My Topics

23 January 2019

Sensationalism May Help Selling Your Stories... But Not Always!

The biggest truism about the use of sensationalism in news stories seems to be that it is a guarantee for success in terms of selling the stories to the public. But is that actually true? A recent study in Electronic News suggests that sensationalism indeed works, but also that there are limits to its power.

Take aways

  • The use of sensationalist form and content is a wise strategy for news directors who aim at not just attracting, but also holding viewers’ attention.  
  • However, the idea “the more sensationalism, the better it is” does not always apply. There is a danger of overstimulation of the senses, especially for older female viewers.

Study information

  • Who?

    190 participants, all highly educated; 99 younger participants (age range: 15-25, 48% female) and 91 older participants (age range: 26-55, 42% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    In this online study, participants browsed through and watched (parts of) a total of 16 videos of news stories, which varied in the presence of sensationalist content and form. Sensationalist means that the content and form of news stories is capable of provoking the viewer’s senses and drawing their attention. Sensationalist features in this study were negative content of the news video and production features that signified sudden changes in this content, like sound or a high number of camera shots. The study recorded participants’ viewing times of each of the selected stories. 

Facts and findings

  • People watched sensationalist news stories longer than less sensational stories, this was even twice as long when there was also negative content in the stories. 
  • However, older female viewers watched a news video shorter when it contained negative content in a sensationalist form.