After Positive GDP Growth, 'Nightly News' Unveils Negative Craigslist Indicator

     When the federal government announced April 30 that the economy grew in the first quarter of 2008, members of the media scrambled to find bad news to report. The NBC “Nightly News” found the Craigslist Indicator.

     “Even though it grew slightly in the first three months of the year, up 0.6 percent,” CNBC’s Erin Burnett said of the gross domestic product, “many are still very cautious.”

     “While the economy may not actually be shrinking, it feels that way to many Americans. There’s the credit crunch that started it all, the housing prices that keep falling, and those soaring food prices,” she reported. “And here’s one more indicator of a sagging economy we came across today: the digital yard sale known as Craigslist, which is reporting a surge in items being offered by people in need of extra money.

     The San Francisco-based Web site reported on its blog April 30 that listings for “cars and trucks” and “recreational vehicles” were up 120 percent and 100 percent respectively in the last 8 months.

     “It does tug at the heartstrings a bit to see people forced to sell, you know, prized possessions,” Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said.

     Craiglist is a relatively open classifieds-style Web site that allows users to post virtually anything they want – items for sale, homes for rent, personal ads, community events, even requests for casual sexual encounters – with little official oversight.

     Burnett’s creation of the Craigslist Indicator mirrors previous reports where journalists have found trends to downplay better-than-expected economic news – from McDonald’s to Starbucks to RV sales to sad puppies.

     The federal government announced Wednesday that gross domestic product (GDP) grew 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008, the same as the last quarter of 2007. The news runs counter to the popular long-running media analysis that the country was already in a recession, which is often defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

     But following the news of positive growth, journalists turned to non-traditional economic indicators to insist that many or most Americans are suffering in a horrible economy.

     CNN’s Ali Velshi told viewers to “forget” the definition of recession as two quarters of negative growth, on “American Morning” April 30. “That’s not what you want to be looking at,” he said.

      Burnett has previously said the difference between a recession and a slowdown is “semantics,” in a January appearance on the NBC “Today” show.