Sensationalism

Summary

In journalism and mass media, sensationalism is a type of editorial tactic. Events and topics in news stories are selected and worded to excite the greatest number of readers and viewers. This style of news reporting encourages biased or emotionally loaded impressions of events rather than neutrality, and may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story.[1][better source needed] Sensationalism may rely on reports about generally insignificant matters and portray them as a major influence on society, or biased presentations of newsworthy topics, in a trivial, or tabloid manner, contrary to general assumptions of professional journalistic standards.[2][3]

Causes of death in the US vs media coverage. The percentage of media attention for terrorism, homicide or suicide is much greater than the percentage of deaths caused by it. There is a null in numerical data concerning deaths per day on various bars in media charts.[improper synthesis?]

Some tactics include being deliberately obtuse,[4] appealing to emotions,[5][better source needed] being controversial, intentionally omitting facts and information,[6][better source needed] being loud and self-centered, and acting to obtain attention.[5][better source needed] Trivial information and events are sometimes misrepresented and exaggerated as important or significant, and often include stories about the actions of individuals and small groups of people,[1][better source needed] the content of which is often insignificant and irrelevant to the macro-level day-to-day events occurring globally.

History edit

In A History of News, Mitchell Stephens notes sensationalism can be found in the Ancient Roman gazette Acta Diurna, where official notices and announcements were presented daily on public message boards, the perceived content of which spread with enthusiasm in illiterate societies.[2] Sensationalism was used in books of the 16th and 17th century, to teach moral lessons. According to Stephens, sensationalism brought the news to a new audience when it became aimed at the lower class, who had less of a need to accurately understand politics and the economy, to occupy them in other matters. Through sensationalism, he claims, the audience was further educated and encouraged to take more interest in the news.[2]

The more modern forms of sensationalism developed in the course of the nineteenth century in parallel with the expansion of print culture in industrialized nations. A genre of British literature, "sensation novels," became in the 1860s an example of how the publishing industry could capitalize on surprising narrative to market serialized fiction in periodicals.[citation needed] The attention-grasping rhetorical techniques found in sensation fiction were also employed in articles on science, modern technology, finance, and in historical accounts of contemporary events.[7] Sensationalism in nineteenth century could be found in popular culture, literature, performance, art history, theory, pre-cinema, and early cinema.[8]

In the United States, modern sensationalism in the news increased after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 by the Federal Communications Commission which required broadcasters when showing one partisan view to show another.[9][page needed] While in Western Europe sensationalism in the news increased after the liberalization of television networks in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[10]

Underlying causes edit

The role of profit edit

 
American cartoon published in 1898, Remember the Maine! And Don't Forget the Starving Cubans! Such sensationalist cartoons were used to support American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence.

In the late 1800s, falling costs in paper production and rising revenues in advertising in the U.S. led to a drastic rise in newspaper's circulation,[11] which attracted the growing audiences that advertisers desired. One presumed goal of sensational reporting is to increase or sustain viewership or readership, from which media outlets can price their advertising higher to increase their profits based on higher numbers of viewers and/or readers.[12][13][better source needed] Sometimes this can lead to a lesser focus on objective journalism in favor of a profit motive,[14] in which editorial choices are based upon sensational stories and presentations to increase advertising revenue.[14] Additionally, advertisers tend to have a preference for their products or services to be reported positively in mass media, which can contribute to bias in news reporting in favor of media outlets protecting their profits and revenues, rather than reporting objectively about stated products and services.[13][15][better source needed] The more dependent news organizations are on advertising revenue a greater number of sensationalist news stories are produced is argued by Paul Hendriks Vettehen and Mariska Kleemans in Proving the Obvious? What Sensationalism Contributes to the Time Spent on News Video.[16]

The Watergate scandal has been credited by some with creating distrust in government and opening the door for a new business tactic for the media that resulted in the spread of negative, dishonest and misleading news coverage of American politics;[14][17] such examples include the labeling of a large number of political scandals, regardless of their importance, with the suffix "-gate".[17]

