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Half-life of media attention will bring recession's end

  • Author: Tom Brennan
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published February 17, 2009

That estimate is based on a simple formula. The underlying problem with the economy is lack of consumer confidence. And consumer attitudes are based on media reporting about the issue. The only things the public knows about the economy are what it sees and hears on television and - in increasingly rare cases -- in newspapers.

In short, the ongoing media wallow in the recession has scared the crap out of people and they are afraid to invest in a pack of chewing gum. The recession will end when the media go on to other things, bottom-feeders move in and the big story becomes any hopeful sign that can be ginned into a new, more cheerful wallow that will unintentionally restore consumer confidence.

The end of the current end-of-the-world obsession will be determined by the half-life of media attention and the shelf life of an exciting story, both of which are predictable. Guaranteed -- based on a half century in and around the business -- the media will be tired of this one by the end of summer and sunshine stories should be getting traction when the football season gets going.

Media attention will change in response to the clicks of millions of remotes when people have heard all they can stomach about the recession and start changing channels to find more cheerful news. And if that's what the public wants - think ratings -- that's what they'll get. The upbeat coverage will turn the tide.

The end is not in sight for most experts just yet because they are still trying to outdo each other in downside predictions. . . "I'll see your recession and bet we have a deflation. . . OK, smartass, I'll see your deflation and predict a breadline depression. Let's see you top that."

That cycle will continue as long as such experts can continue to get on television, or get book contracts, by predicting something more extreme than all the rest. Those possibilities are not endless and the bottom could be in sight, but don't jump into the market just yet. Let the breadline idea sink in a little bit, then buy growth stocks.

How high the economy bounces once it starts up will be determined by other sciences, and I can't help you there. There could be diversions that would divert media attention and change this six-month schedule a little - like the need to flog stories about the death of somebody famous-for-being-famous or a movie star flashing her boob during a big football game -- but not much.

I have great confidence in this formula. Much has changed in the last 50 years, but the half-life of media attention isn't one of them. If this reads like I consider the media idiots, remember -- as Robert Service would say -- I'm one.

Save this column to your tickler file and look at it again on Oct. 2. See if I'm not right.


The City of Anchorage has an odd practice of sending municipal lumberjacks around to lop off privately owned tree branches that are leaning over the government's right of way. I live in one of those mostly older neighborhoods that have large trees growing near the street.

Many of the big trees were planted in the early years of the city and have historic and scenic value. Hopefully the city people with the saws won't kill the ones whose branches they summarily execute and so far they don't seem to have done that. Their motivation is keeping the way clear for snowplows and streetsweepers that need to get near the curb, so they come by in a truck and a guy on the back with a chainsaw lops off any offending greenery.

I didn't hear them come by but went outside the other day and found spruce cones all over the snow under one of my trees. At first I thought the tree might be having a heart attack - or a squirrel might have gone postal -- and then I saw the telltale new cut on the remaining branch.

The city lumberjacks generally don't seem to do anything unsightly, but it seems rude just to lop off branches from the back of a truck with no advance warning.

Probably just life in the city, but if that squirrel ever goes postal and starts throwing spruce cones, I hope it's when the bureaucrats are in range.