Experts Agree: You May Soon Be Dead

Manhattan Could Be Under Water by 2018. I detest “speculative news.” These are the news stories that tell you something can or maybe will happen—the more outrageous, the better.

Urban Beavers May Threaten Pets. Blame it on PR people and blame it on media. Need publicity for your organization? Blast out a claim from one of your researchers about something bad that might happen someday. Begin with the words like “latest evidence suggests…” If your story can touch off fear and panic, media folk will run with it and be grateful to you!

Eating Pomegranates Could Cause Back Pain. Wired magazine and NPR shows like “All Things Considered” are the worst offenders, but other media outlets do it, too. Why? Because these stories make you wonder if, say, polar bears really could migrate down to Des Moines by 2015. And when 2015 rolls around and Des Moines has no polar bears, who’s going to call ‘em on it?

Asteroid Headed for Arkansas; 50-Mile Wide Crater Feared. The worst speculative news story of all time, in my opinion, was the panic over killer bees. If those stories we heard decades ago had turned out to be true, El Paso would now be a ghost town. A close runner-up was coverage of the Y2K bug, which ultimately affected just a handful of computers. And how many times have we been told that the world would run out of petroleum by [pick a year]?

Research Shows Inhaling Patchouli May Lead To Increased Frugality. This complaint is not about the weather person telling us that approaching storms could be threatening. My problem is with stories that exploit our concerns about our long-term futures and those of our kids. Speculative news stories often reek of fear mongering. Their only real value is that they get a viewer’s/listener’s/reader’s attention more readily than a ho-hum, boilerplate crime story. And sometimes they get discussed around the water cooler.

Study Suggests Earth’s Supply of Naugahyde Could Vanish by 2021. Is there anything we can do about these stories? Media gatekeepers can kick-save them away from inboxes and copy desks. And PR people can pass along real news items about their clients, rather than speculative news. To recycle a catchphrase of former ESPN Sportscenter anchor Dan Patrick, “We can’t stop them. We can only hope to contain them.”

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