Sensationalism has also been blamed for the infotainment style of many news programs on radio and television.[2] According to sociologist John Thompson, the debate of sensationalism used in the mass medium of broadcasting is based on a misunderstanding of its audience, especially the television audience. Thompson explains that the term 'mass' (which is connected to broadcasting) suggests a 'vast audience of many thousands, even millions of passive individuals'.[3] Television news is restricted to showing the scenes of crimes rather than the crime itself because of the unpredictability of events, whereas newspaper writers can always recall what they did not witness.[2][verification needed]

On web-based platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube their respective algorithms are used to maximize advertising revenue by attracting and keeping the attention of users. This business model results in sensationalist content often being prioritized as algorithms often predict that it will get the highest amount of engagement.[18]

Politics edit

The relationship of sensationalism to politics is not new.[19] CBS News in 2020 described Trump as using fear, anxiety and anger to try and motivate voters.[20]

Novelty and unusualness edit

When trying to cater to younger audiences, news stories that are more sensational and unusual will often drown out stories that may be considered less exciting but more significant. In Mass Media and American Politics, Doris A. Graber and Johanna Dunaway give the example of how the Chicago Sun Times will give 20 times more space to sports in comparison to the state government. Covering singular news stories that are considered dramatic can lead to other stories being obscured.[21][page needed]

Time constraints edit

In a 24-hour news cycle, there will be instances where there is little news happening along with no developments in stories that are considered important and because of this they will need to fill the time by sharing a story that is less so about actual news and more intended to keep the audience's attention.[22]

Competition edit

In news markets where there is more competition the more likely a certain news outlet will be to produce sensationalist stories as a way to compete with other outlets.[23]

Features of sensationalism edit

Language edit

One feature of sensationalistic news is the intensification of language used in the article.[24] Language that is sensationalist often is dramatic although vague yet hyperbolic usually at the expense of giving a distortion of reality.[25] The most common use of sensationalist language is in the headlines of news articles.[19]

"Slam Journalism" is a term describing the rise of intense, emotionally charged language in headlines, notably the use of the word slam to mean criticize.[26][better source needed] The data scientist Cory Booker suggests that news agencies simply "[speak] the language that resonates with their audience best."[26][better source needed]

Below are examples of such headlines, with the intense language highlighted in bold.[26][better source needed]

  • “Trump Slams Russia Investigation And Green New Deal At CPAC," NPR on March 2, 2019
  • “Democrats Blast Biden For Recalling ‘Civil’ Relationship With Segregationists” NPR on June 19, 2019
  • "Ocasio-Cortez slams Jerry Falwell Jr. in debate over CPAC comments" Fox News on March 5, 2019

The teaser edit

David Berube considers the use of headlines to be the primary way sensationalism manifests in media, by creating teasers that use emotion to try and capture the attention of an audience even if the headline exaggerates or is otherwise misleading.[19] In YouTube videos, the thumbnail image of a video can similarly mislead audiences.[27]

Fearmongering edit

The use of fearmongering is sometimes used by media outlets as well to gain attention to their content.[19]

Impacts of sensationalism edit

Zeynep Tufecki argues that it's easier to shift the "Overton window" online thanks to algorithms replacing traditional gatekeepers of journalism.[28]

C.P. Chandrasekhar argues that news outlets are at a higher risk of releasing content that is false because of how quickly news is circulated through the internet in order to capitalize on those views and clicks for profit.[29][verification needed][better source needed]

Joe Sommerlad criticized algorithms used by Google News for not promoting more trustworthy sources.[30]

Distortion of events edit

Overrepresentation of crime edit

One of the most prominent and most covered news topics is crime being represented disproportionately to other social problems.[31] Most often what is covered is the "accounts of the commission of crime and law-enforcement activities." A lesser amount but still significant level is given to court proceedings and the least related to corrections giving the public a limited understand of the criminal justice system and the social contexts of crime.[32]

Exaggeration of science news edit

With science news, the press release may be relied upon heavily, which can exaggerate or spin the findings. One theory for this practice, in addition to time constraints, is that journalists do not access academic articles as much since many are behind paywalls.[33] One example of sensationalism in science news was in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing a link between MMR vaccines and autism[33] with it reaching the news media via press releases and a news conference[34] getting widespread coverage despite the publication being flawed and the article later being debunked and retracted.[33]

