Sensationalism epitomized by yellow journalism has been an issue of concern for a considerably long time now. Sensationalism is usually an intentional telling of a new story in a way that overhypes it, in a way that exaggerates its broader importance. Often it’s conflated with bias, however, increasingly, media outlets exist that are sensationalist but don’t necessarily have bias because they’re more interested in the clicks and in the traffic than they are in pushing opinions. The media is seen to be perpetuating a culture of irresponsibility in the face of the freedom they enjoy.

Modern media has been sensationalised in a way that has deleteriously affected our ability to interpret what to believe and what not to believe. Sensationalism in headlines stems from the pursuit of readership, sensationalism after the headline is usually a good indicator of bias. Sensationalized headlines are about attracting readership, sensationalist content is about informing opinion. And since it’s the headlines that are skimmed over, whether they be factually accurate or not inform us about the event and that’s why they can be dangerous when they are sensationalist. Media, in the context of this sensationalist approach, is like a drug that enters our lives, like a one-time harmless fling that ends up as a nasty addiction. 

Before the 20th century people didn’t expect exciting news every single day. It was ‘ok’ if the news was boring or the paper wasn’t even published that day because nothing may have happened that was noteworthy. Now, we expect sensational news daily or even hourly. And the journalists are expected to find a story where there is no story. Due to this flawed demand, the news is delivered differently, according to our changed expectations. 

But when does it go too far? Can sensationalism go as far as causing fear in the minds of its audience? When the media constantly covers an event for an extended period of time and covers it from every single angle, it is possible that sensationalism stories could arouse fear in the audience. Media outlets prey on the fears of others in order for them to notice their content. This sensationalism can be examined by the severity of the stories and the emotional language used in them.

“I think the reason the journalist turns to sensationalism is that we readership is so attracted to the dramatic and sensational, the Greeks discovered years ago people love drama and so it becomes the tool that they can use.” – David Berube in an article 

Every news reporter wants to see their story on the front page or at the top of the evening news. This may lead to the temptation to make a story sound bigger than it is. Journalists must regularly decide if a particular assignment is newsworthy, or if it’s just a cheap way to score readers and satisfy advertisers.              

“It goes everywhere from the teaser, which is an old trick … it is done in print and broadcast media, all the way to outright lies,”- David Berube in an article

The concerns of sensationalism extend to the ethical conflicts it has with the code of conduct of journalists practicing it. The duty of a journalist is to deliver facts to the public and not be deceptive or biased with their stories. This gave rise to the “Covington Catholic Boys” incident, where students were doxed and harassed because CNN falsely accused them for harassing indigenous protestors in Washington D.C. This information was based on one video without giving any further clarification or justification. The truth came out when other news outlets found false information in the story. This instance is sensationalist to an extent that it has personal repercussions on the lives of people. 

We must realise that sensationalism is not going anywhere since it is too engraved in our society. There will always exist a complex relationship between the people producing the content and the people consuming it. It is a hurtful practice affecting our lives in a way that goes unnoticed. This advocates that rather than having a media that ‘sells’, a media that is socially responsible is exigent in this age and ethics seem to have gone with the wind.


FY. Bsc. Economics

Leave a Reply

WordPress PopUp Plugin