Sensationalism has existed as long as sex and conflict.
Today, we see the media sensationalizing all kinds of stories, from Anthony Weiner’s scandal to Kim Kardashian’s wedding photos. Unfortunately, it seems sensationalism in the media has gotten to a point of nausea.
While there is a plethora of exaggeration and silliness, sensationalism does serve a higher purpose in questioning norms and boundaries. Plus, it can spread information to less-literate audiences, strengthening the fabric of our society. Even pre-literate societies had sensationalism by word of mouth, according to Dr. Mitchell Stephens.
Moreover, criticism of sensationalism also has a long history. In our book, philosopher Cicero complained that the Acta Diurna neglected real news in favor of gossip about gladiators.
“Sensationalism is unavoidable in news – because we humans are wired, probably for reasons of natural selection, to be alert to sensations, particularly those involving sex and violence,” Stephens said in an email interview.
On the other hand, sensationalism is so deeply embedded into our society, that it becomes difficult to discern the truth. Furthermore, with sensationalism in the media audiences may fall short of more serious and important- and not just compelling -news.
And if journalists spin stories for ratings, they are going against what it truly means to be a journalist. Dishonest accounts discredit the entire field.
But of course no ratings, no job.
Thus, is sensationalism unavoidable?