This game is being designed by Heidi Aref and Mazen Hassan
Integrity vs Popularity
We’d have a system of integrity and popularity "points." Truthfulness in a headline earns integrity, while attention-grabbing features earn popularity. Too little integrity will result in your paper getting marked as a kind of unreliable tabloid. Too little popularity will end up shutting your paper down because you don’t have enough readers.
Scenario 1: The Harm of Sensationalism
You’re a new journalist who’s landed a job at XX News. Your first assignment is to write a story for the health and lifestyle section. You type up an article about foods nutritionists claim will help boost your immune system, including suggestions about what is speculated to help during the pandemic. You also find a detail that seems to suggest that some of the recommended foods are becoming more popular in supermarkets. Now, all that’s left is to give it a headline before sending it to an editor. You jot down a few ideas before settling on...
Choosing 1 will earn you integrity points, but won’t generate very much popularity
Choosing 2 will earn both integrity and decent popularity
Choosing 3 will earn you a good deal of popularity, but not very much integrity
Scenario 1.5: We could also include further consequence choices, such as “If you choose B, your copy editor calls you to the desk asking if you think a more exciting title would be better for this article.” You...
The Takeaway: The pandemic is already sensationalized enough in the news and exaggerated by multiple parties. The media doesn’t need to contribute further to the already-present anxiety surrounding it. But you can still find articles like “What to eat to help protect yourself from coronavirus: Nutrition experts reveal the foods and spices that boost your immunity and health FAST” in the news today. Such headlines are not only sensationalized; they’re misleading. Although the temptation to use an exciting headline is great, it can harm the greater community. According to L. Garret, “the difficulty in sifting fact from inaccurate information is aggravated by the speed of unfolding events, how much is still to be researched and understood by scientists and clinicians about COVID-19, alongside earlier deliberate obfuscation by some governments.” Especially with such a serious and constantly-evolving issue as this pandemic, it’s important for headlines not to further contribute to the miscommunication of information.
Scenario 2: Identifying Sensationalism
Today you’ve been assigned to work as an assistant at the Copy desk. This is where articles go before editing and publishing. You will be reviewing potential headlines before going forward. Determine whether the following are appropriate for publishing or too sensationalized to make the cut.
Shocking video of sisters dropped over border wall fuels criticism of Biden immigration policy
(Misleading; Fox news; 3/4/2021)
While it is Biden who is currently in charge, the policies that are in place are all remnants of Trump's immigration policy. By labeling it as Biden's immigration policy (since its Biden who is currently in charge) it shifts focus from the fact that it was Trump who built up the system in the first place, and thus it is misleading
Where is Kamala? Not at the southern border; Lara Trump reacts
(Capitalizing on irrelevant detail; Fox news; 4/4/2021)
The managing of the border crisis with Mexico has been tasked to Kamala Haris. This article focuses on the fact that it has been 10 days since the last press conference she gave regarding the issue, and has not been to the border in the week after being assigned the issue. By choosing to focus on the days it's been since she has spoken on the issue, it makes it seem as if she has completely abandoned the issue (for all of 1 week where she has not mentioned it). The headline focuses on the fact that she has not gone to the border, and spins it in order to shift opinion
Test Results of Minnesota Protestors Show this Many CoronaVirus Positives
(Clickbait; June 15)
It's another Fox news article. The headline of the link before you click it reads as is written up top, but once you click it it changes to Early test results of Minnesota protesters show few coronavirus positives. This initially creates an idea in the reader's head that the BLM protests in Minnesota caused a new super-spreading event, when in reality once you click on the article it actually did not cause that many new positives
Tucker Carlson: US military has gone full woke, waging war on those who disagree with them
(Fear Mongering; March 27)
Now this article would have you believe that the US military has started taking actions against people who don't agree with the military and its actions. Almost as if to imply that the military is taking over the country and taking away free speech. Not really the case though. The military hired a Chief of Diversity & Inclusion whose job would be to make sure that minorities in the military are adequately represented more or less. There is no war on those who disagree with the military
'There is no God but Allah'? School accused of Islamic indoctrination
This article is misleading, as it creates a separation between God and “Allah” in the headline. However “Allah” is the translation of God in Arabic, and its the same deity across both religions. By phrasing them as 2 different deities, the article becomes misleading
Scenario 3: Bank or Bust
In the event of low popularity and high integrity...
Your paper’s readership isn’t doing well. That is, until when the next issue garners a notable amount of attention. It comes from one story titled “Corona air bound? A nightmare that could happen.” Surprised, you read through the article, and realize that the ‘nightmare’ in question is actually a highly unlikely mutation speculated upon by the World Health Organization. This is undoubtedly a sensationalized headline. Regardless, the popularity it garnered is undeniable - and you aren’t the only one to notice this.
