How the Mainstream Media Impacts Public Behavior

avatarthumbnail.jpgThere’s no dispute that Friday’s top story was Hurricane Ike’s march toward the Texas coast and Galveston Island. And one of the top ancillary stories that came out of the hurricane coverage was a sharp increase in gas prices and the shortage of gasoline in different parts of the country.

Gas prices did move in the Phoenix area on Friday – both the Diamond Shamrock and the QC closest to my house dropped their price for regular unleaded (does it make me old to find that phrase an oxymoron?) by two cents a gallon.

You read that correctly. The price of gasoline in Phoenix dropped on Friday. There were no discernable shortages … at least not at that time. Yet that did not stop lines from forming late in the afternoon at different gas stations (and not just the one I made the mistake of choosing as my tank hit empty). Why? Because people had been watching and listening to the news and hearing about the spike in prices and rushed out to avoid the spike that never came.

I hedged the shortage comment with “at that time” for a reason … the Diamond Shamrock was out of gas my midday yesterday. Would they still have done so if there had not been an artificial demand created? Probably, since their supply is shipment dependent. But it might not have happened as soon as it did.

Parallels can be drawn between the local reaction to the Hurricane Ike/gasoline stories and the Phoenix real estate market. How’s the market? To most people, it’s however The Arizona Republic and the local television stations say it is.

The notion of objective, unbiased coverage perished long ago. There still are some real news stories but the bulk of the coverage – the special reports, in particular – are driven less by objective reportage and more by the need to sensationalize public sentiment to sway that sentiment even more strongly.

Three years ago the papers wrote about the plight of buyers who were being forced to compete with multiple offers to purchase a property. Now the stories are of the plight of sellers who can’t compete with foreclosures and of one-time buyers who want sympathy because they didn’t get their cash in their cash-back scheme (my personal favorite from the pages of the Republic.)

Are these valid stories? Absolutely. And so is the increasing wave of foreclosed properties, the problems with Fannie and Freddie and the pervasive credit tightening.

But these aren’t the only stories out there.

Where are the stories about the first-time home buyers for whom the bank owned homes (and the lower prices) presented an opportunity to purchase? Where are the stories of the sellers who actually have sold by accepting the state of the market and then moved on to the larger home they really wanted (and not bankrupting themselves, like many of the move-up buyers of two years ago)?

Just like the story that gasoline prices dropped locally even as some station owners in the south demanded $5 per gallon, those are stories you’re just not going to see.

Would they also serve to influence public perception? For those standing in line for gas on Friday in Phoenix for no apparent reason, the answer would almost certainly be yes.

[tags]Phoenix real estate[/tags]

Jonathan Dalton

Jonathan Dalton is a 40-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at