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  D.F.'s Column Archive

January 1, 2007

Stocks on Top, Coverage All Mixed Up


On the final trading day of 2006, the Dow Jones Industrial Averages surged to an all-time high of 12,529.87. For those with bad vision, that’s an ALL-TIME HIGH.


For those who are Yahoo! headline writers, I regret that I cannot change font sizes in my columns for the purpose of further emphasizing to you that this is, yes, indeed, an ALL-TIME HIGH!


Perhaps if I, or someone, could have made this message clearer on Friday afternoon, Yahoo! would not have headlined its story about the ALL-TIME HIGH as follows:


“Stocks mixed in final 2006 trading day”


Mixed? Mixed?


“Patriots 40, Texans 7; Both Teams Claim Victory”


No. Wait. How about this:


“Mondale Says His 13 Electoral Votes Might Mean He Wins”


You say potato. I say potahto. Dan Quayle waits for the verdict from spellcheck. Either way, some things are hard to misdefine. But that’s where Herculean effort becomes so important.


Well, of course you realize, not all stocks are at an all-time high. Not all stocks are even up. Some stocks are down. Thus, the market is mixed.


Well, yes. Some stocks are up and some stocks are down. Every day. That is an enormously comforting thought to every financial headline writer in journalism, who can simply stick the “Stocks Mixed” headline on every single day’s report and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will always be accurate.


Now, one must acknowledge: Reporting on the stock market is inherently problematic. Just because the entire market is at an all-time high doesn’t mean that anyone’s individual portfolio is at an all-time high, because no one owns every stock on the market. So right from the get-go, a story about the entire market’s performance is inapplicable to any individual investor, even if the headline isn’t preposterous.


And of course, we still haven’t answered the all-important question about those 12,529.87, er, well, that’s the question. What are they? We’re writing a story about 12,529.87 somethings. Are they money? Are they drops of red hair dye? Are they breath mints?


What could I buy with the 12,529.87 things, assuming of course that they all belonged to me? Paying off the national debt might be a bit ambitious, but would they be worth enough for me to, say, get some new frames for my glasses? A few people said the old ones were getting some green gunk on them. That is a little gross. But you can’t really see the green gunk on your own glasses because they’re sitting in that invisible spot on the crown of your nose.


Maybe that’s not the purchase for me after all.


Clearly, I am not the person to explain stock market definitions to the rest of the world, although I am pretty sure that when something reaches its all-time high I would not describe the outcome as “mixed.”


But since I don’t know how I would write the story, since even an all-time high carries a meaning of unclear importance to me, I propose that we simply stop writing stories about the performance of the stock market altogether. This being the start of a new year, it’s a perfect time to end this specious journalistic practice and, instead, report on the actual performance of actual companies.


None of this, of course, means that I will stop reading stock market coverage. With Kirk Kerkorian no longer a factor at General Motors, the stock market – and the entire world’s effort to pretend to understand it – is now the best place I can go to get material for this column.


But I don’t want any of the rest of you reading stock market news. It makes no sense, it has nothing to do with your life and even when it’s accurate, it’s wrong. Go buy a dog and leave this dirty reading to me. I’m sure there are at least 12,529.87 better things you could be doing with your time.


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