As often happens when bidness news becomes front-page news, there's a lot that gets lost in the translation. This week's stock market tumble turned into crisis coverage on TV and even in some newspapers, with many of the more inexperienced folks assuming the worst. That is, a disaster. As chronicled by Dan Gainor of the Business & Media Institute, ABC's Diane Sawyer talked about "the bottom simply dropping out, the market dropping off the face of the earth." CBS's Anthony Mason, who supposedly covers bidness, called the Dow's 3 percent decline "disastrous," which is a good way to get several million TV viewers good and scared over their suppers. Now to be fair, Tuesday was a bit crazy, especially around noon when the Dow tumbled 200 points almost instantly (the result of a glitch in the way stock data is tabulated).
To make matters worse, there were no concrete explanations for what happened - other than a 9 percent drop in the Shanghai market (a very different type of stock market, by the way, than what we have). That's the trouble with this kind of story - not only couldn't the experts agree on what was going on, they all had different ideas about what was ahead. So what's a network anchor to do? Well, first off be careful. Avoid loaded words or phrases. Try putting the day in the context of previous losses (as many news outlets did). Explain what's going on with the overall economy - I mean, really explain it, instead of just concluding that the economy is in "good shape" or "bad shape," which isn't really saying much at all. And finally, don't be afraid to admit to viewers that the outlook is unclear - that, in other words, "we really don't know, folks."