal
March 18, 2015 2:00 pm

Iran’s steady movement toward acquiring nuclear weapons

Iranian officials have repeatedly renounced all intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. Just as bad as bearing false witness is repeating it.

January 15, 2013
TEHRAN, Iran – A religious decree issued by Iran’s supreme leader banning nuclear weapons is binding for the Iranian government, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, suggesting that the edict should end the debate over whether Tehran is pursuing atomic arms.
Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the West must understand the significance of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s edict for Iran: “There is nothing higher than the exalted supreme leader’s fatwa to define the framework for our activities in the nuclear field.”
“When the highest jurisprudent and authority in the country’s leadership issues a fatwa, this will be binding for all of us to follow,” he added.
Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, said last year that Tehran is not seeking atomic arms. He called possessing such weapons a “sin” as well as “useless, harmful and dangerous.”
Even Fox News gets that one right. Your sources?

James Harlock
Reply to  Steve P
March 19, 2015 9:14 am

So, you believe the Mullah’s Taqiyya?

March 18, 2015 8:00 am

“When you are very poor and hungry, for example, each dollar is worth a lot as it helps you buy enough food to eat,” McCluskey said. “But once you have more money and can count on regular meals, it’s the losses that will affect you more. In terms of happiness and well-being, a $1,000 loss will affect you more than a $1,000 windfall.”
This is completely contrary to reality, and many marketing people know this as they give away silly gifts to entice people to spend lavishly.
The typical experience of business owners with dollars spent, lost or squandered is a resigned “Oh well, you’ve gotta spend money to make money”, but every dollar in brings a satisfaction beyond its nominal value; it represents success and that is not to be plotted in linear fashion.

Tom J
March 18, 2015 8:14 am

Nothing is more injurious to our rights and freedoms than the propensity of news organizations to relentlessly vomit bogus bad news stories all over our faces.

Joel O’Bryan
March 18, 2015 8:28 am

“Party like it’s 19-99.”
Spend, spend, indulge.
The credit card bill won’t matter,
because we’re all going to ________________________ .
A. Glow with fallout (1962)
B. freeze (by 1980)
C. starve (Y2K)
D. fry (IPCC)
implication, spend now… A let socialism take care of you “if” you’re wrong.

March 18, 2015 8:35 am

If ‘they want only bad news’ why did the New York Times use the word ‘blizzard’ this last blizzardy winter only six times?
Twice for HAWAII!
When it was so cold in New York that 100 year records were shattered over and over again, the NYT didn’t have hardly a headline about any of this.

Bill Murphy
March 18, 2015 8:41 am

This is hardly new. Way back in the Vietnam/Kent State/MLK/Watts Riot/Bobby Kennedy days of the late 60’s there was a Big Deal made for a while in the media about changing focus to good news and reporting more of “What’s Right About America and The World…” I remember Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley (the CBS and NBC anchors at the time) doing on-air op-eds about it. How more good news would be better for America. It hardly lasted a year, if that. Ratings killed it and the explosion of cable a few years later nailed down the lid. I also recall a few op-eds at the time grumping about how awful we all were for not reading/watching the good news.
“If it bleeds, it leads” was coined recently, but the concept goes back to the 19th century if not before. At least they are not blaming it on CO2 (yet…)

March 18, 2015 8:42 am

People use the same strategy when voting. Everyone knows that when a politician says he is going to do something good he knows he is lying, or is unaware that he won’t be able to accomplish it. On the other hand people know that politicians are quite likely to do something harmful. Therefore negative advertising works because it helps people figure who might be the lesser of the evils.

March 18, 2015 8:45 am

It’s much more complicated than good or bad news. Any good news can be spun as bad in several ways (“No one killed in wars today” -UN can be converted to “Even though no one killed in wars today, 2 million refugees live in temporary camps…”). Most new stories leave out essential information, especially the good news type of information so overall things look worse than they are.

March 18, 2015 8:50 am

I stopped reading after “The researchers built their model on an economic theory…”

March 18, 2015 8:54 am

People have this dangerous perception that news is informative first. It’s a stereotype likely built by a combination of ignorance and the classic Hollywood reporter who exposes corruption all altruistically. In the real world they live and die by ratings and reporters careers are made and destroyed based on finding the next big scoop. Given the amount of effort that goes into finding said scoop and the relative rareness of true scoops the next obvious solution is to just make things up.
It’s not even good enough to just watch/read multiple sources. That might work okay for political bias, assuming you’re the kind of person who can manage to actually read conflicting view points, something most people have a great deal of trouble with, but for sensationalism it doesn’t work at all since they all have to get in on a given topic to maintain those ratings.

