Sensationalism in journalism – a dangerous game

“Those who have gone through the high school of reporterdom have acquired a new instinct by which they see and hear only that which can create a sensation, and accordingly their report becomes not only a careless one, but hopelessly distorted.”Hugo Munsterberg

Let’s face it – journalism of today is all about sensationalism and readership (usually at the expense of the actual story).

Facts and information are typically distorted and taken out of context in order to fit the confines and desires of the writer. But that doesn’t mean the story is an accurate depiction of reality – instead writers are trying to differentiate themselves with the next “big” story, relying very little on substance.

This can be incredibly damaging to the parties associated with the story (subjects, experts, etc.) – especially when the ultimate “spin” of the piece motivates the readers perception down a misleading path.

Last week, I wrote a post on children dying after being left in hot cars by their parents. This is an incredibly sensitive subject and when I came across this article on AutomotiveNews I immediately had a strong opinion – inevitably shaped by how the writer presented the information.

However, when the expert who was quoted in the article discovered my blog, some interesting details began to emerge – one being just how much of his interview was NOT included.

In conversing with him, I discovered that my perception of him and his comments were incredibly distorted – caused by the exclusion of some information and the manipulation of others in order to support the writer’s argument.

My perceptions were immediately skewed based on my previous respect and trust for AutomotiveNews as a reliable source.

Ultimately the article did bring this unfortunate and far too common issue to light – an important function of any journalist.

However, I can’t help but feel that this article has become not only a careless one, but hopelessly distorted – possibly even damaging the reputation and credibility of a man who’s comments were not accurately conveyed.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson. You simply cannot trust stories that you read online (even if they come from a reliable source). The question always comes back to motive, and if that has anything to do with sensationalism and readership, chances are the accuracy may be questionable.