Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reporting with Blinders

My office recently changed the default TV channel in our break room from CNN to CNBC, in order to be more business-y, or something or other. This afternoon, CNBC was looking at the volatility in a number of energy stocks, and brought on a pair of "experts" to discuss the stock prices for oil and natural gas stocks. Here's the link:

What's Moving Oil Now?

Did you see something missing? Now, if you only watched business news, this would sound like a pretty comprehensive discussion of stock prices in terms of supply and demand, the forecasts for both, inventory, international markets, and profits. However, if you read an occasional full-service, non-Wall Street Journal newspaper, you may have seen another reason for why natural gas stocks might not be a safe and steady investment right now: FRACKING CAUSED EARTHQUAKES IN OHIO.

I can't stress that enough. If your business sector caused a seismic event in Youngstown, there may be something wrong with your business practices, which may in turn make investors nervous if leveling Toledo with a 5.2 earthquake might leave one open to lawsuits and destroy your investment in the natural gas company that will be bankrupted after paying damages... then again, others might want to pick up those shares at a discount. You want some volatility in the marketplace? How about an unprecedented shift on the ground which literally is an unprecedented shift of the ground?

This goes to show why watching nothing but CNBC all day, every day, is like viewing the world with blinders on. Everything is evaluated through the prism of stock prices, investment, and profits. You forget about whether or not actions are right or wrong, just the effect on that business sector. It's helping to train an entire system of business executives to think exactly the same, then bemoan the fact that employees can't think outside the box (a phrase so IN the box that anyone who honestly uses it is by definition not thinking outside the box). It is a vicious cycle that can easily be broken by just changing the channel from time to time.

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