March 18, 2015 9:02 am

Now if only the environmental bad news would be from the headline that Al Gore is lying about it and stealing your money because of it, that would be bad news I could trust!

March 18, 2015 9:18 am

To further depress the population, prime-time television takes the ugliest from the news media to dramatize and dwell upon. The ratings soar.

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
March 18, 2015 12:55 pm

Then they take the most base and ugly situation and make reality shows and docu-dramas to ingrain that thinking.

March 18, 2015 9:19 am

87% of scientists believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change? Really?

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Victoria
March 18, 2015 9:40 am

I know, right? Those 13% must not be on the Gravy Train. They can do better!

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
March 18, 2015 10:48 am

Makes a change from 97%.
Unless it is a typo, of course ….. .

Tom Anderson]
March 18, 2015 9:24 am

“A recent study by the Pew Research Center in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed that 88 percent of scientists believe genetically modified foods are safe, while only 37 percent of the public agrees. 87 percent of the scientists also said humans are the primary cause of climate change, in contrast to 50 percent of the public.”
Is this a case of a foolish consistency, rather an “incosistency”? If climate alarmism is the negative story people want, wouldn’t we expect more of the public than scientists to attribute dangerous warming to humans? And where does the 87 percent of scientists come from, and scientists of what?
Well, that’s journalism in a nutshell.

Reply to  Tom Anderson]
March 18, 2015 10:24 am

“If climate alarmism is the negative story people want, wouldn’t we expect more of the public than scientists to attribute dangerous warming to humans? ”
It’s basically the classic “boy cries wolf” situation. In 1989 senior environmental official Noel Brown, at the United Nations said “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000.” That kind of hype needs to be backed up by reality. Thirty years later, nothing bad has happened. There is no wolf.

March 18, 2015 9:39 am

After 30 years of having NOT watched the “evening news”, in 2013 when my Mother was at my house (I live in a northern tier state, and my Mother, up to here CHF, lived in AZ) for the last 10 months of life, with congestive heart failure…I humored her for a while (about a month)…and watched the evening news. Without being aggressive, or confrontational, I began to “disect” the news in terms of what the “message in the media” really was. Eventually, my Mother (mentally sharp to the very end) AGREED with me. We had a competing “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on another cable channel, and that became the standard fare when I came home from work. I regret NOT ONE MOMENT of that, and can safely say I am currently totally absent of the LOCAL TV NEWS and the Network’s EVENING NEWS. My life is better for it. I recommend it to all.

Christopher Paino
March 18, 2015 9:44 am

“Collectively, this tendency creates a societal preference for negative news stories said McCluskey.”
“Society” is a construct. A concept. Society doesn’t have an address. Therefore “societal preferences” are illusionary ideals because a “society” is not a real, physical thing.
It’s nice that they have come up with these theoretical models of how humans think and determine “value”, but real human individuals don’t actually work like that and so these models are particularly useless.
Is it just me, or does it seem that have we learned everything there is to know and now we re-examine, use synonyms to describe, and call it innovation?

Reply to  Christopher Paino
March 18, 2015 10:47 am

This is just another ‘Capt. Obvious” jumping onto the train and claiming to be the conductor. Similar to Al Gore inventing the internet. The real learning is going on elsewhere, underfunded I’m sure.

Sun Spot
March 18, 2015 9:44 am

The whole of AGW is a fear narrative, that is scary stories to titillate the masses along the lines of WMD’s and zombies.

March 18, 2015 9:46 am

Another bit of research without a well thought out plan.
Gosh! Circulation dropped when we only printed bad news…
It couldn’t have been because people didn’t like their news filtered or censored?
It couldn’t be because the ads were not useful?
It couldn’t be because of a normal seasonal circulation fluctuation?
It couldn’t be because the quality of happy happy writing was dismal?
A complete lack of controls listing all variables.
Incomplete situation analysis.
A result that strongly resembles the “It must be CO2!” types of analysis.

