Blaming The Media Is So Passe: Blame the Immedia

Yesterday was one gut-wrenching day on Wall Street.  The market was whipsawed by a series of incredible sell-offs, all triggered by a futures traders’ sell order typo that read “16 billion” instead of “16 million.”  The Dow responded by dropping almost 1,000 points: the biggest trading day drop in history.  At one point in the afternoon, it dropped 600 points in seven minutes.

That’s the story that started to come together in the hours after the markets closed.  That’s what I learned from the online and on air media Thursday night.

Element 79 Chicago Advertising Dennis RyanBut that wasn’t what I learned all day long from the Immedia.  No, the Immedia–all those instant market updates like Captivate in our elevators and the New York Times email newsflashes–just told me bad things were happening.  Then worse things were happening.  No ‘why,’ just ‘what.’  I felt incredibly anxious about the state of the markets.

But then I remembered I write for a living; I know nouns and verbs and adjectives–I don’t know anything about futures and puts and calls.  Still, I got to share the fear.  I got to feel all the anxiety about something I neither controlled nor fully understood.  Did I need to know these things?  Was my life enhanced?

We mistake all this immediate information for actual intelligence.  It’s not.  These are just data points–when the news first came across, no one knew about the typo, no one had the context of how automated computer trading was intensifying the sell offs.  But we immediately knew the knee-weakening fact that the ever-stable P&G was down 37% at one point.

Sadly, we no longer get news stories with context–we get quick facts, mere headlines, which rarely tell the whole story and frequently are plain wrong.  In early reports, the would-be Times Square Terrorist was some forty-ish white dude caughtchanging his shirt in an alleyway on a surveillance camera.  Tiger Woods crashed his car.  Balloon Boy was flying away…

All this Immedia isn’t good for us.  Our minds fill up on these nutritionally-dubious appetizers and we’re left feeling vaguely sick by the time the main course is served.  We lose the real story to the immediate sensation of reacting, instead of responding.

Yes, I do want to know the box scores immediately–they need no context.  But more complicated news?  That’s a different story.  And its more valuable when it comes contextualized in a story too.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

3 thoughts on “Blaming The Media Is So Passe: Blame the Immedia

  1. mark says:

    Yes, but…imagine how the battle of Lexington and Concorde would have gone had Revere provided “context”. “The British are coming. They’re bringing two battalions from the north and northeast. They’re each carrying about 30 rounds of ammo and marching three abreast.” We’d have either had four very well informed rebels who would have been slaughtered or lots of people that had some idea that there was a fight to be had.

    At the same time, I have this image in my head of the E79 team wandering the halls looking for you and having someone say, “Dennis is still in the elevator reading the 8th paragraph of a 26 paragraph story. He’ll be right with you.” If they gave out frequent elevator rider miles, you’d be platinum for sure. There’s a time and a place for context.

    When a colleague walked by my office and said, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center,” I knew exactly what to do. I went to the internet, which had crashed. Then I went to find a television, but no one could find the clicker. Then I called my wife who said “two planes have hit the World Trade Center.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There was no context to be had for a little while that day. The headline said it all.

  2. mark says:

    Yes, in my version of history, the battle of Lexington and ConcordE was fought at supersonic speeds. Mr. Wegener regrets the error and apologizes to any Concord grapes that may have been offended.

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