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Mass Layoffs Down while Mass Layoffs Up   February 25th, 2009
Interesting conflicting news headlines demonstrates spin       

 
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Just to demonstrate how the same news can easily be spun to provide a dismal or optimistic view of the economic situation, two seemingly contradictory headlines appeared almost simultaneously on two news sources: "Mass Layoffs Rising, New Report Shows" on CBS and "Mass layoffs down in January" on CNN. Interestingly, they both cite the same numbers.

First, on CNN:

Headline: "Mass layoffs down in January"

There were fewer mass layoffs in January, with the brunt of the job casualties occurring in the South and in temporary-help services, according to the U.S. government.

In January, there were 2,227 mass layoffs, which resulted in 237,902 job cuts, according to the Labor Department. There were 48 fewer mass layoffs compared to December, but the number of unemployment claims associated with them increased by 11,785.


Then on CBS:

Headline: "Mass Layoffs Rising, New Report Shows"

U.S. employers took a large ax to their payrolls in January, the government said Wednesday, and the cuts are likely to get worse over the next few months.

The Labor Department reported that mass layoffs, or job cuts of 50 or more by a single employer, increased to 2,227 in January, up almost 50 percent from the same month last year. More than 235,000 workers were fired as a result of last month's cuts.


So both articles cited the same number of 2,227 mass layoffs. CNN highlighted that that's 48 fewer than the previous month while CBS highlighted the fact that that's 50% more than it was a year ago.

Both articles are technically accurate, but by comparing it to year-ago numbers that simply demonstrate things are worse today than they were a year ago (which we already know), CBS seems to be trying to reinforce the bad news. CNN, meanwhile, used the same numbers to show that there were fewer mass layoffs occurred in January than December... something we might not know. CBS eventually reported the same thing, but not until the sixth paragraph--and then by conditioning that aspect of the report by highlighting the impact of seasonal adjustments.

Again, both articles are correct. But which does the better service to the reader?

The CBS article emphasizes the bad news by highlighting an aspect of the report that does nothing other than confirm that things are tough. That's not news to the average reader.

The CNN article emphasizes potentially better news in that the mass layoffs decreased in January... something the average reader might not know.

So it seems like the CBS is doing a disservice to its reader and the economy by highlighting bad news that the reader already knows, while CNN is doing a better service to the reader and the economy by highlighting potentially better news that the reader might not already know.

That's just my opinion, but at the very least this is a classic example of how the same information can be spun differently depending on whether you want to make things look better or worse.


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