Sensationalistic Journalism

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Yellow (or sensationalistic) journalism has been around since approximately 1898. Answers.com defines yellow journalism as, "journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers (Answers.com, 2006)." That is over a century of newspapers and the media telling the public how they should think. Some of this coverage is purely rhetoric at its finest and not necessarily yellow journalism. With all the newspapers telling us how we should think, what we should buy, and who we should vote for; it is a wonder that we have not caught on and tried to begin thinking for ourselves again. Knowing this, the understandable question is whether it is exclusively the media's fault or if we, as a nation, are to blame for sensationalistic journalism.

Yellow journalism began in the late 1800's as a result of battles between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer; the two were constantly at odds due to the competition between Hearst's New York Journal American and Pulitzer's New York World. Each was determined to have the highest sales and did anything needed in order to sell more papers. The climax of their battle was in the midst of the Spanish-American War when they each had ostentatious headlines in order to outshine one another. By doing so, it is believed that the Spanish-American War was the first war to be run by the media. Due to all of these reasons, yellow journalism has been interchangeable with sensationalistic journalism. The term yellow was only because of a cartoon that was published in both of their papers called, "The Yellow Kid." With all the chaos flying around the country at this time, the media fed on the panic that was already ensuing in the public and made everyone blood thirsty, driving President McKinley to more battles at the urging of the public!

John Morton (1997, p.52) points out that World War I, for the most part, calmed the battles of yellow journalism, but after the war it came flooding back (See Figure 1), the catalyst being the creation of picture tabloids. Once we were able to see people in print, we were won over. We wanted to know what every celebrity, political figure, and public personality was doing. We were curious if they truly were just like us, but with more money. In today's society, Morton (1997) gives a wonderful example, "Judging by the voluminous stories about Versace's extravagant lifestyle and his entourage of beautiful people, one would have thought that he was an important world statesman on the order of, say, Winston Churchill, instead of a dress designer" (p. 52). We take someone who should not be put on such a pedestal and act as if he is King of Everything. Most of this type of journalism happens strictly in tabloids, but it has slowly worked its way into everyday newspapers. The tabloids are known for their sensationalism and we know that we should not always believe everything that we find in them. However, when something is printed in an upstanding newspaper, it is much harder to determine its validity without any outward research and the average American would rather just believe what is put in front of them than incur any research in their leisure time. Aside from the research it is always easier to dive into someone else's personal life, so often fuse ourselves to what is going on in our favorite celebrity's life that we often overlook some of the most important issues in the world and our own backyards. Some major issues that are going on in the world today that should be taken seriously are sometimes over dramatized in order to scare people into submission. Children should not be left to their own devices, so the media takes a serious issue like child abductions and plays with the statistics to make us think that it is more prevalent than originally thought. Benjamin Radford (2006) tells us that "The Department of Justice estimated that 440,000 children were lost or otherwise missing each year; such numbers are alarming but...
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