The Business of BOO : A Stampede A Minute



The Market is united at the hip, by people who think similarly. That’s why there are predominantly Sellers during a bear market and predominantly buyers in a bull market. But mostly, this unification is not based on logic.

Declaimer: This article was originally in June 2019, and some of the data points may be outdated

The Behavioral Economist

We already know that we have a large Limbic Brain housed in our subconscious. Many of our emotions are automatic, and they drive our behavior most of the time. Behavioral Economists estimate that between 85-95% of our behavior lacks Free Will, in that it’s driven by the subconscious, with no reference to any logical perspective. The subconscious operates not on Logical Thinking Models, but on If-This-Then-That kind of automated thinking.

The subject of No Free Will is a big, deep one. One of the rules is that we tend to herd, and it’s very difficult to stand apart from the herd. The Media, when it whips up a frenzy, tends to merge its audience, which is what we call euphoria/ panic. It (the Media) creates the background, under which we must make our decisions. The elephant in the room, so created, is sub-conscious, and neither the actor nor her audience is consciously aware of how the environment changes with each new input.

There’s an entire Theory of Media, which is a collection of insights, that both sides need to keep in mind. Journalists, at least the responsible ones, should understand how they affect their audiences, but more importantly, the masses should be educated on how they are affected, both consciously and unconsciously, by the impact of the Media. You should have a Survival Kit that protects your mind from the hidden impact of the Media (much like Sunscreen protects your body from the ultraviolet radiation of the Sun).

The Rise of Social Media

Remember some background. Like most businesses in the broader economy, the traditional Media is being disrupted, albeit in slow motion. A Big Trend comes from the rise of Social Media, which has led to the democratization of journalism. The professional journalist is being cut out from both sides. On the news side, the ‘roadside journalist/ news reporter’ is faster, closer to his audience, and therefore, trusted enough to cut into audience attention.

So that’s as far as news & data is concerned. On the side of opinion, yesterday’s journalists were amateurs holding forth on complex subjects like macroeconomics, geopolitics, and corporate strategy, sometimes with little more to qualify them than the fact that they are paid to sit in judgment. All that has changed. Today, you can get a better perspective from people who know: bloggers, social media opinion-makers, influencers, etc. These influencers are elected, not appointed, and hence they don’t have to worry about the most important question that should trouble a professional journalist: did I establish Connection and was I relevant?

So mainstream media has been squeezed in between the pincer of both data and opinions from all sides. This has created exhaustion in the audience, bombarded every second with news and comments throughout the day from their phone. By the time you get ready to go to the toilet the next day, you know as much about Pulwama, both the news and what Modi should be doing, as the newspaper that comes in under the door. Or you think you do, which is the same thing….the point is, you have no time for a professional journalist!!!

This is why they are slipping down into a morass of misbehavior, pandering to either clownish attention-gathering sensationalism, or the ‘manufacturing of news’. Trying to trigger your most limbic emotions is now the central skill of at least the TV journalist.

You must remember that the professional journalist who is addressing you needs to get paid, it’s not a labor of Love. It’s a common mistake that we make when we go to any professional, i.e., we’re so self-obsessed with our stomach ache, that we forget that the Doctor has to pay his Home Loan EMI.

Admittedly, it’s not like they are sitting in the Corporate Office, trying to figure out all your irrationalities, so that they can manipulate you.  It’s an unconscious search. But the fit happens when the Media stumbles upon your propensity to get excited. The repeated use of the phrase: “the Nation wants to know….” is not an accident. It works, it gets the eyeballs, it gets remembered, passed on, and talked about. That’s why it’s there, pleasing both the seller and the sold. But if there’s a particular TV anchor who’s sitting at the top of his profession, it’s because he has consciously/unconsciously stumbled upon a method of triggering your most Limbic emotions.

One thing you have to remember is that the Media, over the years, has lost credibility for a variety of reasons. Some of it is a natural deterioration towards appealing to your baser instincts, somewhat like how the Film industry must show more and more skin, to be seen/ heard above the din of the competition. Hence, the more the competition, the more the skin….and as the bottom of the pyramid comes up, you’ll find more and more of the ‘mainstream media’ going lower and lower, until one day, you find your driver reads your favorite (toilet) paper before you do. You note that the ads seem to be targeting him more than they are interested in you. This tells you that the business has changed in terms of which segment of the audience it must attract.

There’s an old tradition of the Media as ‘the Fourth Estate” (now it seems that includes the Fifth Estate), the fourth pillar of governance. The sanctity offered to Freedom of Speech (mostly narrowed down to Freedom of the Press) came from the fact that the Media was to teach, inform, and help you process that information, i.e., form opinions. This was because it was presumed that the best thinkers in society were somehow professional writers.

2 things: we know that is not true. The best thinkers are doers, we know this from markets, for example. It’s the same with industry and even governance. And as most mainstream media gets pushed out into the Fifth Estate, they’re taking to the extreme, outlier positions, selling slant/bias rather than balance.

So here’s your Survival Kit:
  • Is he a professional journalist? Or just a part-time columnist/ commentator?
  • If yes, does he have a bias? Can I classify him from his previous work?
  • Is the bias coming from an ideology, or from a corner he has chosen, simply because that’s where the audiences go? That is, is he leftist or Liberal, a Bleeding Heart or simply a cynic, who will go into the corner that provokes the Silent Majority? Remember: Man Bites Dog is News, Dog Bites Man Is Not News. So Bad News Is Good News, these are often sub-conscious and sometimes explicit principles by which the media decides its stance.
  • Sometimes, Political Correctness decides the stance of the Media. There are these ‘holy cows’, which cannot be violated……sometimes they are stereotypes (women and children are always right; the Army & Doctors/ Teachers are always good, etc) and sometimes they are principles that have stood the test of time (if it’s Ayurveda, it’s clean and ‘natural’). When this is sometimes not the case, you must exercise discretion to locate and iron out the biases.

Generally, this is only a representative, not an exhaustive list. The Media is both fractured and monolithic, and you will see different faces from time to time. Like being able to separate a judge from The Judiciary, you must identify them as 2 different personalities. Individual irrationalities and biases will have a fractured look, but systemic biases are bigger and more visible. Being able to articulate it, and understanding your role in its existence, will help you understand the world better.



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