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Opinions of Thursday, 31 October 2013

Columnist: Ameyibor, Francis

News is bad for your health

(Feature by Francis Ameyibor, Development Communicator)

Accra, Oct 30… “News is bad for your health. It leads to fear and aggression, and hinders your creativity and ability to think deeply.” The solution! Stop consuming it altogether.

Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that, because you consumed it, allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business?

The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what's relevant. It is much easier to recognise what is new.

“The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we are cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage.

The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have,” this is an edited extract from an essay first published at dobelli.com. The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions by Rolf Dobelli.

I got alarmed as a newsman whose income depends on news writing. When I first read the article in the wake of recent media war and developments on the pharmaceutical front and other related issues economically, politically and socially, I began analyzing the cost of negative news story and the import of the above.

Economic textbooks consider opportunity cost, also referred to as economic cost as the value of the best alternative that was not chosen in order to pursue the current endeavor- the best positive story alternative , which was not published what could have been accomplished with the resources expended in the undertaking. It represents opportunities forgone.

According to businessdictionary.com, in business, cost is usually a monetary valuation of (1) effort, (2) material, (3) resources, (4) time and utilities consumed, (5) risks incurred, and (6) opportunity forgone in production and delivery of a good or service.

Translating business cost into information communication etymological terms, cost is not the value of input for production of news story, but the value of the output of the news story. The impact of the news story on society, people or institutions involved.

By the kind sponsorship of the Austria High Commission in Ghana, I studied Communication for Development and Advocacy at the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) an intergovernmental regional management development centre head office at Arusha, Tanzania last year.

Since the training my focus of news has changed from the old paradigm of “dog bit man, no news; man bit dog, good news,” mentality to “look out for the good or positive in the midst of the bad news,” no longer concentrating on news in the midst of the good news which could be bad?

The phenomenon of bad news sells is an unproductive news gathering and dissemination trend which in development communication, the new age information dissemination is fast drifting away from. Media needs to be agents of positive change; provide solutions to the numerous problems facing Ghana and other developing countries.

Development Communication refers, alternatively, as either a type of marketing and public opinion research, or the use of communication to facilitate social development.

Development communication engages stakeholders, establishes conducive environments, assesses risks and opportunities and promotes information exchanges to bring about positive social change via sustainable development.

Development communication techniques include information dissemination and education, behavior change, social marketing, social mobilization, media advocacy, communication for social change and community participation.

Development communication has been labeled the fifth theory of the Press, with "social transformation and development," and "the fulfillment of basic needs" as its primary purposes.

The philosophy of development communication is anchored on three main ideas, namely: purposive, value-laden and pragmatic. "the art and science of human communication applied to the speedy transformation of a country and the mass of its people from poverty to a dynamic state of economic growth that makes possible greater social equality and the larger fulfillment of the human potential.

In Ghana according to Mr Tetteh Nettey, President of Meridian Pre-University, who suffered from a negative news stories explained that it has the potential of damaging the image of an institution or body….the negative impression has a lasting effect on the numbers and the figures even if proved otherwise.

He said the negative public perception built after bad stories is irreparable especially if the company failed to mount sound public relations image building campaign and just engaged in media war.

Mr Nettey called on media, regulatory bodies and general public to be circumspect in their pronouncement which has the tendencies of endangering the other bodies.

Whilst Mr Bright Akwetey, a leading member of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), explained that as a politician, negative stories affect one’s good image and reduce his popularity therefore the electoral fortune.

The Reverend Edward Randolph-Koranteng, Banking and Organization Development Consultant, once explained that banking thrives on confidence therefore anything that had the potential of eroding that confidence is bad news for the financial sector.

He said negative news has adverse effect on the financial sector which leads to speculative effect on the monitory tools.

When a firm becomes the subject of a news story its stock price is usually affected. Whether positively or negatively, newly publicized details about a company tend to attract investor attention and move the stock price based on the article’s sentiment.

On, how firms should handle bad news, research conducted by the University of Georgia Terry College of Business and published in the Journal of Marketing Research shows that in the past, managers have been hard-pressed to respond appropriately.

The research examined 141 firms over a period of five years, finding that when news reports highlighted positive news, firms with higher advertising levels experience stronger increase in their stock prices. When negative articles are published, however, advertising doesn’t mitigate the dysfunctional effects. In those instances, firms with strong marketing capability can better calm customer and investor fears.

“People have talked about the fact that investors tend to buy better known stocks, but nobody really talks about how that link happens,” said Sundar Bharadwaj, co-author of the paper and Coca-Cola Company Chair Professor of Marketing at UGA.

Bharadwaj, who co-authored the paper with fellow UGA marketing professor Guiyang Xiong, added that when negative news breaks about a firm, advertising does not help, but marketing capability can soften the detrimental impact of such news on stock price.

Marketing capability refers to a firm’s capacity to understand consumers’ needs and influencers. When companies invest in understanding their customers, through good customer relationships, monitoring clients’ environments, a high quality sales force, etc., they develop the ability to generate positive outcomes. A firm with strong marketing capability can better predict customer reactions and quickly react appropriately to negative news.

In conclusion; Rolf Dobelli says society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth.

According to Melcote and Steeves communication experts it is "emancipation communication", aimed at combating injustice and oppression.