From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. --Aristotle via the Poetics.
Sensationalism is a manner of being extremely controversial, loud, or attention-grabbing. It is especially applied to the emphasis of the unusual or atypical. It is also a form of theatre.
The term is commonly used in reference to the media. Critics of media bias of all political stripes often charge the media with engaging in sensationalism in their reporting and conduct. That is, the notion that media outlets often choose to report heavily on stories with shock value or attention-grabbing names or events, rather than reporting on more pressing issues to the general public.
In the extreme case, the media would report the news if it makes a good story, without much regard for the factual accuracy. Thus, a press release including ridiculous and false pseudoscientific claims issued by a controversial group is guaranteed a lot of media coverage.
Such stories are often perceived (rightfully, or mistakenly) as partisan or biased due to the sensational nature in which they are reported. A media piece may report on a political figure in a biased way or present one side of an issue while deriding another, or neutrally, it may simply include sensational aspects such as zealots, doomsayers and/or junk science. Complex subjects and affairs are often subject to sensationalism. Exciting and emotionally charged aspects can be drawn out without providing elements such as pertinent background, investigative, or contextual information needed for the viewer to form his or her opinion on the subject.
Mainstream media is sometimes duped into reprinting stories from comedy sites as facts without any factual checks. One widely reported example involved The Onion's story on Harry Potter causing an increased interest in Satanism. The media is also occasionally taken in by mistakes, such as a story about deep sea creatures brought by the Asian tsunami.
One presumed goal of sensational reporting is increased (or sustained) viewership or readership which can be sold to advertisers, the result being a lesser focus on proper journalism and a greater focus on the "juicy" aspects of a story that pull in a larger share of audience.
- Culture of fear
- Exploitation film
- Junk food news
- Media circus
- Moral panic
- Pulp magazine
- Succès de scandale
- Yellow journalism
- Mean world syndrome