FOR THE LOVE OF SENSATIONALISM DENYING HUMANITY TO VICTIMS OF

FOR THE LOVE OF SENSATIONALISM DENYING HUMANITY TO VICTIMS OF

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FOR THE LOVE OF SENSATIONALISM: DENYING HUMANITY TO VICTIMS OF MEDIA COVERAGE by Siu-Yin Mak A Thesis Presented to the FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree MASTER OF ARTS (STRATEGIC PUBLIC RELATIONS) December 2008 Copyright 2008 Siu-Yin Mak
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ii Table of Contents List of Tables iii Abstract iv Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Chapter 2: Pseudo-Altruism 7 Chapter 3: Celebrity Exploitation 26 Chapter 4: Polarization 35 Chapter 5: Ramifications and Recommendations 48 Bibliography 52
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iii List of Tables Table 1: Elizabeth Smart versus Alexis Patterson – Detailed Coverage Comparison 14 Table 2: Madeleine McCann versus Mari Luz Cortés – Detailed Coverage Comparison 17
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iv Abstract This thesis addresses the dehumanizing effects of journalistic sensationalism on audience perceptions of the human subjects involved. Through the examination of case studies, my analysis identifies three primary forms of sensationalism that are differentiated according to their roots in pseudo-altruism, celebrity exploitation, or polarizing potential. I argue that, even when used in an attempt to portray media subjects in a positive light, the exploitation of sensationalist material is liable to invoke undesirable, and potentially dangerous, consequences for subjects and those who share their exploited characteristics. The analysis concludes with a discussion of practical ramifications and recommendations for alternative courses of action.
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1 Chapter 1: Introduction Sensationalism. Much attention has been given to issues surrounding the publication of sensationalist material. Its subject matter, its main characters, its targeted readers, its repercussions for journalistic integrity. Those who rely on its marketability, those who reject it on principle, those who abhor its existence but acknowledge its utility. Most of the literature on sensationalism has addressed the evolution of tabloidization, the impact of “yellow journalism” on the reputation of the journalistic profession, and the detraction from serious “hard news” items. But what about the impact of sensationalism on individual readers? In a mass media context, sensationalist portrayals shape public attitudes about publicized individuals, a process that can yield serious and inadvertent implications for victims of such exploitation. Sensationalism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the use of subject matter that tends “to arouse (as by lurid details) a quick, intense, and usually superficial interest, curiosity, or emotional reaction.” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition). Frank Mott defines the term’s common usage as referring to “stories which stimulate unwholesome emotional responses in the average reader,” but opts for a less equivocal definition on which to base his own treatment of the subject. (Mott, 1962). “Without discussing the question of morbidity or unwholesomeness involved,” he notes,
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This note was uploaded on 07/21/2011 for the course BUS 10001 taught by Professor All during the Spring '11 term at Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology.

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FOR THE LOVE OF SENSATIONALISM DENYING HUMANITY TO VICTIMS OF

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