Sensationalism
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Sensationalism is nothing new...

Sensationalism is not a new part of journalism. From the penny presses of the 1830s and 1840s to the "yellow" newspapers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, tales of crime and sex have covered the pages of newspapers. With the advent of television, these messages became more pervasive and accessible to all segments of society. There are many parallels between the rise of tabloid type journalism in prime time news magazines and the newspapers of the 1890's. Both functioned within an environment of extreme competition. During the last decade of the last century, new daily newspapers opened at a rate of more than one per week in the United States. Similarly, these types of television shows came at a time when the cable industry was booming, providing a real threat to broadcast networks. The original syndicated programs like A Current Affair ran either on upstart network Fox or were aired on cable networks. Competition seems to boost sensationalism. Surely, this atmosphere paved the way for serious news departments to be affected by the sensibilities of the tabloid press.

Many ask why there should be a concern about news being more entertaining than informative. If ratings are reflective of what audience's desires and preferences, than the majority seems to approve of these types of programs. Some students of journalism point to this trend as disturbing because it creates an unenlightened public. It is easier to report a story like Amy Fisher's crime because it there is no complicated back-story to understand. Everyone can grasp the idea of a love affair. It is something else to successfully explain the conflict in Kosovo or a complex piece of legislature. By taking the less difficult path to story production, news journalists can ensure an entertained audience, which in turn results in higher ratings. Of course, these types of stories take valuable airtime away from more substantial reporting, such as on serious crime and politics. Columbia University's David Krajeck speculates that this type of journalism, in fact, creates a mythology about the reality of crime in this country. In his book, Scooped! Media Miss Real Story on Crime While Chasing Sex, Sleaze and Celebrities , he writes "Editors …set priorities when they choose stories that fill each segment of a newscast. They set priorities when they choose a royal scandal story over one about Russian politics, a triple murder in Maine over a story about the aging of America. " Do consumers of mass media, especially these types of news magazines, realize that there are relevant stories that are not being presented because they may not be as entertaining as the pulp that is fed to them? More importantly, if they knew, would they care?

Throughout this decade of tabloid frenzy, there has been numerous criticism of the media for these types of stories. Yet there seems to be no sign of a change on the horizon for television news magazines. How did this happen? How did sensationalism become so engrained within mainstream television news? Like a snow ball rolling down hill, the influence of celebrity and the spectacular has gained control of popular television journalism. People have always been fascinated with the prurient, but it has never had an eight o'clock time slot on prime time television until now. Scandals such as the ones previously mentioned have gone so far as to actually bring about the impeachment of the President of the United States.


Economics The Nature of TV The Pull of Celebrity Now What? References Links Home