Sensationalism & Technology

When I woke up this morning, I checked my Twitter news feed like I always do. And, like I always am, I was greeted by a lovely news update from one of New York’s top two sensationalized newspapers:

http://twitter.com/#!/NYDNnews/status/91091279185850368

Ah, nothing like waking up and learning how truly horrifying the world can be. In the days before Twitter, I didn’t hear about stuff like this until at least 9 a.m. But then, as technology changes journalism, sensationalism changes as well.

Even before technology (or Jack the Ripper, for that matter), sensationalism played an important role in journalism and the spread of news. People would shoot the breeze about this guy getting eaten by a bear or that woman being involved in affair. It’s human nature to be curious about things that might affect our own survival–such as death and sex. Humans literally eat up sexualized, disgusting, horrifying and gruesome stories–especially when they’re about children–and so, it makes sense that the New York Daily News and the New York Post would be so popular. If you don’t buy the survival theory, then think about the alternative: humans are sick, twisted individuals that like it when young kids are brutally chopped to pieces. Yeah, I don’t like the sound of that either.

Now, thousands of years after the first “reporter” told his friend about a murder in the next village over, spreading news about sex scandals, rape and torture is a lot easier. All I have to do is look at the New York Post Twitter feed. In fact, they tweeted this about 30 minutes ago:

The somewhat subdued front page of a newspaper after "Jack the Ripper" began his killing spree in London.

If I switched on the TV, I would probably see the dead boy’s innocent face on-screen as a pretty blonde discusses where different pieces of his body were found by police this morning. I can even head over to Google, type in “dismembered boy” and see all the news articles associated with the story. Awesome!

While I do believe strongly that sensationalism is and always will be an important part of news (no matter how it’s received), it’s a little silly to describe and show real images of horrifying and inappropriate things to children, considering the general media outrage after the Supreme Court rejected a ban on violent video games for children. What’s the point of banning anything these days when kids can sign on Twitter and see former Representative Weiner’s groin or updated-to-the-minute tweets about dead kids their own age?

There isn’t. As technology makes news more accessible, we have to come to grips with sensationalism getting even worse. When Jack the Ripper killed his first prostitute 100 or so years ago, photography was just heating up. You can bet if newspapers had the option back then, they would have shown a picture of police standing over the poor girl’s bloody body.

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