In today¡¦s society journalism is under close scrutiny and is losing its credibility. Sensationalism effects both those who receive it in addition to those who report it. This essay will review the history of sensationalism in the media, clearly demonstrate how sensationalism effects ours views on journalism, and confront the ethical dilemmas that journalists must face between reporting objectively and reporting what sells. This will be accomplished by investigating various sources, including articles published on the Internet as well as those published in newspapers and magazines. Throughout history sensationalism has been represented in all shapes and sizes. Celebrity journalism is amongst the oldest forms of sensationalism. For instance, America¡¦s first real newspaper, Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestic, reported a story on how the King of France was flirting with the prince¡¦s wife. Furthermore, in the 1830s, there was the creation of the penny press, which appealed to the then growing population of immigrants in our cities. These papers focused on the reporting of crime and celebrities. Sensationalism returned in the late 19th century in the form of ¡§Yellow Journalism¡¨. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst competed viciously for readers of their respected newspapers. They both sensationalized stories about alleged atrocities committed by the Spanish, calling for the United States to step in on behalf of the Cubans. Equally important, when the USS Maine mysteriously blew up, both papers immediately blamed the Spaniards. Today, this incident remains a mystery. In addition many blame the act of ¡§Yellow Journalism¡¨ as the cause for the Spanish/American war. Yet another form of sensationalism popped up in the 1920s, picture tabloids. Sensationalism still remains a strong force in the current media. May it be in the form of picture tabloid magazines, celebrity journalism, or the violence infested media known as television and movies, the fact is that it sells. As long as there is a market for this type of unethical journalism there will a supply. Over the years, the general public has depended on the media for its information on current events. On the other hand, the public is becoming less and less confident in the objectivity of the news that is reported. Just last year a reporter for The New Republic and two reporters for the Boston Globe resigned over charges of plagiarism and falsifying stories. In addition CNN ran a story on Vietnam that was proven inaccurate. The radio waves and television sets are flooded with sensationalized shows featuring beautiful young women and handsome men. The news watched today is sensationalized with one catastrophe after another. Is excitement what the market wants, or is the excitement expected because of a precedent set by the corporate owned media? Even in the reporting of sports, sensationalism rules. Channels like ESPN, owned by Disney , report homeruns, slam-dunks, and touchdowns with a dramatic twist. What effect does sensationalism have on the media¡¦s market? A survey done by the American Society of Newspaper Editors reports that ¡§spelling errors, bias, and sensationalism are corroding the credibility of newspapers.¡¨ The survey shows: h 23% say they find factual errors in the news stories at least once a week. h 50% believe there are particular groups or people that get a ¡§special break¡¨ in news coverage, while 45% feel that others ¡§don¡¦t get a fair shake.¡¨ h 78% agree with the assessment that there is bias in the news media. h 80% believe that sensational stories get lots of news coverage because they are exciting, not because they are important.
Furthermore, George Gerbner has studied the effects of television violence (sensationalism) for more than thirty years. Through his studies, George 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. This causes feelings of insecurity and dependence. Children that grow up in a home where television is viewed heavily, tend to assume roles of a victim or victimizer. George Gerber states: ¡§Children are not born knowing these roles. Stories teach them how to act.¡¨ The stories mentioned above are the stories that children see and learn from. Consequently, the actions of the media are their own cause for the demise of credibility. The effects of sensationalism are damaging the public and the integrity of journalism. There is a clear dilemma for all journalists. Although sensationalism sells, journalists are breaking the ethical values that their profession was founded on. A responsible journalist is less partisan, less attached, and more accurate. They value the difference between opinion and the truth. If this defines a responsible journalist, why is an irresponsible journalist irresponsible? Is it because they are more concerned with promoting themselves rather than the story? Have they sold out for the all mighty dollar? Is it the audience¡¦s fault because they expect less? Maybe journalism students are being taught in college to get the sensationalized story because it sells ¡V you will make it big. Whether labeled ethics, values, or morals, they are declining rapidly in the United States. What would make anyone believe that journalism is exempt from this infectious downfall in American society? Objectivity, although hardly perfect, seems to be the less of two evils. Winston Churchill once said that ¡§democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms.¡¨ The same can be said about objective journalism. As long as journalists are willing to work hard and be honest about its limitations, it will remain our least bad source of information. A journalist must decide, am I journalist because I want the world to know the truth or do I want to twist the truth so it will sound better? That is cut and dry. In conclusion, it is evident that sensationalism has become deeply entrenched in the media, leaving the public paying a high price through their loss of credible sources of information. In turn, journalists are also paying a high price by sacrificing their ethical standards and succumbing to the temptations of sensationalism for the sake of profit. The mass media has particularly found an avenue for vivid sensationalism through the phenomenon of television, which allows the public to passively absorb fast-moving images, without receiving comprehensive information. It is unlikely that sensationalism can be eliminated, however, the public would be well advised to actively consider their sources of information, rejecting those that blatantly disregard standards of objectivity and credibility in exchange for shallow glitter. By clearly sending a message of dissatisfaction to the corporations that control the mass media, the public may influence the decisions that are made and work toward improvement. Likewise, despite being constrained by the mandates of their management, journalists must make a concerted effort to resist resorting to sensationalism to sell a story, and rather base their success on solid, objective reporting.