All too often while watching the news, before they head to a commercial break the news anchor will end with something along the lines of “Is your water poisoned and are all of your lives in danger right now? Tune in at 11 and find out!” This is one out of many techniques used by the media to try to gain more viewers and increase ratings. This kind of sensationalistic journalism detracts from the news and makes the overall quality of news lower. This kind of fear mongering used by the media can take many different forms and use many different techniques
As is the case in the picture to the right, news outlets will use and embolden words such as “doomsday”, “death”, and other words that can incite violence or fear. Something I always tend to think of when I notice fear mongering for ratings is Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. He noticed the constant fear mongering present in the media and tried to make that a point that it is not necessary when reporting the news to focus on scaring people to get your point across. I believe his message is one that should be adopted by all the media outlets, to both increase journalistic integrity and reduce the panicking this kind of news can cause.
Although I am saying that media outlets shouldn’t rely on fear-based articles to gain ratings there can still be serious stories presented maturely and with reason. The important distinction is that the news outlets should not try to intensify the fear within the stories that is naturally there to gain ratings.
Dr. Susan Moeller, the director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA), talks here about how to detect fear mongering within the media. Dr. Moeller here talks about how the media blew the swine flu illness completely out of proportion to keep people glued to the television in order to increase their ratings. She states how first what the media does is try to break the news first and then speculate on what will most likely happen next, which is usually when the fear mongering takes place. One important way which the media can speculate and try to pass it off as “expert advice” is that they will use anonymous sources by saying phrases such as “experts have said” by doing this the anchor effectively takes away all actual credibility from his or her thoughts while at the same time keeping an image of credibility until further research is done.
When injecting fear into the news there will be a fundamental bias present in that story. It is important for not only the not causing panicking, but for the sake of accuracy within the news as well.