Thursday, December 15, 2005

Who Needs Facts? Flashy Headlines are Much More Fun (by Liz Cox Barrett, Columbia Journalism Review Daily)

Illustration Note: The World According to Bill O'Reilly
by Tom Tomorrow, December 13th, 2005 11:00 AM. [Media has it. The illustration did not come with the article, but still related to media. from the Village Voice.]
link to the illustration source

Dec. 08, 2005 - 7:01 PM
The Sky is Falling!
Who Needs Facts? Flashy Headlines are Much More Fun
(by Liz Cox Barrett, Columbia Journalism Review Daily)

"House party is over," declared CNN in a headline on its Web site this morning, pointing to the UCLA Anderson Forecast, a widely-watched report on the U.S. economy that includes predictions for the housing market.

If the party is over, then the Los Angeles Times must be the annoying guest who refuses to leave, refreshing his drink one more time as the hostess stifles a yawn. The newspaper had a different take on the same report: "Hot Housing Market Still 'Cruising,'" screamed its headline.

Well, some newly minted MBA might point out that UCLA Anderson released multiple forecasts yesterday, including one for the nation and one specific to California. Perhaps that explains why CNN is calling it a night while they're partying on in LA.

But there are mixed messages from the press even within California. While the Los Angeles Times was "Still 'Cruising'," up north the Contra Costa Times was carrying the headline, "Housing Market to Slow, Not Crash." And, back in LA, there was a major buzz kill in the unlikeliest of places: college. "Anderson Forecast Predicts Looming Crash," proclaimed the UCLA Bruin. Then again, the Bruin piece also contradicts itself. The subhed reports that "leading economists say real estate bubble may burst, lead to recession" while in the body of the article the only "leading economist" to address this issue actually says that "a recession caused by a burst in the housing market is unlikely." When the Bruin staffers graduate, they will no doubt have an easy transition to writing nonsensical copy for California's major papers.

So, which is it? Crash? No Crash? Is the party over, or is it merely evolving from a lavish affair with an open bar to something more like a casual get-together around a keg?

Let's go to the primary source, shall we? The Audit, presumably like all the reporters whose work we cite, got its hands on hard copies of all of yesterday's UCLA Anderson reports, which apparently are not available online. UCLA Anderson Forecast Senior Economist Michael Bazdarich gives his report on the national housing market the following headline: "Housing May Be Beginning a Decline." Not exactly "Party is over," is it? And Bazdarich may as well have been writing directly to CNN (or the Bruin, or any number of media outlets who have recently reported that the housing bubble is now bursting) when he notes in his opening paragraph that "we strongly believe [a housing decline] is going to occur ... nevertheless such turns do not always take shape as soon as one might think they should, and so a little patience in calling and waiting for them is usually a wise take."

Meanwhile, Economist Ryan Ratcliff writes in his California-specific report that "our forecast essentially mirrors the national forecast." So, no, UCLA Anderson's outlook for California is not sunnier than its outlook for the nation.

Returning to the national forecast, in the second paragraph Bazdarich writes, "... there are some signs of late that housing activity is starting to head lower" although "the indications are mainly anecdotal and so it is still too early to call the turn."

Not "too early" for some reporters, apparently -- although it looks like CNN has re-thought its headline since we first began writing this post (the current headline focuses on predicted job losses in the financial sector, another aspect of yesterday's Anderson report). Still, can we really blame the person at CNN who came up with the original "party's over" headline? After all, he's competing for eyeballs with click-worthy CNN headlines such as "Ann Coulter to Audience: You're Stupider Than I Am" and "White House: Bush Daughter Not Engaged."

link to the original posting

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