Sensationalism in Journalism By Anna Shorina Chuvash State University
“Dont forget this, too: Rumors arentinterested in the unsensational story;rumors dont care whats true.”― John Irving, In One Person.
Sensationalism is nothing new NYU Journalism Professor Mitchell Stephens, in his book "A History of News” writes that sensationalism has been around ever since early humans began telling stories, ones that invariably focused on sex and conflict.
"I have never found atime when therewasnt a form for theexchange of newsthat includedsensationalism
Whatever the timing is-sensationalism setting, Whatever the time or is there! "sensationalism is unavoidable in news - because we humans are wired, probably for reasons of natural selection, to be alert to sensations, particularly those involving sex and violence," Stephens said.
Ratings say “yes” Many ask why there should be a concern about news being more entertaining than informative. If ratings are reflective of what audiences desires and preferences, than the majority seems to approve of these types of programs.
Some students ofjournalism point to thistrend as disturbing becauseit creates an unenlightenedpublic.
Sensationalism also serves a functionby promoting the spread of informationto less-literate audiences andstrengthening the social fabric, Stephenssaid.
What’s the use? "While there is plenty of silliness in our various tales of wantonness and crime, they do manage to serve various important societal/cultural functions: in establishing or questioning, for example, norms and boundaries,“ Stephen mentions.
The Junk Food FactorTheres another point to be made aboutsensational news stories: we love them.
Sensational storiesare the junk food ofour news diet, the icecream sundae thatyou eagerly gobbleup. You know its badfor you but itsdelicious. And youcan always have asalad tomorrow.
Perfectly normal Its the same with news. Sometimes theres nothing better than poring over the sober pages of The New York Times,
And despite what high-mindedcritics might say, theres nothingwrong with that. Indeed, aninterest in the sensational seemsto be, if nothing else, an all-toohuman quality.
Distinguishing the two The link between journalism and sensationalism is nothing new, but its something all professional freelance writers must be aware of as theyre getting articles ready for publication.
Understanding Journalism and Sensationalism To understand the controversy surroundingsensationalism in journalism, you must first have a cleargrasp of what these two terms mean.
Key principals:• Objective and unbiased reporting• Factual accuracy• Distribution of useful knowledge• Service of the public good• Fulfills a genuine need to know• Avoids slander or libel
What do they stand for?• Journalists help people understand complex issues, motivate them to become more involved in their communities, and give them a broader perspective on worldwide events.
Sensationalism:• Controversial• Shocking• Attention grabbing• Failing to explain the broader issues behind the story while focusing on superficial details• Published to attract readers, regardless of whether the information is accurate or informative
Example Some examples of sensational stories you might find in the media include stories about the private sexual exploits of famous actors and actresses or repeated coverage of crimes that are unique in their level of gore and violence. Articles that use junk science to back up dubious claims such as "a woman over the age of 40 who gets pregnant is doomed to give birth to a special needs child" can also be considered sensational.
Accusations of sensationalism seem tocome up most often in the field ofbroadcast journalism, but printjournalists can be involved in this as well.
How they used to make sensationalism Newspapers would run minor news storieswith huge, overly dramatic headlines and thelavish use of attention-getting pictures ordrawings. Stories would often be misleading and featurepseudo-science or quotes from faked interviews.
1890’s• In the 1890’s, The New York World run by Joseph Pulitzer and The New York Journal run by William Randolph Hearst were known for yellow journalism, yet routinely outsold competitors who published purely objective content.
What does the Public Want? • Today, the debate surrounding journalism and sensationalism is complex because publications are under more pressure than ever to increase their circulation in order to attract profitable advertisers.
People are hungry for sensationsensational content attracts readers quickly. All you need to do to illustrate this principle is to visit a newsstand and count the number of people reading celebrity gossip magazines versus those who are reviewing the latest issue of Time or Newsweek.
Avoiding Sensationalism For a freelance writer, the real danger occurswhen a story starts off to be journalism andbegins to veer into sensational territory.
For example, a writer working on a storyabout the current economic recession couldinclude statistics about the unemploymentrate, interviews with officials in localeconomic development offices, andinformation about which major businesseshave laid off workers in the last year.
How to support journalism? Anecdotes could also be used to support keypoints in the story, although this is wherewriters must be careful not to be overlysensational.
Choosing your support wisely Anecdotes should represent the commonexperience, not what is most shocking.Choosing to profile a single mother lost herjob at Wal-Mart and has five children withfour different men is not responsiblejournalism if your statistics indicate thatmost of the people affected by the pooreconomy in your area are middle-aged menwho work in the construction ormanufacturing industries.