Shorting a stock is a risky bet that its price will go down. The position is contrary to the stock market's history of rising more than falling, so unsuccessful short-sellers typically also have short careers. Successful short-sellers are typically seasoned, savvy investors who do their homework and place real money on the line. On Wall Street, they're often considered "smart money." That's why it's worth your time to know the short interest on any stock you own or research.

Which media stocks are the short-sellers currently betting against? I ran a screen to find stocks in the sector with short interest greater than 15% of the float -- the total number of shares publicly owned and available for trading -- and market caps of at least $200 million. Here are the results:

Company

Short Interest as a % of Float

Days to Cover Short

McClatchy (NYSE: MNI) 61% 21.6
ReachLocal (Nasdaq: RLOC) 28% 12.3
Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) 23% 10.6
Valassis Communications (NYSE: VCI) 20% 11.5
Meredith Corp. (NYSE: MDP) 18% 12.8
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO) 17% 10.6
The Washington Post Co. (NYSE: WPO) 15% 22.3

Source: Capital IQ and The Motley Fool.

Days to cover short is another way of gauging short interest. It compares the number of shares short to the average trading volume. The higher the number, the more trading days are needed for all the short-sellers to get out of their positions, and the more risky the short bet.

As a basis for comparison, short interest as a percentage of float is 2.2% for Walt Disney and would require 3.8 days to cover. Short interest on DirecTV is 2.2% of float and would require 3.3days to cover.

The Foolish takeaway
While there is more to successful investing than watching short interest, shorting a stock is a risky bet. Short-sellers typically do their homework and attempt to place their positions only when they think a stock has more downside risk than upside opportunity. So if you find a stock that you own has a high short interest, make sure to do your due diligence and see why the bears are so skeptical.

To help you monitor your investment risks, The Motley Fool recently introduced a free My Watchlist feature. You can get up-to-date news and analysis by adding companies to your Watchlist now:

Fool contributor Cindy Johnson does not own shares in any security in this story. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of ReachLocal and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.