March 18, 2015 9:48 am

So let’s keep adjustIng our communications strategy to feed this hungry monster. We’ve got a mountain of bad news stories that are backed by highly credible evidence. For example, people in the US don;t realize that carbon tax schemes are probably going to double or triple their gasoline and home heating bills.
They don’t understand that Obama;s denial of coal fired plants in Africa is a cruel insane policy that is tantamount to deliberate genocide. Did we learn nothing from Gore’s “Ethanol from Corn” debacle?
People don’t understand what is store for their own children if we don’t kill the CAGW movement. it is being aggressively promoted by the White House propaganda machine.
People don’t understand that the integrity of science is at stake.

Walt Allensworth
March 18, 2015 10:10 am

There’s another angle to this that I feel is very important.
We often feel superior when we hear bad news. I’ll explain:
Family of 4 killed in car crash, driver was drinking. I’m morally superior because I don’t drink.
Woman walks into fountain while texting. I’m smarter, & can do two things at once.
Ship hijacked in Somalia. That’s would never happen in the USA! We’re superior.
Stupid criminal leaves license plate attached to bumper that was chained to ATM. Dumb, dumb. I’m smarter and have a good job.
Politician caught cheating on his wife. I love my wife and would never cheat. Morally superior.
You can turn almost any bad news into how it would never happen to me because I’m superior in some way!
Good new, on the other hand, can make us examine our weaknesses…
Brain surgeon saves baby. How can I compete with that? I have an IQ of 92.
Janitor wins lottery. Man, am I unlucky. That would never happen to me.
Hero tackles terrorist. I’m a chicken and could never do something that brave.
Bad things happening to doofuses makes us feel better about ourselves!

Reply to  Walt Allensworth
March 18, 2015 10:27 am

Boy, I thought I was cynical, but you are far worse. I am sooooo much better than you.
wait a minute….;)

Walt Allensworth
Reply to  rh
March 18, 2015 10:57 am

Well played Sir! 😮

Jim Francisco
Reply to  Walt Allensworth
March 18, 2015 11:51 am

Airplane pilots like to find that airplane crashes are caused by pilot error because they tell themselves that they would not make those mistakes. They get quite concerned with mechanical problems that could not be detected by the pilots.

Reply to  Walt Allensworth
March 18, 2015 5:39 pm

Wow, I used to get a kick out of the Darwin Awards, too.

James Harlock
Reply to  Walt Allensworth
March 19, 2015 9:22 am

So, Schadenfreude…

Michael C. Roberts
March 18, 2015 10:24 am

This is a timely topic, especially for voters and denizens of the State of Washington, USA. Currently on the table in the State legislature is a bill to add $0.115 per US gallon to our gasoline/fuels (see: – this is in addition to the federal tax of $0.184 per gallon (currently in Washington State the total fuel tax is $0.74 per gallon, to jump to $0.86 should this new tax be levied)(see: . This new tax is earmarked to fund new/improved highway construction to accommodate the burgeoning population especially on the wet (west) side of the Cascade Mountain range. Users of the infrastructure to pay for the upgrades. I dislike additional taxes, but I see the need for the road upgrades daily, this tax appears more palatable personally. I know that to our European counterparts, this additional tax is a pittance. But wait! There’s more! Our eloquent Governor, Mr. Jay Inslee, is pushing a “Carbon” Tax at the same time (see same article at washingtonstatewire) that may be added on top of the $0.115 tax! How grand! And there is no costs estimate that I can find that lets us know how much the “Carbon” tax would extract from our fuel-purchasing hides. And, this “Carbon” tax funding windfall is not to be used to “mitigate” the effects of all of that released “Carbon” within the State – it will fund…smaller class sizes in schools!!! So, if you are against a “Carbon” tax, you are anti-small-classroom-size? Yes, of course! So eventually a tax upon a tax upon a tax – federal + state + “Carbon”. Now, the tie to this thread topic of the Snooze Media (sorry, that’s “News” media, right?). I have posted a few comments over the years, lamenting the biased, unverified, taken-at-face-value, non-thoroughly-investigated, one-sided claptrap that passes as “journalism” in the local daily pulp publication in my neck of the woods, The News Tribune (see: to which, yes, I still am a subscriber). This lopsided “journalism” is seen in the cherry-picked reproduction of decidedly climate-alarmist-centric articles especially in the Sunday edition of the paper (examples:; and: As I read the rag daily, I see zero – ZERO – counterpoints to this propaganda of “Carbon”-based, human-activity-damages-the-earth-greater-than plate-tectonics, written garbage. Why? What is the aim of the paper’s message to the (subscriber/voting) masses? Hearts-and-minds…..hear it from “reputable” sources (such as the TNT), find like-thinking souls that have been hoodwinked into believing the “Carbon = Pollution” mantra, accept that a tax on all things “Carbon” is a good thing – and then either stay silent as such taxes are ram-rodded through via Governor edict, or – Deity-of-choice forbid – actually approved via vote. The media in all forms are complicit in this molding of the collective hearts-and-minds of those they reach with their message. Fair? Unbiased? I do not see it. Washingtonians – Do not be hoodwinked. Fuel tax to fix the roads? OK, maybe. “Carbon” tax??? Nyet, no, nein, non, or just flat out no thank you. Rant complete, you may tune to your regularly scheduled WUWT.

