13 September 2013

A financial needle in a media haystack

a financial needly in a media haystackYour job is news director of a major media organisation, and your next assignment is covering the federal budget. Should you try something different or just stick with the same old formula. Let’s start with some sound-bites citing the budget’s benefits for the ‘working families’ while ‘bringing home the bacon for our nation’. Next we can talk about some ‘fiscal responsibility’ and a timeline for a ‘return to surplus’.

We’ll need to track Mr and Mrs 2.4 Kids in the mortgage belt for some comments, along with charity groups, aged care advocates, a handful of industry spokespeople along with some vague sound grab from an economist. Not too long as it might confuse the viewers. That should just about do it. So what do we have for tomorrow?

Sadly, this rather cynical view of the modern newsroom isn’t too far from the truth, and does few favours for those with a genuine interest in discovering how the stories of the day in the mainstream media impact their financial well-being and future.

It’s not the fault of the reporter – like many industries, mainstream media operators expect their staff to generate more with less. There’s constant pressure to be ‘first with the story’ so detailed analysis sometimes isn’t the priority.

Newspapers, radio and TV are also under attack from a news gathering source that comprises billions of people. Many news stories, for example earlier this year, the Boston Marathon bombings were first broken on social media, leaving the traditional media racing to catch up. Have a flick through your morning paper and count the number of Twitter references, reflecting the power of this medium.

Indeed, the Internet has allowed anyone with a laptop and an opinion to become their own media operator via blogs and websites. Amid the mountains of rubbish, there are some gems. With the limited costs attached to distributing this information, it’s hard for the traditional media operators who need the largest possible audience to compete.

Amid this incredibly dynamic and diverse media tapestry, it’s mighty tough to cut through the vast amount of information to find what’s relevant to our individual circumstances. Often, the mainstream media operators don’t make it easy either.

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it: The so-called ‘24-7’ news cycle has always existed; it’s just been refined to a ‘60-60-24-7’. Like so many other aspects of our lives, the news of the day has developed a short-term focus, with stories quickly covered and consigned to history.

Coverage of the monthly announcement of the RBA’s interest rate decision is a perfect example.  News organisations will fall over themselves to be the first to ‘break’ the news and provide blanket coverage until the next morning, but the story will quickly fall down the pecking order.

Bad news sells: ‘$X billion wiped off value of shares’ … sound familiar? But how many times have you read a headline and heard a story that started ‘$X billion added to value of shares’?  The story lead with a negative bent still takes precedent over the positive alternative which, in this example, provides little benefit to the pulse rate of baby boomers every time they picture another slice of their retirement pie being devoured.

Dip in, dip out: Everyone leads a busy life, so it’s virtually impossible to stay across all the issues that impact our lives. So on a rare night you have the chance to sit down and enjoy the evening news, you might hear the latest on a Government initiative or new tax due to be introduced. Relevant it may be but the story

will quickly slip between the cracks, and it will be up to you to dig further.

When the numbers don’t add up: Never a day passes without results of a study being released into the mainstream media. On the same day, you might hear that Australia is the world’s most ‘liveable country’ or we’re the ‘happiest’ people on the planet then, in the next sentence, we may be warned that the resources boom is waning or that Australia’s national debt has reached a staggering new figure. Your head will be spinning, but the newsreader has already moved on to the next item.

Spin me a yarn: With pressure to fill airtime or column centimetres, news programs are increasingly filled with material supplied by public relations firms or media departments from commercial institutions under the guise of ‘news’. That latest ‘wellness index’ may have been provided by a bank or insurance company, but the source of the story is not always revealed.

Financial advisers offer many valuable services, but few more important than being able to precisely and succinctly provide the information that is important to your individual circumstances.

Best of all, if the financial adviser looks at moving on to the next story of the day you can press the pause button and ask a few questions of your own.

The author is an employee of Verante Financial Planning in Castle Hill, Corporate Authorised Representative of Magnitude Group Limited, Licence No 221557, Magnitude Group Limited ABN 54 086 266 202.

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