Responses to sensationalism edit

Fact-checking websites, media literacy, better content moderation on social media, and legislation have been pursued to reduce the negative impacts of algorithms and sensational media.[35]

When American public television news came about in the mid-20th century it came about in part in response to the commercial news stations having sensationalized news prioritized above that of "serious reporting".[36]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Issue Area: Sensationalism". Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e Stephens, Mitchell (2007). A History of News (3 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-0-19-518991-9.
  3. ^ a b Thompson, John (June 22, 1999). "The Media and Modernity". In Mackay, Hugh; O'Sullivan, Tim (eds.). The Media Reader: Continuity and Transformation. Sage Publications Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7619-6250-2.
  4. ^ "Sensationalism." Webster's Dictionary. Accessed June 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Sensationalism." The Free Dictionary. Accessed June 2011.
  6. ^ "Issue Area: Narrow Range of Debate." Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed June 2011.
  7. ^ Alberto Gabriele, Reading Popular Culture in Victorian Print: Belgravia and Sensationalism, New York and London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009 ISBN 978-0-230-61521-2
  8. ^ Alberto Gabriele, ed. Sensationalism and the Genealogy of Modernity: a Global Nineteenth Century Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016 ISBN 978-1-137-60128-5
  9. ^ Brooks, Brian S.; Pinson, James L. (2022). "Journalisms Credibility Problems". The Art of Editing: In the Age of Convergence (Ebook) (12th ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-000-52998-2 – via Google Books. Today, we're living through a second Party Press Era combined with a second Yellow Journalism Era-blatant partisanship combined with sensationalism. This is probably most evident in the coverage of cable television's 24-hour news channels. It started with the 1987 repeal by President Ronald Reagan's Federal Communications Commission of the 1949 so-called "Fairness Doctrine" which had required broadcasters to counter any partisan view with the opposite side
  10. ^ Arbaoui, Bouchra; Swert, Knut De; Brug, Wouter van der (2020). "Sensationalism in news coverage: A comparative study in 14 television systems" (PDF). Communication Research. 47 (2). University of Amsterdam: 299–300. doi:10.1177/0093650216663364. Retrieved March 18, 2024 – via UvA-DARE (Digital Academic Repository). The liberalization of West European television systems in the late 1980s and early 1990s is often linked to an increase of infotainment and sensationalism in television news coverage
  11. ^ Kaplan, Richard L. (2008-06-05), "Yellow Journalism", The International Encyclopedia of Communication, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, doi:10.1002/9781405186407.wbiecy001, ISBN 978-1-4051-8640-7, retrieved 2021-03-31
  12. ^ "What's Wrong With The News?" Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed June 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Issue Area: Advertiser Influence." Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed June 2011.
  14. ^ a b c McChesney, Fred S. (1987). "Sensationalism, Newspaper Profits and the Marginal Value of Watergate". Economic Inquiry. 25 (1): 135–44. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.1987.tb00728.x.
  15. ^ "Issue Area: Censorship." Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed June 2011.
  16. ^ Vettehen, Paul Hendriks; Kleemans, Mariska (2017). "Proving the Obvious? What Sensationalism Contributes to the Time Spent on News Video". Electronic News. 12 (2): 114. doi:10.1177/1931243117739947. hdl:2066/191971. In addition, the more news organizations are dependent on advertising revenues (commercial vs. public service stations), the more sensationalist news stories they produce
  17. ^ a b Finney, Daniel P. (16 June 2012). "Watergate scandal changed the political landscape forever". USA Today. Archived from the original on 8 November 2019.
  18. ^ Stone, Deborah (2020). Counting: How We Use Numbers to Decide What Matters. Liveright. ISBN 9781631495939. Retrieved April 10, 2024 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ a b c d Vanacore, Ryan (November 12, 2021). "Sensationalism in Media". Reporter Magazine.