Reply to  Michael C. Roberts
March 18, 2015 11:12 am

Used to work on the dry side at WAZU where we did old fashioned, data based research.
Genuinely sorry for the carbon bs there – we’re getting it in Vermont too, where they still publish my letters reminding people that biochemistry once understood that we are carbon-based life forms??? Now, of course, we are carbon pollution life forms.

James Harlock
Reply to  Michael C. Roberts
March 19, 2015 9:27 am

I’m getting pretty sick and tired of politicians using the “Pro Liberi” logical fallacy to justify taxes and restrictions.

March 18, 2015 10:24 am

This strikes me more as an excuse in the form of a study than a study. The described methodology is oversimplified and probably meaningless, especially if the target is newspapers, which have a relatively narrow audience. Generally people want to see their own opinions in print, *and* they acclimate to the opinions of those who seem to flatter them – it’s an acculturation process taken advantage of by PR people posing as reporters.
There are cultural causes deeper than anything else listed there – reporters want to be seen as serious and the community sees “good news” as trivial, reporters want to be seen as independent and “good news” is perceived as a community good (thus the extent to which religious papers focus on it), reporters want to be seen as “solving problems” so they report on problems, and on and on.
Also, on average, we’re talking about b-grade academics from a system that generally denigrates capitalism, of *course* they’re going to blame the markets!

Reg Nelson
March 18, 2015 11:25 am

If you look at what happened to Sharyl Attkisson (CBS News), it would become plainly obvious what drives new media outlets: Politics. Negative News is just the weapon of choice to implement this strategy. This is why Ms. Attkisson was able to publish articles critical of Bush during his Presidency, but was forbidden to do the same with Obama.

March 18, 2015 11:35 am

meanwhile, in the good news dept –
I think it would be fabulous to stand him up on the podium – perhaps with Bernie Sanders as running mate – think of the hand waving!
Or is this bleeding and leading?

Jim Francisco
March 18, 2015 11:41 am

Maybe it is that we don’t get the news we want but that we get the news we deserve .

Reply to  Jim Francisco
March 18, 2015 11:56 am

That’s entertainment.
A stretch to “believe” any of it as presented by talking heads or copy and paste more unoriginal bunk.

Berényi Péter
March 18, 2015 12:27 pm

Skewing media toward bad news can also cause heightened fear of risk that differs from the scientific consensus […] 87 percent of the scientists also said humans are the primary cause of climate change, in contrast to 50 percent of the public

Therefore… “bad news” in this context are… wait a minute. In this particular case either “the public” exhibits less fear than scientists, which means the media failed to supply the required stream of scaremongering, which is an abominable business practice, or it is actually good news, that “humans are the primary cause of climate change”, in which case it is quite understandable, that “the public” rejects it, and keeps looking for “bad news” like natural causes behind weather events. Right?
Uuhm, not.
The bad news is this study does not make sense at all. Therefore we can draw “greater individual benefit” from this fact, which is good news, after all, so we’d better avoid it.

Tom Crozier
March 18, 2015 12:35 pm

Isn’t this sort or a restatement of Prospect Theory?

March 18, 2015 1:04 pm

No one wants to read about the cat that did not run up the tree.
But maybe we should not be surprised that news consumers are mostly interested in scandal and violence, when that aligns with what they look for in fictional movies and books.
We are in a place where news is now considered more an entertainment source than a public information outlet. C-Span is the only media outlet that I know of that communicates information. It is not very entertaining.
Listening to debates on a bill in Congress is enough to make me buy a gallon of Vodka, drink it, and then drive off of a cliff. Compared to the pseudo-reality of the political process, two squirrels fighting over the last acorn on earth could make more cogent arguments. Fortunately listening to supreme court arguments restores my faith in humanity. Even though I do not always agree with the outcomes the arguments display a much higher level of rational, reasoned, thoughtful and concise arguments.

