How to Pick Your Media Battles
The entertainment value of the press has been discussed over and over again. All it does is turn back to the idea that it is all a matter of taste and personal preferences. After all, how can someone take pleasure in reading the gossip column, when they know it is just that, gossip. On the other hand, how long can we keep reading serious articles about the economy and politics without getting bored? Try as we might, we cannot stray too far away from what everybody sees as interesting information, just like we cannot separate this from newspaper businesses’ needs to sell.
How Do You Review Something of Purely Shock Value?
Tabloids are tabloids, and they do not shy away from this truth
If there is anything that will make your job easy is the fact that tabloids live up to their name and are themselves just as careless when it comes to social norms as the stars they like to portray in the least elegant of ways. Once you have established that an article belongs to a tabloid, all review elements get seriously altered. The purpose of these articles is not that of giving valuable information, but that of snooping into famous people’s private lives and reveal some of the things they would like to keep private.
Sure, this is information to some people. And they will not even care about the way in which the information was obtained, or how it makes the famous person feel. Under these circumstances, you cannot start reviewing the article based on professional journalism ethics. Nor would it matter to its audience. The only thing a review can do for anyone would be to call out false information. On the other hand, tabloids are so full of made-up stories, that it would take a review for each to contradict false information.
Taking shock value too far
We can all distinguish between the need to entertain and to read a piece of gossip material. Yet, there are some stories that are not made-up, although we wish they were. These stories are usually backed by very graphical imagery that does not belong in the public eye without the normal cautionary messages. Using such images on the front page, only to sell papers, introducing them without any sort of warning, promoting your newspaper with the aid of these images and via very intrusive ads, is unethical and forbidden. Some publicists will try their hand at some of these techniques and risk a slap on the wrist.
However, using these images to sell papers means degrading the human beings who were the subjects of the article and presenting them over and over again is a complete lack of human decency. This crosses the line between entertainment value into taking advantage of a situation to make money. And it is something you can call out in your review.
Instigating the public to hatred and violence
Everything that has shock value, also has emotional value. This means that people will be very susceptible to cues upon reading these articles. Does this give the author a certain amount of control? Of course, it does! And what most of them do is to fuel an argument between sides in order to keep people reading. There is nothing neutral about these articles and they can also become a platform for mockery and hate speeches.
Some articles can be as instigating as possible even from the title. This sums up the author’s intention to keep a conflictual situation going. And in order to do so, they do not shy away from taking things out of context, quoting people when they are more vulnerable and misinterpreting things. A professional review can point to all these instanes and mention the complete lack of objectivity and ethics in these cases.
The type of vocabulary used
This is a time as good as any to mention this aspect. And it would probably be among the few cases when this issue will come back. While specialized reports and analyses have their own lingo, generalized news portals will have a balanced approach, tabloids will reproduce street talk and pass it off as normal talk. In fact, they will emulate the informal speech of their target audience to be even closer to their readers.
On the other hand, apart from the tone, there is also the issue of the words used in articles to spark conflict and instigate readers. A neutral journalist would simply state the facts: a 16 years old boy got in an argument with a class mate and they both ended up in the nurse’s office. A triggering approach means the use of attributes and specifications meant to stir up feelings of discontent: A malicious millennial got into a heated argument with a generation Y peer, a child from immigrant parents, and ended up needing urgent medical care on the spot.
Although the information is not necessarily false, in this context it is used as triggers for social misconduct. It singles out the boys as members of a generation adults find difficult to understand. It mentions the immigration status to hit on the nerves of another group of people and it exaggerated the outcome only to blow things out of proportion and to make it seem like a bigger deal than it is. A proper review in this case would imply a good grasp of the real situation and facts, and a neutral presentation of events.
We could say that articles with purely entertainment and shock value are not worth reviewing, due to their complete lack of respect for industry regulations. However, these are the articles with the largest number of readers and with the biggest emotional impact. With other words, these are the articles that matter the most and the ones that should be reviewed most often. Yes, people appreciate the voyeuristic and gossipy value they add to their, but this does not mean that we can condone the spread of entertaining lies.