Editors begin to approach you with more dramatic headlines for their articles. None are on the same level as the initial title, but they are definitely each embellished. This time, publishing such titles would be no editor’s mistake; it would be deliberate sensationalism. But, there’s no denying it might be able to save your paper’s readership. In the end, you decide to...
Choosing 1 will earn you integrity points, but your popularity will fall, thus causing your paper to shut down. You can sleep easy at night knowing you made the morally correct decision, but whether the result was really worth it is up to you.
Choosing 2 will boost your popularity, but your integrity takes a hit. More people are reading your articles for sure, but definitely at the cost of your original audience’s trust and loyalty.
The Takeaway: While sensationalism can be the result of poor editing or the speed at which an article must be put out, it is not always something done unintentionally. In fact, much of the attention-grabbing titles are carefully worded so that they can be both sensational and technically true. A big issue with the practice lies in the fact that it is rewarded. Bharat Anand comments, “The media did exactly what it was designed to do, given the incentives that govern it. It’s not that the media sets out to be sensationalist; its business model leads it in that direction.” This issue in its actuality is fundamental; it’s built into the framework of the media as a way to profit. This, in addition to the fact that it’s clever in its portrayal of the “truth,” makes sensationalism a practice unlikely to end soon. So, it’s important to be aware and attentive of it, and develop media literacy so as not to fall into its trap.
Scenario 4: Sensationalism for a Cause?
Today, you’re working as an editor in the newsroom. An article lands at your desk, and you’re tasked with giving it a headline. The story covers a shooting at a local school. Many were injured, but thankfully no one died, even though many easily could have. You are of the opinion that far too many of these incidents have been occurring. It’s honestly getting ridiculous, but it’s becoming so common that you wonder whether people are becoming desensitized to it.
You sigh and set to titling the articles, but then you come to a realization. As a trusted editor, you could probably headline your article however you like with little resistance...
Choosing 1 will increase popularity and minimally impact integrity. You garner a bit of attention for your cause, but as a respected editor, has your use of exaggeration set a dangerous precedent?
Choosing 2 will not impact popularity but will increase integrity. Your choice to remain objective in a sea of articles that have jumped on the bandwagon of panic and have pushed their stance on gun control is respectable and has earned the respect of your audience.
The Takeaway: As with all things, sensationalism isn’t viewed as completely detestable or completely commendable. While often resulting in negative consequences, it’s important to consider nobler motives behind its use. According to William B. Frye, “Altheide’s study shows the media have the ability to influence what the readers think. According to Altheide, if the news media reports on a topic, such as Columbine as Altheide writes, and associate that topic with fear in every story, then it could be argued that the constant coverage would eventually lead the audience to feel scared or panicky every time they think of the topic at hand. But, that kind of fear may eventually lead to a social change that would be better for the world, Altheide argues.” Although more often than not, sensationalism is used for profit, it is important to consider how it could be utilized in a better way (such as raising awareness for worthy causes).
Scenario 5: Integrity vs Opportunity
In the event of low integrity and good popularity...
The paper has finally started to get back on its feet after a slow few weeks. You’ve had to publish some articles that are a bit less objective than you were initially comfortable with, but your readership is on the rise. The paper is stable.
You come to work to find the newsroom in a frenzy - they’ve got a scoop for a globally-followed running story, and the information is yet to become public knowledge. An article is written up and the editors are tasked with giving it a headline. Time is of the essence! But you have a problem. Will you…
Choosing 1 really will boost your popularity, but your integrity will take a hit. Your choice to sensationalize, while profitable, has lessened your credibility - especially because you sensationalized such a serious topic.
Choosing 2 will still boost your popularity while also increasing your integrity. The addition to the running story really was substantial enough to let the article stand on its own without any bells or whistles.
The Takeaway: As was previously stated, the business model for the media truly does reward sensationalism with its exciting and dramatic titles. So, it follows that even stable news agencies would seek to increase their ratings by taking up the practice whenever they’re able. The topic of sensationalism is especially relevant to running stories (like COVID-19 right now) because it is even more prone to misleading audiences than in regular coverage. Taking the example of COVID again, we’re always getting the most up-to-date information regarding safety measures, so it’s important that when such news does come out, it comes out clearly. Speed also factors into this, because oftentimes news agencies will publish first and make corrections later in order to catch the first readers. This, too, is rewarded by the system, even if it causes more chaos in the relay of information - doubly so when sensationalism is involved.