This week, a friend of mine from East Africa was asked whether or not he was worried about catching Ebola. This friend attends the University of Chicago. The state of Illinois has exactly zero cases of Ebola to date.
Sensationalism is the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy in order to provoke public interest or excitement.
Oftentimes we as a society are sensationalistic. Our newspapers tend to amplify this. In an age where newspapers are losing readership and revenue, it can quite literally pay to have attention-grabbing articles and headlines.
Sensationalism sells. People love reading scandals. They love gossip and the inside scoop. It is not just tabloids that do this. The mainstream press has oftentimes covered things such a hysteric responses to Ebola, scandalous celebrity affairs and terrorist threats from ISIS. While these topics vary, they have one thing in common: they cater to readers’ emotions.
Sensationalism plays on fear. This can lead to rushed or incorrect responses to issues that do not need to be polarizing. When we educate people based on fear or emotion, we receive an inaccurate picture of reality.
Sensationalism has a polarizing effect. Issues are not nuanced; instead they are black and white or right and wrong, requiring you to choose one “side” or another. Issues rapidly become partisan, “racially charged” or provocative, and people become fearful.
Fear brings out qualities which we do not normally express or believe we possess. In times of uncertainty, then, it seems to me we ought to take a step back and be slow to react. A level response to world events and events in our community can be a difficult action. Taking one stance and running with it not only creates unnecessary “sides,” but also skews realistic assessments of the issue at hand.
Here at Chimes, we often agonize over finding an appropriate balance of articles that provoke the public’s interest without foregoing accuracy. We have especially grappled with this in regards to articles surrounding things such as the debt crisis, diversity reports and faculty requirements.
In all these topics, we have tried to illuminate valid issues without being afraid of responses. We have also tried to steer clear of sensationalism. I encourage our readers to read as we try to write: with attention to detail and a balanced appreciation for the truth.