Thursday, November 02, 2006

Accentuating the Negative

A manufacturing industry research group, eMvoy, recently ranked Wisconsin 6th in the nation for manufacturing competitiveness. The Badger State was one of only 14 states the group found to be "significantly above-average for industrial competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing."

But you wouldn't know that by reading the Journal Sentinel, the state's biggest daily.

And I'm not griping about this in the context of the gubernatorial race. I'm griping about this in the context of how the public views the state of Wisconsin.

Earlier this month when the conservative Tax Foundation released its rankings of corporate tax climate, which placed Wisconsin as "12th worst," the JS covered it on the front page of the Business section along with the echoing reaction of like-minded groups such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

And this doesn't just happen with business.

When the conservative Fordham Foundation released completely subjective rankings that graded Wisconsin a D- for the way in which its state standards are written, the JS covered it on the front page.

But when the ACT scores for Wisconsin students came in second in the country, the story was buried in consecutive articles on how most Wisconsin high school grads are supposedly ill-prepared for college and how there's wide variance in test scores between locales in the state. And when Wisconsin students outpaced the rest of the country on the SAT (again), the JS buried that in an article about how scores are declining nationwide.

It seems likely this is linked to a "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality. The articles that show trouble are assumed to be bigger eye-catchers than those that show all is well.

But, cumulatively, emphasizing the negative while ignoring the positive has the effect of shaping a negative public view of the state of Wisconsin itself, which, in turn, has an impact on intangible issues like civic pride and tangible issues like voting.

That's the great responsibility our media holds. It should be more mindful of it.


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