Without a crisis, national news goes broke
In case you haven’t heard, we have a crisis on our hands. And if every single person in this country doesn’t starting worrying about it, well… just know you should.
You certainly don’t need me to tell you this. If you’re one of those citizens who wakes up each morning, takes a breath and picks up a phone, you know about the crisis.
Don’t take my word for it. Just go to your preferred news search engine and type the word “crisis.” Here’s what I found in about 15 seconds.
“The Suez crisis is over. Now time to add up the damages.”
“City’s affordable housing crisis needs big new ideas.”
“Canada’s oil crisis could hurt U.S. consumers.”
“We must treat gun violence as a public health crisis.”
“Border crisis due to decades of bad U.S. behavior.”
“Long COVID is a looming health crisis.”
“Racism and the crisis facing the royal family.”
We could do this all day.
A battle over the word crisis
If that’s not enough evidence, I can do you one better. At the time of this writing, the highest elected officials in all the land are literally arguing over whether the word “crisis” should be used to describe our southern border.
I’m sorry, but the moment we create a crisis over using the word “crisis,” haven’t we just about lost our collective minds? What are we doing? What has happened to us?
Everything is now a crisis, and it has happened because the only way the national news makes a living is by inciting emotion in its readers. And the only way to incite emotion is to create fear and anger. And the best path to fear and anger is through a crisis.
Those are rhetorical questions. Every single one of us should know the answer.
It starts with your political party’s favorite website (there’s a hint-filled paradox). Type in whatever news source you want, but I’ll save you the time.
If you visit MSNBC.com and search the entire site, you’ll find the word “crisis” appears in 47,100 different posts.
Slide over to FoxNews.com and perform the same exercise and your eyes will pop out. A grand total of 190,000 results found.
Now, before all my left-leaning friends start pointing the blame at FoxNews, those numbers are not apples-to-apples. In the Fox search, results included all posts back to 2002. In the MSNBC search, the results were only allowed back to Feb. 17, 2021. That’s like a month and a cup of coffee.
For further transparency, I’m quite certain both of those search results also included every paid advertisement that included the word “crisis,” and we all know that any good advertisement must first make you feel like you’re in the midst of a crisis before you buy a specific product.
If you want the answer to my rhetorical questions – What are we doing? What has happened to us? – there could be no greater segue: Just as advertisements need a crisis to make you buy, the modern day medium of news must always have a crisis to make you read, and they’re creating them by the bucket-load.
Here’s evidence: If you visit the Washington Post’s website (Democracy Dies without Crisis), they have a wonderful full-site search tool. You guessed it, I searched to see how many times the word “crisis” has appeared and was given a few options.
First, I was allowed to search for everything back to 2005 and discovered the word had appeared in the Post’s virtual pages 91,498 times. So in about 15.25 years, the Post has averaged using the word 6,000 times a year.
Then I was given an option to do the same search over the past 12 months. Since April 1, 2020 – one year – the word “crisis” has appeared 12,559 times.
OK, fair enough. We did have a pandemic and most people (news organizations included) couldn’t spell COVID without it being followed with that word we’ve already used too much.
So answer me this: The Post allows a user to search for the past seven days – one week. Turns out, as the COVID crisis moves a page back in the national dialogue, the Post has published that word 332 times in one week. Multiply that over 52 weeks, and they’re on pace to use the word more than 17,000 times in the next year – 9,000 more times a year than the average; 25 more times a day.
It doesn’t matter if you watch TV, browse social media, click your favorite book mark, or (how dare you) pick up a newspaper, you are now told that everything is a crisis.
Gone are words like “issue,” or “disagreement,” or “dispute,” or “problem,” or “topic.”
No, everything is now a crisis, and it has happened because the only way the national news makes a living is by inciting emotion in its readers. And the only way to incite emotion is to create fear and anger. And the best path to fear and anger is through a crisis.
The more the national news media can get you to their pages, the more they can place a monetary value on your visit. They lure you in by making you scared and angry. They force you to feel despair. They beg of you to come back tomorrow to read more about the latest crisis.
We are all consumers of news. In order to be informed, we must be consumers of news. We must be vigilant to issues of importance; debate topics of dispute. We must solve our problems and resolve our disagreements.
In times of crisis, we tend to lose rationale. We dart one way and then another. We make decisions we later regret. Few of us are ever calm, and anxiety rules the day.
If you’re exhausted by society, by politics, by the endless rush of wrongs, it’s because our national sources of information can only exist by creating fear in you first. They are not honest – not one of them. They are playing by a financial formula, and it’s about time we consider ruining the equation.
Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared on the pages of The Leader newspaper, one of the divisions of McElvy Partners.
Jonathan McElvy is the CEO of McElvy Partners. His company includes the Greensheet, The Leader, Fort Bend Star, Charlotte Media Group, Coastal Bend Publishing and Texas Printers. He has managed and owned small businesses for 20 years and has written columns in community newspapers for most of those years. You can follow him on Twitter @mcelvy.