As the media loses readers and profits it becomes increasingly shrill. But is the public becoming more and more immune to the hyperventilating message?
I have often heard it said that the news needs to make us feel bad so that the ads can make us feel good. Life is a trail of misery and despair, but if you buy our new, improved product, everything will be just fine.
"Mexico swine flu death toll jumps to 42" shouts Reuters in a heading. The death toll has jumped in Mexico from 29 to 42. If it gets to 100, it will have skyrocketed. And there won't be a word left to describe its ascent if it goes beyond 1,000.
"Despite 2nd US Death, CDC Says Don't Close Schools for Swine Flu," WebMD states. Despite the rampant, spiraling death rate of 2, US authorities have urged the public to remain somewhat calm. However, there are plans to close the entire country down for a year if the death rate passes 100.
So what should we believe? Are we being manipulated just one more time by the media into buying some of their news? Or is the media doing its best to inform us of an emerging crisis that could have catastrophic consequences if we don't respond properly?
On the other side of fear-mongering is fantasizing and irrational exuberance. Have you heard about the new "Google killer" search engine called Wolfram Alpha?
"Wolfram Alpha Does What Google Can't", shouts CBS News. According to Christian Science Monitor, in Wolfram Alpha, Google has a "fearsome new challenger." A BBC heading states that Wolfram Alpha is a "Web tool 'as important as Google'".
And you know what? The Wolfram Alpha search engine hasn't even been officially launched. All of this hype is because a select group of journalists and insiders have been shown a limited demo. And when reviewers actually got a chance to use the search engine itself, the reports were not nearly as revolutionary.
When on earth did anyone in the media accept that being shown a limited, controlled demo was anything other than being played for a fool? Or does it even matter that the news story that results from such barefaced PR manipulation is trivial and sensationalist, once it catches a few more eyeballs?
But do you remember the big media stories that greeted the launch of Google? Yes, they said that Google was going to be the next "Alta Vista killer". Except that the media didn't say that. To my knowledge, Google started without much fanfare. I heard about it from a friend. Google grew because it worked, because it was useful.
Amazon, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook: how many of what are today the hottest web brands started off with big media hype, big marketing, advertising and PR campaigns? Not many. Brands have been built on the Web by proving their worth to real people. By being useful to real people.
In an age of customer power, skepticism and cynicism, probably the worst thing Wolfram Alpha can do is engage in traditional PR tactics. It should instead launch quietly and prove its worth. If it's genuinely useful, word will get around. If it sucks, it will sink. That's the Web.