Sensationalism: Dumbing Down Journalism

One of the reasons behind the de-professionalization of Journalism is the prevalence of sensationalism, which is dangerously thriving from the media coverage and reportage of sports, political, celebrity and even crime news.

Sensationalism refers to the exaggeration of news stories to interest the public even at the expense of accuracy and credibility. Due to the fact that people get information everywhere including the Internet and from many other sources, journalists feel the need to do something to win over so many competitions. Journalists cling to sensationalism because they think that it would gain readership and public interest that would later ensue to mass circulation of news stories. With the public hooked on a sensationalized story, it would mean profit and survival for the journalist.

The catch of sensationalism is that it is defeating the entire purpose of journalism. According to Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the Columbia School of Journalism, journalists should abide by the rules of accuracy and truthfulness. With sensationalism, both rules are penetrated. Journalism aims to liberate the public from ignorance through credible reportage. However, because of the need of journalists to compete against others, they simply turn to sensationalism and value profitability over credibility. Scholars often regard journalism as one of the most respected professions, now the tables have turned.  Scholars blame sensationalism for the emergence of a trashy culture, claiming that sensationalism corrupts the minds of the readers and prevents anyone from learning anything. Having stated these, journalists fail their audience, themselves and their profession.

For journalists to be able to avoid the temptations of sensationalizing news, they should constantly remind themselves their real purpose of being able to report the truth and not only half of the truth. When one knows his purpose, he should be able to do his duty correctly.

Being objective is another way of emerging victorious over sensationalism. Objectivity or reporting with complete balance, justice and fairness, is an integral part of credible journalism. Gaye Tuchman, in his journal “Objectivity as Strategic Ritual”, wrote four rituals for a journalist to be objective: presentation of conflicting possibilities to claim to truth, presentation of supporting evidences, use of judicious quotation marks and structuring information in an appropriate sequence.

Journalism may be suffering now because of commercialization and the emergence of many other news sources. However, sensationalism is not helping the profession survive, rather, it is only contributing to the dumbing down of journalism. Journalists must be able to fight it and uphold its purpose through ethical reporting and news coverage.



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