“Estudyante, nag-ala superman sa school, patay”
When a student from our University committed suicide in January, philstar.com’s offensive headline, together with the gruesome photo of the student who died, splashed a wave of controversy not just within the University but with majority of netizens—including me. Several days after it triggered anger and hatred in most of the readers, it was taken down. But eight months after that incident, it still bothers me—a lot.
Because as unfortunate and insensitive as it might be, a number of unethical media practitioners encourage the growth of this news reporting with a twist—sensationalism—regardless of the damage it does, to journalism and to the people, in the process.
As a student journalist for almost nine years, I was taught to live by the Journalist’s Code of Ethics. I was trained not to simply do my duty in balancing factual information, but to impartially report and interpret the news to avoid suppressing essential facts and embellishing the truth—something that all media practitioners must relentlessly do. Yet, instead of living by journalists’ ethics, the sensationalized media continue to subdue and distort accuracy to revive journalism from becoming irrelevant; a prospect rooted in the effects brought by modern technology where most millennials—known for their eight-second attention span—lose interest in anything that isn’t trending or provoking.
While this horrifying method threatens us with journalism’s death a few years or even months from now, it actually urged me to be the voice of the issues sensationalized and to take part in mending the sensationalized media. Undeniably, sensationalism grows day by day—like a cancer that invades our society. But contrary to how people endlessly fight against cancer, the public helps sensationalism swell and proliferate by continuously patronizing the distorted accuracy it represents. Little do we know, sensationalism affects both those who receive it (the public) and who report it (the media).
Seriously speaking, I’d rather tell you the truth (and be boring) than appeal to your interests through lies just because that’s what you want to hear.
By definition, sensationalizing news is the use of shocking details and terms related to sex, gore, horror, or drama to cause an upsurge of excitement and interest among the public. It’s intended to provoke public interest at the expense of accuracy to increase viewership, readership, and ratings as long as the issue is controversial and appealing enough to the lowest and shallowest instincts of human beings.
Nowadays, most sensationalized news is covered by the media because it’s exciting, not because it’s important. When such issues trend online, it’s immediately broadcasted and published in all parts of the country, resulting in a week straight of constant reporting of issues such as Baron Geisler and Kiko Matos’ “most awaited” URCC Fight, President Rodrigo Duterte’s bad jokes and his “mansion” that turned out to be someone else’s house, and by far the worst, Bimby Aquino’s “accident” after stepping on the wet floor.
Whether we admit it or not, everything about the Philippine president is sensational, big personalities getting into cat fights is sensational, celebrity couples’ breakups or third parties is sensational, but poor farmers getting killed after protesting their grievances is not sensational—at all. It seems like majority of us no longer care about reality if it’s not on the radio, television, newspaper, or internet because we’re already used to being fooled and spoon-fed by the media to dictate to us what’s important and what’s not.
So when sensationalism introduces a new substandard mentality of plainly accepting what’s given to us by the media made worse by sensationalism, I see many Filipinos become naïve and ignorant of the harsh reality that our country actually faces today. As a result, the media deprives the people of their due and tramples on the Journalist’s Code of Ethics as if it’s merely trash, thereby deceiving society and damaging families.
Knowing that millennials have a shorter attention span than a gold fish’s, this column might be boring for you so I guess you’ve had enough of me discussing sensationalism. But, seriously speaking, I’d rather tell you the truth (and be boring) than appeal to your interests through lies just because that’s what you want to hear.
Let me get this straight—the raw truth definitely hurts; but it is better than entertaining exaggeration.
I’m pretty sure journalism is not yet, and will never be, dead—if we only begin upholding the truth rather than settling for sensationalism just because people find it more entertaining.