byNetherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Negative economic news gets more coverage in newspapers than positive news and it has a greater influence on public opinion. This double asymmetry has far-reaching consequences, as evidenced by policymakers with ambitious plans.

I was certainly surprised to see that negativity is such a common thread running through everything, said Alyt Damstra, a communication scientist at the University of Amsterdam. Her automatedcontent analysisof all the economicnewsbetween 2002 and 2015127,120 articles in eight newspapersrevealed that negative economic developments lead to far morenews coveragethan positive developments.

She went on to research media usage and the opinions of over three thousand people in the Netherlands by means of a large panel survey in 2015. It revealed that negative news coverage about economics or policy leads to pessimism: peoples economic expectations become gloomier and support for the government declines. Positive news coverage, on the other hand, has no effect on public opinion.

Damstra presumes that policymakers sense this double asymmetry and that it has an inhibiting effect on radical policy measures. Phasing out mortgage interest tax relief, for instance, was a controversial issue for a long time. The fact that negative reports about a decline in spending power have a greater electoral effect than positive articles about a more inclusive housing market makes taking responsibility risky. You see the same thing in terms of the nitrogen crisis andclimate change: politicians prefer not to say that we ought to take fewer flights.

Damstra presented economic journalists with her findings in an interview study. Its almost impossible for journalists to breach these dynamics of negativity. The demand for interpretation and information is simply greater in an economic downturn. Added to that, positive trends often take place very gradually, whereas negative developments happen abruptly. Just think of bankruptcies and redundancies. By reporting negativity, they are being truer to the cycle of making news, in which the unexpected is more newsworthy.

The question is to what extent the findings are specific to economic news. Damstra thinks not: The dynamics between reality, news coverage andpublic opinioncan be successfully researched within economic dynamics, mainly because a lot of data is available. Consumer confidence has been measured on a monthly basis for decades; you can compare it with newscoverageand hard economic figures. But I think that negativity in other news works in exactly the same way.

News consumers differ widely in their preferences for negative or positive content

: Negative economic news gets more coverage in newspapers than positive news (2020, February 27) retrieved 16 March 2020 from

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