Svend Ferdinandsen
March 18, 2015 1:29 pm

Part of the joy of bad news could be that it did not happen to you.
But in that way is climate catastrophe not the best as it should also hit you.

John Campbell
March 18, 2015 2:13 pm

When you read the “news” concerning an area you are familiar with, you realize what a nonsensical and distorted view you are getting. Its not “the truth” but entertainment or diversion or something else.
In the past two years I have followed almost no mainstream media – I was a news junky up until that time. I now read my local paper to know my local news and to get a sense of world events. It is absolutely amazing how little things have changed in the past two years – Putin, Obama, economy, Middle East, yada yada yada.
I’m not sure who said it, but wiser words have never been spoken: “the only thing worse than speaking nonsense, is listening to it”.

Steve P
Reply to  John Campbell
March 18, 2015 2:25 pm

And worse still: repeating it.

John Campbell
Reply to  Steve P
March 19, 2015 5:55 am

So true – but the mainstream media is simply an echo chamber of the same stuff. And much of the web is the same – the info and opinion diet works best for me.

Walt D.
March 18, 2015 4:19 pm

“There’s little truth in the news because there is little news in the truth.”

Reply to  Walt D.
March 19, 2015 2:11 am

Walt D.
Great quote and I’m sure Brian Williams can attest to its veracity.

March 18, 2015 6:47 pm

But what is bad news?
Would, for example, “Obama Impeached” be good news or bad news?
Was Climate Gate good news or bad?
Presumably it was good news so the main stream media just ignored it, as “bad for sales?”
The games being played in the name of CAGW are a scandal, yet very little media coverage.. so it must be good news from the perspective of the media bodies who ignore the waste and corruption that fuels the Cult of Calamitous Climate.
Who knew?

March 18, 2015 9:07 pm

This claim violates Say’s law. Supply creates demand, not vice-versa.

Samuel C Cogar
March 19, 2015 10:15 am

The public demands “good news” iffen its Sports Reporting ….. and “bad news” iffen its Current Events Reporting ….. and highly selective “good/bad news” iffen its Political Reporting.
Publishers and Editors will gladly provide whatever “type” of news that “turns-the-crank” of their subscribing populace ….. simply because in doing so it will “turn-a-profit” for said Publishers and Editors.

Keith Sketchley
Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
March 23, 2015 1:11 pm

Well, publisher’s may be Gail Wynands, but they also are dumb enough to hire graduates of Liberal Arts programs which teach a negative view of life.
Readers can make it clear to publishers that the publishers are hurting themselves in the long run, and that readers will read less if any of their publications thus advertising revenue will decline.

March 20, 2015 4:57 pm

When newspapers went on strike many moons ago, there was no negative impact on the Australian public, as we had TV and Radio. So much reporting nowadays in Australia, and I can’t speak for other countries, is often dictated by who is paying for the advertising content. 60% of regional newspapers was allocated to advertising, that’s why the news content was often only a few pages. I know, I worked for a regional paper as a feature writer. If any dirt is revealed it doesn’t matter if it is true or not. Most big National papers have legal teams and big pockets to pay out damages, but mud sticks doesn’t it. Yes people love to read gossip especially about tall poppies (an Australian expression for successful people) who they get great pleasure in some warped way of believing that all superior or public people deserve to be trashed. However, national newspapers are there to report news, whether it is accurate or not. Have you noticed when they do accept responsibility for printing untruths or inaccuracies, they make a public apology in a small section of the paper no one generally reads or finds it.

Keith Sketchley
March 23, 2015 9:30 am

Well, there is a good point that _some_ bad news serves to inform individuals of risks.
However, I don’t see value in someone in Canada hearing of a murder in the southern US – there are plenty of examples of that risk in Canada. Nor of hearing that a company hid coffins in the bush because their cremation facility broke down.
(Morbid curiosity might explain that, but so would the bent of the ideology many media people believe in to drag down the image of humans. Look for example at the garbage “art” praised by the Post-Modernist derivative of Marxism.)

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