  20. ^ Watson, Kathryn (2020-09-29). "Trump banks on fear and anxiety to motivate voters - CBS News". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2024-03-07.
  21. ^ Graber, Doris A.; Dunaway, Johanna (2017). Mass Media and American Politics. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9781506340241. Retrieved March 8, 2024 – via Google Books. When the goal is to attract young viewers, sensational and novel occurrences often drown out news of more significant that lacks excitement. For instance, a fairly typical newspaper such as the Chicago Sun Times devotes nearly twenty times more space to sports than to news about the state's government. Dramatic events, such as airline hijackings or serial murders, preempt more far-reaching consequential happenings. Preoccupation with a single striking event, such as the 2009 impeachment of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, can shortchange coverage of other news
  22. ^ Thiel, Kristin (2018). Television News and the 24-Hour News Cycle. Cavendish Square. p. 30. ISBN 9781502634931 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Vettehen, Paul Hendriks; Kleemans, Mariska (2017). "Proving the Obvious? What Sensationalism Contributes to the Time Spent on News Video". SageJournal. 12 (2): 114. doi:10.1177/1931243117739947. hdl:2066/191971.
  24. ^ Burgers, Christian; de Graaf, Anneke (2013-01-29). "Language intensity as a sensationalistic news feature: The influence of style on sensationalism perceptions and effects". Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research. 38 (2). doi:10.1515/commun-2013-0010. ISSN 1613-4087.
  25. ^ "How to Spot 16 Types of Media Bias". AllSides. 26 August 2019. Retrieved March 9, 2024.
  26. ^ a b c Foster, Corbin (October 4, 2019). "Blog: The Rise of "Slam" Journalism". Textio. Retrieved January 26, 2024.
  27. ^ Banning, Stephen A. (2020). Journalism Standards of Work Today: Using History to Create a New Code of Journalism Ethics. Cambridge Scholars Publisher. p. 120. ISBN 9781527559028. Retrieved April 10, 2024 – via Google Books.
  28. ^ Tufekci, Zeynep (2016-03-31). "Opinion | Adventures in the Trump Twittersphere". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-04-01.
  29. ^ Chandrasekhar, C.P. (2013). "The Business of News in the Age of the Internet". Social Scientist. 41 (5/6): 25–39. ISSN 0970-0293. JSTOR 23611116.
  30. ^ Sommerlad, Joe (2018-06-18). "This is how Google News decides what to show you". The Independent. Retrieved 2020-03-11.
  31. ^ NEWS COVERAGE AND CRIME: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF AGENTS INVOLVED IN NEWS PRODUCTION (PDF). University of North Carolina Wilmington. 2010. p. 1. One of the most prevalent subjects of media discourse is crime. Crime is represented in many different media categories from entertainment to news and intermediate forms such as infotainment. While entertainment media doubtlessly have a significant socializing effect, they generally do not claim to be a true representation of reality. However, news media do make this claim (Mason, 2006; Surette, 2003). Despite this, studies show that when it comes to crime, media representations do not accurately reflect reality (Surette, 2003).. Additionally, crime news is one of the most prominent categories in news media; it is covered disproportionately more than other social problems (Leishman & Mason, 2003; Gans, 2004).
  32. ^ Chagnon, Nicholas J. (2010). NEWS COVERAGE AND CRIME: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF AGENTS INVOLVED IN NEWS PRODUCTION (PDF). University of North Carolina Wilmington. p. 10. Retrieved March 10, 2024.
  33. ^ a b c Dempster, Georgia; Sutherland, Georgina; Keogh, Louise (March 7, 2022). "Scientific research in news media: a case study of misrepresentation, sensationalism and harmful recommendations". Journal of Science Communication. 21 (1): A06. doi:10.22323/2.21010206.
  34. ^ Moore, Andrew (December 2006). "Bad science in the headlines. Who takes responsibility when science is distorted in the mass media?". EMBO Reports. 7 (12): 1193–1196. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400862. PMC 1794697. PMID 17139292.
  35. ^ Vasu, Norman; Ang, Benjamin; Teo, Terri-Anne; Jayakumar, Shashi; Faizal, Muhammad; Ahuja, Juhi (2018). "International Responses to Fake News". Fake News: National Security in the Post-Truth Era. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. pp. 18–25. JSTOR resrep17648.8.
  36. ^ Sterling, Christopher H. (2009). Encyclopedia of Journalism. Vol. 6. SAGE Publications. p. 1155. ISBN 978-0-7619-2957-4 – via Google Books.