What Are Some Examples of Sensationalism in Journalism and Media?

Some of the more well-known examples of the use of sensationalism in journalism and media have been the newspaper coverage of the events leading to the Spanish-American War, the reporting on the life and death of Princess Diana and the attention given to the Casey Anthony trial. The reliance upon sensationalism in newspaper reporting began in the late 19th century as publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer battled to corner the greater share of the market for their respective publications. Sensationalism then entered the realms of radio, television, the Internet and social media as the newer forms of communication appeared and evolved.

Sensationalism places the greater emphasis on eliciting an emotional response rather than reporting facts and details. The reporting will often be lacking in objectivity. Relatively insignificant details may be exaggerated and the controversial aspects of a story are given the greater degree of attention. The goal of sensationalism is to appeal to a mass audience and its use can be an effective means of garnering support for a cause. Hearst made good use of sensationalism in his newspaper’s reporting to foster support for the Spanish-American War in 1898, and he also sold a great many newspapers.

A negative aspect of sensationalism is that a complex issue can be presented in a manner in which readers or viewers are unable to discern the underlying issues and connections to other events or circumstances. The long-term or far-reaching implications of an event are often given little or no mention unless they carry the potential of evoking an emotional response. A lack of investigative support or contextual background information in sensationalist reporting can often deprive an audience of the means by which an objective opinion can be formed.