UNYTEDACADEMY W H I T E PA P E R What is sensationalism? How does it affect us?The American Heritage Dictionary definessensationalism as “something designed to arousea strong reaction by exaggeration and luriddetail.” The Random House Dictionary defines it as Sensationalist mediaan intention to produce "a startling or thrilling engage in a process ofimpression or to excite and please vulgar tastes." deliberately trying to create a strongAs with the dictionary definitions, a number of impression or reaction byscholarly definitions of sensationalism focus on the exaggeratingeffects on the human sensory system. something’s importance,Sensationalism stimulates "unwholesome glamorizing it, or focusingemotional responses" (Mott, 1962, p. 442), “shocks on lurid details.and thrills our moral and aestheticsensibilities” (Tannenbaum & Lynch, 1960), In effect, sensationalismemphasizes "emotion for emotions sake" (Emery & creates emotion forEmery, 1978), and arouses emotion and empathy emotion’s sake.(Graber, 1994).According to Daniels (cited in Tannenbaum &Lynch, 1960, p. 382) sensational news stories are"underdistanced"—that is, they violate acomfortable psychological distance betweenaudience members and their perceptions ofevents in the physical world. Thus, sensationalstories provoke sensory and emotional reactionsthat are heightened beyond that which societydeems appropriate to everyday life.
UNYTEDACADEMY W H I T E PA P E RSensationalism = Higher ratings = Higher profits The profit motive is most often identified as the impetus for sensational media practices. Sensational “news” is designed to attract attentionProfit-driven media in the name of high viewer ratings.organizations are underincreasing pressure to In a fiercely competitive industry, profit-drivenboost sales and ratings media organizations are under increasing pressureby focusing attention on to boost sales and ratings by focusing attention onlurid, highly emotional lurid, highly emotional stories, often featuring astories. bizarre cast of characters and a gripping plot, but devoid of significance to most peoples lives. From Paris Hilton to the “Octomom” to John Edwards’ love life, major news and media outlets have become more and more dependent on these kinds of tabloid soap operas to keep profits high. But is excitement what the market really wants, or is it simply expected because of a precedent set by corporate-owned media? More importantly, what effect does this kind of sensationalism have on today’s young people? George Gerbner has studied the effects of television violence (one particularly disturbing form of sensationalism) for more than thirty years. Through his studies, Dr. Gerbner has found that violence seen on television does not promote violent behavior. It does much worse; it creates a sense of fear of becoming a victim.
UNYTEDACADEMY W H I T E PA P E RThis, in turn, increases feelings of insecurity anddependence. Children who grow up in a homewhere television is viewed heavily tend to assumeroles either a victim or a victimizer. Gerbner saysthat children are not born knowing these roles. It isthe kind of stories they see, day in and day out,that teach them how to act. When we are subject to a continual barrage ofThe facts of a media sensationalism, it’s easy to lose perspective.sensationalized lifeSexual content on TV linked to teen pregnancy.RAND study (nonprofit research organization)Sexualization of girls associated with eatingdisorders, low self-esteem and depression.American Psychological Association Task ForceAverage Americans spend 13 years of their liveswatching TV (about 142 hours per month).Neilsen ResearchBy the time the average U.S. child startselementary school, he/she will have seen 8,000murders and 100,00 acts of violence on TV.New Scientist40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are ingirls 15-19 years oldNational Eating Disorders Association
UNYTEDACADEMY W H I T E PA P E R 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old National Eating Disorders Association When we are subject to a continual barrage of media sensationalism, it’s easy to lose perspective. Emotionally-charged subject matter causesProfit-driven media chemicals to be released in our bodies. Theseorganizations are under chemicals decrease activity in the part of theincreasing pressure to brain that controls decision-making. They alsoboost sales and ratings trigger the release of stress hormones.by focusing attention onlurid, highly emotional The result? Our decisions become less thoughtful,stories. more impulsive. We feel “amped up.” For adolescents, whose brains are still developing, this can be a toxic combination. Add the intense peer pressure that most preteens/teens experience, and kids may adopt values that, while alluring on the surface, compromise health, put down education, and promote reckless behavior. What can be done? The Unyted Academy is part of a massive effort by concerned media and other professionals to inoculate young women against sensationalism’s harmful effects. Its unique Screening Out Sensationalism workshop helps participants: