Bells and whistles
Explicating sensationalism in television news:
Content and the bells and whistles of form
Maria Elizabeth Grabe
School of Journalism
Ernie Pyle Hall
Email: [log in to unmask]
Submitted to the Mass Communication and Society Division for presentation at the
annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
The authors would like to thank John Daniels at Indiana University's Statistical
and Mathematical Computing Center for his help with preparing the study's data
set for analysis.
Explicating sensationalism in television news:
Content and the bells and whistles of form
Sensationalism in journalism has been a popular topic of fiery discussions for
centuries. Yet, it appears that this topic is more often debated than
systematically investigated. Indeed, the word sensationalism has become an easy
name-calling device for those who are in the mood for criticizing the mass
media. Even in academic circles the term has been used with little precision.
The notion of sensationalism is in desperate need of explication.
The goal with this study is to take a step towards identifying precisely what
sensationalism is. The most common and vague classification of the concept is
by content: stories about crime, accidents, disaster and scandal. Other
scholars acknowledge that formal features may play a role in what we have come
to call sensational. Yet, how form contributes to sensationalism is remarkably
underdeveloped, especially in terms of television news.
This study focuses on both the content and form of two television news magazine
programs on opposite ends of the sensational/proper journalism spectrum. "Hard
Copy" has been described as the pinnacle of tabloid sensationalism while "60
Minutes" is often celebrated for its responsible investigative journalistic
mission. These two versions of television journalism were selected to identify
concrete differences that could yield insights into the dimensions of
Indeed, results indicate striking differences between the two programs both in
terms of content and form. "60 Minutes" most prominently covered political
issues, while a majority of "Hard Copy" segments focused on the lives of
celebrities. Moreover, flamboyant production techniques (or "structural
features") such as slow motion, digital editing effects, music, and obtrusive
voice tone during reporting belong clearly within the tabloid realm. "Hard
Copy" also features more sex, violence, gore, and other negatively compelling
visual material than "60 Minutes."
By identifying specific dimensions of sensationalism the findings also reveal
that the line separating sensational tabloid from proper traditional news is
perhaps more robust than what journalism critics suggest.
Sensationalism in journalism has been discussed with much fervor over the past
decade. Carl Bernstein characterizes this public debate when he refers to
sensational journalism as public discourse turned into "sewer" which is
perpetuating an "idiot culture" (Bernstein, 1992, pp. 22, 28).
At the heart of this outrage are three popular concerns about sensational
journalism: it violates notions of social decency, displaces socially
significant stories, and is seen as a new-sprung drift into excessiveness. A
number of studies have refuted these three concerns. One view of sensationalism
is that it plays an important role in maintaining a society's commonly shared
notions of decency and morality by publicly showcasing what is unacceptable
(Erikson, 1973; Erikson, 1966; Foucault, 1979; Francke, 1985; Glasser & Ettema,
1989; Knight, 1989; Schattenberg, 1981; Slattery, 1994; Stevens, 1985b).
Another view questions the legitimacy of what is defined as socially
significant news. Stories about family conflicts, substance abuse, violence,
disaster, and other disruptions of everyday life are regarded as more
significant to the lives of ordinary people than the meaty and timely political
and economic issues that elites prescribe as important information for the
masses (Bird, 1992; Grabe, 1997; Harwood, 1994; Knight, 1989; Schudson, 1982;
Shusterman, 1992; Stevens, 1985a). They argue that if we are concerned about
journalism's role in serving democracy we ought to applaud instead of condemn
sensationalism. Like the Penny Press papers of the 1830's today's tabloid news
magazine shows and newspapers have made news assessable and popular among
non-elite audience members.
Finally, historians have pointed out that the discontent with the current state
of journalism in America stems from a mostly unearned dose of nostalgia about
the profession's supposed exemplary past. Bernstein's (1992, p. 25) argument
that "For the first time in our history the weird and the stupid and the coarse
are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal" lacks historical
insight. Sensational news stories date back to newsbooks and news ballads in
Europe during the late 1500s and early 1600s (Bird, 1992; Erlich, 1996; Shaw
& Slater, 1985; Stevens, 1985a; Stevens, 1991; Thomas, 1908; Walsh, DeHaven, &
Helein, 1996). Periods of public outrage about sensational journalism have
become a periodic ritual. Reactions to the Penny Press of the 1830's, Yellow
Journalism at the end of the nineteenth century, and the findings of the
Hutchins Commission after W.W.II strongly resemble today's damning tone of
public conversation about sensationalism in journalism (Altschull, 1990; Bessie,
1938; Tannenbaum & Lynch, 1960). The recent preoccupation with this issue
should therefore be put into this historical context rather than being presented
as a crisis unique to contemporary times.
The validity of the concerns about sensationalism will not be further
contemplated in this paper. But the very use of the term sensationalism as if
it were precisely defined deserves further scrutiny. The rather small body of
research findings related to sensationalism reveals fragmented and largely
incomparable measurements of the concept. It is clear that this term which has
been generously used in public condemnations of journalism is in desperate need
of explication. This paper therefore attempts to identify the dimensions of
sensationalism by comparing a tabloid ("Hard Copy") and a traditional ("60
Minutes") television news magazine program.
Research about the effects of sensationalism on viewers is virtually non
existent. Yet, in defining the term commentators rely heavily on the notion
that sensationalism literally provokes the senses and emotions of audience
members. Dictionary authors, scholars, and media critics all assume these
The development of the Penny Press loosely coincides with changes in dictionary
definitions of the word sensational. In Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755
(Johnson, 1755, p. 230) the term carried no negative connotations. It was
simply defined as "perception by means of the senses." By 1880 The Oxford
English Dictionary (1880, p. 1840) described the word sensational as "calculated
to produce a startling impression." In more recent times The American Heritage
Dictionary (Dictionary, 1982, p. 1116) describes it as something designed to
arouse a strong reaction by exaggeration and lurid detail; The Random House
Dictionary (Language, 1987, p. 1744) defines sensational as an intention to
produce "a startling or thrilling impression or to excite and please vulgar
tastes" and The Webster Dictionary (Dictionary, 1989, p. 2067) declares that
sensational content arouses "intense and usually superficial emotional
As with the dictionary definitions, a number of scholarly definitions of
sensationalism focus on its effects on human emotion and the sensory system. It
stimulates "unwholesome emotional responses" (Mott, 1962, p. 442); shocks and
thrills our moral and aesthetic sensibilities (Tannenbaum & Lynch, 1960);
emphasizes "emotion for emotion's sake" (Emery & Emery, 1978); and arouses
emotion and empathy (Graber, 1994). According to Daniels et al. in (Tannenbaum
& Lynch, 1960, p. 382) sensational news stories are "underdistanced," that is
they violate a comfortable psychological distance between the audience and their
perceptions of events in the physical world. Thus sensational stories provoke
more sensory and emotional reactions than what society has deemed proper for us
to desire or experience.
The profit motif is most often identified as the motivation for sensationalism.
Sensational news is apparently designed to attract attention in the name of high
viewership ratings (Berkowitz, 1993; Bernstein, 1992; Coffey, 1994; Coulson &
Lacy, 1996; Scott & Gobetz, 1992). On the other hand, respected journalists
readily admit that they intentionally arouse emotion in readers with the hope
that they will channel their excitement into efforts to right social wrongs.
The Muckrakers of the early 1900s, now celebrated for their socially responsible
journalism, practiced investigative journalism with the aim to startle, arouse
and excite emotions.
In research, the most popular classification of sensationalism is by content
that supposedly amuses, titillates, and entertains. Proper news, on the other
hand, is commended for its assumed ability to enhance the political and social
knowledge of the audience (Adams, 1978; Berkowitz, 1990; Carroll, 1985; Dahlgren
& Sparks, 1991; Davie & Lee, 1995; Hofstetter & Dozier, 1986; Ryu, 1982; Scott &
Gobetz, 1992; Slattery, 1994; Whetmore, 1987). Stories dealing with
celebrities, crime, sex, disasters, accidents, and public fears have
consistently been labeled as sensational (Adams, 1978; Davie & Lee, 1995; Day,
1996; Erlich, 1996; Frieberg, 1981; Harmon, 1989; Hofstetter & Dozier, ;
Juergens, 1966; Knight, 1989; Kurtz, 1994; Mott, 1962; Shaw & Slater, 1985;
Stevens, 1985a; Walsh, et al., 1996; Wearing, 1993). A number of dichotomies
have been employed over the years to assist in drawing the line between
sensational and proper news topics. These include entertainment/infotainment
versus information/edutainment, human interest versus public affairs,
situational versus timeless issues, soft versus hard news, opinion versus fact
and unexpected event versus issue coverage.
The bulk of studies attempting to assess how much of news is sensational use
these dichotomous classifications of news topics as the guide to separate
sensationalism from proper reporting. Most studies which focus on local
television news, indicate that so-called sensational topics comprise between 25
and 30 percent of news (Adams, 1978; Davie & Lee, 1995; Dominick, Wurtzel, &
Lometti, 1975; Harmon, 1989; Slattery, 1994; Wulfemeyer, 1982). Considering
that a relatively small portion of the local news menu is devoted to sensational
news topics, the intensity of public outcry about the proliferation of
sensationalism seems unjustified. Scott and Gobetz (1992) investigated network
news and found an increase of only 20 seconds in soft news coverage over a
16-year period. Using perhaps a more inclusive definition of sensational topics
("...crime, violence, disasters, accidents, fires, or vignettes about
individuals and groups which are not linked to political concerns") Hofstetter
and Dozier (, p. 818) found that 46 percent of local news in the Houston area
between July 13 and August 14, 1981 was devoted to sensational topics. Yet, Ryu
(1982) points out that the ratio of sensational to public affairs news
fluctuates quite dramatically over time. When major public affairs events like
presidential elections are in the forefront, sensational stories simply take a
backseat. It is therefore questionable if conclusions can be drawn about
sensationalism based on analysis of such a short-term sample.
A few scholars argue that news story topic is an incomplete measure of
sensationalism. They suggest that formal features be considered in defining
sensationalism because camera and editing production techniques contribute
greatly to what viewers perceive as sensational reporting (Francke, 1985; Shaw &
Slater, 1985; Slattery, 1994; Stevens, 1985a; Stevens, 1985b; Tannenbaum &
Lynch, 1960). Specifically, Francke (1978) refers to the lurid headlines of
Yellow Journalism and the concocted illustrations of the 1920's tabloids to
provide manifest examples of how visual features may contribute to what we
identify as sensational journalism.
There is no known systematic inquiry into the formal features of sensational
television news. Knight (1989) describes a number of audiovisual techniques
which in his view exemplify the sensational style of tabloid television news.
These include fast editing pace (camera shots shorter than 8 seconds), pursuit
of subjects through an eyewitness camera perspective, zoom-in camera lens
movements that generate visual intensification, close-up shots that capture
emotion (see also (Briller, 1993), re-enactment of news events (see also
(Briller, 1993; Zoglin, 1989), the use of music as a continuity device, ambient
sound that enhances the sensory experience of visual images, and the pace, tone
and flow of a reporter's voice-over narration.
This review of sensationalism in news shows how the concept has been linked to
content and reveals the limitations of our insights into the formal features of
sensationalism. The goal of this study is therefore to systematically unravel
the formal component of news messages in search of a more comprehensive account
of what we mean when we accuse journalists of sensational reporting.
Two television news magazine programs were investigated in terms of their
content (news story topics and visual content) and form (audiovisual treatment).
The two news programs, "Hard Copy" and "60 Minutes" exemplify the two poles of
the tabloid/respectable television news spectrum (Briller, 1993; Rosenberg,
1989). We argue that the content and form of "Hard Copy" news stories will
reflect the dimensions of sensationalism, whereas "60 Minutes" is expected to
exemplify proper news magazine reporting. Differences, if there are any,
between these two programs should reveal content and formal dimensions of
The goal of the study was to optimize the chances of capturing material in the
sample that would yield potential differences not only in content but also in
the form of news packaging. News magazine shows serve this goal better than the
local or national newscast format because these shows allow for more opportunity
to employ flamboyant production techniques. News magazine stories are produced
under different circumstances than local and national news. Producers and
reporters working on a news magazine story have a longer time slot to fill,
their production schedules are longer, more people are involved in these
productions, and they have better access to expensive and technically advanced
production equipment than their counterparts who work on daily newscasts. We
therefore deliberately focused on the news magazine format.
"60 Minutes" is an hour-long news magazine program broadcast weekly on CBS.
Data were collected from a census of "60 Minutes" programs over a six month
period (July 1 to December 31, 1996). "Hard Copy" is a half-hour syndicated news
magazine program, broadcast five days per week on a local (Indianapolis) cable
station. One "Hard Copy" program per week was randomly selected from the same
six month period (July 1 to December 31, 1996). Fifty-four "60 Minutes" and
"Hard Copy" programs were analyzed. This resulted in 184 "Hard Copy" and 107
"60 Minutes" segments. A segment is defined as an independent, complete news
story. Individual segments were the unit of analysis for this study.
The coding instrument measured the content (news topics and titillating visual
material) and form (audiovisual treatment) of news segments. A few studies have
dealt with the prevalence of sensational news topics in terms of content but no
previous studies have systematically investigated the form of television news
for its potential to contribute to sensationalism. In order to create a coding
instrument for such an investigation we turned to the insights of scholars, mass
media critics, existing research about information processing of audiovisual
techniques, and our own observations of contemporary news packaging. We defined
form in terms of audiovisual techniques and distinguished between video
maneuvers and decorative effects.
The notion of sensational news topics was operationalized using the definitions
of a number of scholars (Adams, 1978; Davie & Lee, 1995; Day, 1996; Erlich,
1996; Frieberg, 1981; Harmon, 1989; Juergens, 1966; Kurtz, 1994; Mott, 1962;
Shaw & Slater, 1985; Stephens, 1985; Walsh, et al., 1996). Nine categories were
devised, including four traditionally non-sensational news topics (politics,
economics, education, health/medicine) and five traditionally sensational news
topics (crime, accidents/disasters, celebrity, scandal, and sex). The first
group arguably represent what is viewed as serious information that enhances the
political and social knowledge of the audience. The latter group of news topics
fits the definition of sensationalism in that they may startle, amuse,
titillate, and entertain.
Titillating visual content
There may be general value in classifying sensational news based on topic. But
there is also an urgency to move beyond this simplistic classification. The
presence of titillating visual images could also be seen as an indicator of
sensational content. We identified seven visual content categories (sex,
violence, gore, compelling emotional scenes, audiovisual evidence, reenactment,
repetition). Four of the seven categories (sex, violence, gore, and compelling
emotional scenes) are mere extensions of the news topic categories.
1. Visual images of sex, by our definition, involve all the facets of the act
itself and sexually suggestive video material: passionate kissing, undressing,
provocative body movements, sensual caressing, the act of intercourse itself, or
scantily dressed people. A number of researchers have established that subtle
and explicit sexual media content result in physiological arousal in both men
and women viewers (Davis & Braucht, 1971; Mosher, 1971; Schmidt & V., 1970;
2. Violent visual images were defined as those showing intended physical
aggression with the goal of harming oneself (e.g., suicide) or others. Natural
disasters, accidents, and verbal aggression were not included. Yet, when a
person kicked, hit, or threw an object it was coded as a violent act because it
reveals intended human aggression.
3. Gore, by our definition, includes those scenes promoting a sense of disgust
or queasiness. Most commonly this included images of dead or injured bodies,
blood, body parts, and wounds.
4. Compelling emotional scenes refer to any scene (other than intentional
violence -- see above) that has the potential to compel emotional responses in
viewers. Common examples are car accidents, a family reuniting, the spot where
someone drowned, grieving family members, rescue operations, athletes achieving
a major goal, natural disasters, etc. We also distinguished between positively
and negatively compelling images. Positively compelling scenes are those that
provoke emotions such as joy, pleasure, pride, and relief. Negatively
compelling scenes are those provoking emotions such as grief, anger, fear,
hopelessness, loss, and devastation.
The violence, gore and compelling emotional scenes categories used in this
study are similar to the conceptualization of negative and positive video in the
experimental studies of Lang (1996); Newhagen (1992); Newhagen (in press); and
Reeves et al. (1991). These scholars focused mostly on the effects of
negatively compelling video on memory but from their findings it is clear that
images defined here as containing violence, gore, and negatively compelling
emotion in fact promote physiological and self-reported arousal. Lang (1996)
for example found that heart rate was lower (an indication of physiological
arousal) when negative video was present and that subjects reported to be
significantly (p < .0001) more aroused viewing negative video than viewing video
material that did not contain negative images. Reeves et al. (1991) and Reeves
et al. (1989) argue that positive and negative scenes or messages may evoke
different levels of arousal in the left and right brain hemispheres.
Not all of the above categories could be supported by empirical evidence of
their ability to promote emotional or physiological arousal. Yet, we argue that
the following three categories contain dimensions important to a comprehensive
investigation of sensational visual content.
5. The audiovisual evidence category captured home video, hidden camera
investigations, surveillance material, photographs, or phone recordings about
disputed, secret, or disastrous actions in progress. It includes material of
robberies, riots, plane crashes, and recordings of telephone calls. We argue
that these presentations of audiovisual evidence are dramatic. Their
voyeuristic cinema v rite format presents the viewer with stunning and
titillating scenes of "reality."
6. Reenactment is the dramatic recreation of a nonfictional event or situation
in a news story. This technique violates the fundamental journalistic premise
that staging is an unacceptable reporting device. Perhaps more importantly,
this reporting technique blurs the line between fact and fiction and empowers
the journalist to render a titillating "show business" account of events. We
therefore argue that re-enactment is a dimension of sensationalism.
7. Repetition of video scenes within a specific news story was also coded as a
dimension of sensational news packaging. Repetition is a means of drawing
attention to, emphasizing, and dramatizing visual content. The more a scene is
repeated, the stronger the indication that sensationalism underlies the visual
packaging of that story. The number of repetitions within each news segment
were therefore counted.
Sensational formal features are those likely to provoke emotional responses and
physiological stimulation or arousal. Indeed, sensationalism has been defined
along these two dimensions since the days of the Penny Press newspapers. Formal
production features were divided into two groups: video maneuvers and decorative
effects. Video maneuvers refers to the application of camera and
post-production techniques that enhance the audiovisual experience of a recorded
news event. These techniques fundamentally influence the viewer's perspective
of the recorded news event.
1. Shot length. Several authors argue that the close-up shot commands
attention and establishes emotional closeness between television content and
viewers, whereas the long shot encourages a certain level of distance and
detachment between content and viewers (Baggaley, 1980; Edmonds, 1982; Gianetti,
1982; Knight, 1989; Lambert, 1966; Millerson, 1976; Monaco, 1977; Peters, 1974;
Peters, 1977; Tuchman, 1978; Zettl, 1991). Meyrowitz (1986) calls this sense of
mediated intimacy or detachment the paraproxemic principle: close-up shots mimic
nonmediated physical closeness and are analogous to emotional intimacy, while
long shots simulate nonmediated distance and are the equivalent of emotional
Experimental studies provide more support for the notion that long shots
promote detachment between viewers and content than for the idea that close-up
shots promote intimacy. Williams (1964; Williams, 1968) suggests that long
shots in films tend to decrease the attention of viewers. Salomon (1972) found
that long shots decrease viewer involvement with people on the screen because
attention is diverted to the background. In research on commercials Galan
(1986) produced support for the idea that close-up shots enhance identification
with fictional characters. Moreover, Cobin and McIntyre (1961) and McCain and
Repensky (1972) found that audience members have more favorable attitudes
towards people presented in close-ups than long shots. Ekman (1983) reports
that close-up shots of the human face are rated as more dramatic than long shots
of the human body. A number of content analyses depart from the assumption that
close-up shots have the potential to draw viewers into television content while
long shots are less successful in engaging the audience (Grabe, ; Merritt, 1984;
Television has been called a close-up medium and it is therefore expected that
close shots are used frequently. However, the definition of close-up shots used
in this study is quite exclusive and represents what some would call an extreme
close-up or an "under-distanced" shot (Tannenbaum and Lynch, 1960, p.382).
Moreover, to contextualize the sensational application of close-ups we also
coded long shots. This enables a comparison between the relative frequency with
which different shot lengths are applied in both news shows. The higher the
frequency with which close-up shots are used in comparison to long shots, the
more we can assume an attempt to draw viewers into news content and to promote
emotional closeness to the material.
2. Zoom movements. Zoom movements function much like close-up and long
shots. Zoom-in movements increase while zoom-out movements decrease the
viewer's involvement with television material (Millerson, 1970; Zettl, 1991).
On the other hand Susman's (1978) experimental study with preschool children
suggests that zoom-in movements produce lower attention levels than static
shots. But Salomon's (1972; Salomon, 1979) experimental studies with
adolescents suggest that zoom-in camera lens movements indeed facilitate
attention (and learning). Researchers like Hellweg and Phillips (1981);
Kepplinger (1982); Kervin (1984; Kervin, 1985); McCain and White (1980); Merritt
(1984); and Tiemens (1978) used the two zoom movements in content analyses
arguing that zoom-in movements promote involvement while zoom-out movements
evoke feelings of detachment with television content.
Based on the conventional meaning of these camera lens movements and limited
experimental research findings of their effects on viewers, we argue that
zoom-in movements have a propensity for sensationalism. Thus, the higher the
frequency of zoom-in movements in comparison with zoom-out movements, the
stronger the indication of a sensational approach to news packaging.
3. The eyewitness camera perspective. An eyewitness camera viewpoint assumes
the position of the viewer. In other words, the camera is placed on the camera
operator's shoulder and the camera viewpoint subjectively pursues the action.
The television program "Cops" provides a good example of the eyewitness camera
perspective and there are indications that this camera perspective is becoming
popular in local news. Dominick, Wurtzel, and Lometti (1975) and Hofstetter
and Dozier use the general term "eyewitness" news to refer to a slick, "you are
there" approach to television journalism. Although the authors do not address
the eyewitness camera perspective specifically, they acknowledge that eyewitness
news differs in form from other newscasts.
No research to our knowledge has focused on the impact of the eyewitness camera
perspective on the news audience. However, a few experimental studies have
investigated how rapid, point-of-view movement affects the viewing experience
(Alexander & Barrett, 1975; Lombard, Ditton, Grabe, & Reich, 1997; Parker, 1964;
Parker, 1971). Point-of-view camera work is typically used in Hollywood films,
music videos, commercials, and virtual reality. Through the use of a camera
mounted onto a moving car, airplane, roller-coaster car, etc. the point-of-view
camera perspective captures the thrills of a non-mediated experience. Alexander
(1975) and Parker (1964; Parker, 1971) found that point-of-view camera movement
enhanced sensory involvement of viewers to the point of motion sickness.
Lombard et al. (1997) found point-of-view movement viewed on a large screen
television set optimizes a viewer's sense of experiencing a mediated message as
a non-mediated event. Thus, this camera perspective has the potential to
promote sensory experiences. Although rapid point-of-view movement entails
faster and smoother movement, it resembles the eyewitness news camera
perspective in that both assume the perspective of the audience. Because these
camera perspectives draw the audience into the content and seem to provoke
strong sensory experiences, the eyewitness camera perspective is included as a
potentially sensational camera device.
4. Slow motion. Informal observation leads us to note the increasing use of
slow motion video in television news. Examples include the now famous shot of
former White House intern Monica Lewinsky embracing the President, the scene of
O. J. Simpson hugging Nicole Simpson's family members after the dance recital on
the day of her murder, and surveillance video of Princess Diana leaving the
hotel on the night of her death. One explanation for the use of slow motion
video in television news is that there is often not enough video material to
cover a reporter's narration of events. Slow-motion extends the duration of
visual scenes and thereby enables reporters to cover their voice-over narrations
There is no known research on the effects of slow motion on the television news
audience. _There is limited empirical evidence for effects of fictional
slow-motion scenes but it is not relevant to our coding instrument. For
example, Ichio (1973) found that five-year-old Japanese children overestimated
the duration of slow motion scenes. Other scholars and film theorists have
argued, without empirical evidence, that slow-motion has the potential to
enhance sensory experiences (Fillerman-Lewis, ; Gianetti, 1982; Monaco, 1977;
Zettl, 1991). According to Fillerman-Lewis slow-motion promotes subjective
involvement and Gianetti (1982, p. 181) says slow motion tends to "ritualize and
Despite very limited empirical evidence we include the slow-motion category in
this study because it appears to be a prominent structural feature in news and
because film theorists seem convinced of its potential to arouse the emotional
involvement of viewers.
5. Sound effects. Television viewers have come to expect, and take for
granted, sophisticated multi track sounds, including not just narration and
soundbites, but also sound effects (Mansfield, 1992). In this study, we define
sound effects as the addition of sound other than ambient sound, voice-over, and
music. Examples are the sound of a gavel, a ticking clock, police sirens, etc.
Unlike natural sound, sound effects are created and controlled by the producer
during post-production editing. Some professionals call these sound effects
"characteristic sounds" (Mott, 1990).
Wright and Huston (1983) argue that sound effects can add novelty to a
television message and therefore are likely to elicit attention from even the
youngest of viewers. Other studies confirm that sound effects are consistently
associated with orienting responses where viewers become physiologically aroused
when hearing such sounds (Alwitt, Anderson, Lorch, & Levin, 1980; Calvert &
Gresh, 1987; Calvert & Scott, 1989). Taken together, these studies suggest that
sound effects can promote attention and arousal in viewers.
6. Music. According to Mansfield (1992) music transforms the mundane into an
emotional experience. In applied research, the presence of background music has
been shown to influence workers' morale and productivity (Uhrborch, 1961) and
the pace of shopping in retail stores (Milliman, 1982). Seidman (1981)
demonstrated that music has an effect on people's emotional reactions to, and
interpretation of, the visual and verbal material in entertainment and
educational programs. Other researchers have shown that variations in music
have a significant impact on physiological reactions (Ries, 1969; Zimny &
Weidenfeller, 1963) as well as motor activity and body movements (Fraisse,
7. Voice tone of the reporter. We argue that a protruding or flagrant tone of
voice dramatizes news while an unobtrusive voice tone presents information in a
matter-of-fact or serious manner. For the sake of dramatization and heightening
of emotional effect, tabloid reporters inappropriately emphasize words to the
extent that misplaced emphasis has become a habit (Bolinger, 1982).
Empirical findings on newscaster voice attributes show that voice change
elicits an orienting response (Potter, Bolls, Lang, Zhou, Schwartz, Borse, et
al., 1997). A conversational style of presentation, characterized by lower
pitch, slower rate, lower volume and less variation in inflection was rated to
be more credible than a "dynamic style," exemplified by higher intensity and
pitch, faster rate and greater variation in voice tone (Burgoon, 1978). Two
experimental studies revealed that greater pitch variety and lower pitch levels
produced higher competence and benevolence ratings (Brown, Strong, & Rencher,
1973; Brown, Strong, & Rencher, 1974). Though not all are directly related to
this study, these results suggest that voice tone is an important delivery
attribute that may affect viewers' attention and arousal.
8. Editing pace. Editing pace relates to the duration of camera shots in a
television message or the number of shots per unit of time. Previous research
suggests that pace affects how viewers feel about and learn from television
messages. Zhou et al.(1998) found fast-paced editing elicited attention while
Thorson and Lang (1992) found that frequent cuts in television messages elicited
orienting responses and resulted in poorer memory for difficult and fast-paced
messages. Zillmann et al. (1980) showed that interspersed humorous episodes that
are fast paced enhance attention more quickly than do the same humorous inserts
in a slow-paced program. Other studies suggest that increased pacing increases
viewers' sense of arousal (Gunter, 1987; Hitchon, Thorson, & Duckler, 1994).
Decorative effects refer to very brief attention grabbing devices which are
mostly editing transitions. All are created after the recording of visual
material. Decorative effects are different from video maneuvers in that they
are fleeting additions to video recordings rather than an enduring or integral
part of a full motion video segment. In the context of sensationalism we are
particularly interested in assessing flamboyant post-production techniques, the
immaterial bells and whistles employed for the purpose of drawing and holding a
viewer's attention. According to Zettl (1991, p. 294) special effects should be
used sparingly and with the knowledge that they contribute to the
"intensification of the visual sequence." For this study we distinguish between
transitional and non-transitional audiovisual effects.
1. Wipes. Zettl (1984, p. 259) and Smith (1991) describe wipes as electronic
effects where one picture pushes another off the screen.
2. Dissolves. These are gradual transitions from one shot to the next, where
the two images temporarily overlap (Smith, 1991; Zettl, 1984).
3. Flashes. Analysis of MTV and news magazine programs such as "Hard Copy",
"Inside Edition", "A Current Affair", and "American Journal" reveals that
approximately five frames of video white are inserted between two shots to
create a startling flash. This transitional technique mimics the effect of a
4. Fades. These occur when images appear gradually from video black or
disappear to video black (Zettl, 1984). According to Zettl (1991) this
transitional device mimics a theater curtain opening or closing and thereby
dramatically implies the beginning and end of a sequence.
5. Slide and peel. This is a sophisticated wipe that mimics the turn of a page
in a book (Smith, 1991).
7. Rotations and bounces. These occur when an image flips (vertical axis) or
tumbles (horizontal axis) 360 degrees. This movement could be continuous or
performed as many times as desired (Smith, 1991).
8. Fly effect. This involved miniaturizing an image and at the same time
moving and spinning it into a new position on the screen or moving it off screen
Non transitional effects
1. Supers. Words super-imposed on a graphic background or on full motion video
is used to emphasize information and compel a viewer's attention (Zettl, 1984).
2. Split screen. When the screen is vertically divided into two parts. Each
side shows a different image (Zettl, 1984).
3. Freeze frame. This is arrested motion where the object remains in the same
position for the duration of the shot (Zettl, 1991).
4. Digital zooming. A zoom movement that is created in post-production by
either enlarging or compressing the picture size (Smith, 1991).
5. Compression. This technique makes objects appear longer and thinner, or
wider and fatter, by changing the aspect ratio of the 3 x 4 screen (Zettl,
6. Posterization. A graphic appearance similar to over-exposure is created
when one controls the number of colors and the luminance levels in an image
7. Snapshot. When a screen comprises a number of smaller framed images (Zettl,
8. Secondary frame. When at least two images are juxtaposed at a slight angle
on one screen. It is often used in satellite link-up interviews (Zettl, 1984).
9. Echo. This is also referred to as the mirror effect. The same image is
repeated as if it was placed between two opposite mirrors (Zettl, 1984).
10. Frame within a frame. A framed layer of video appears inside the first
layer of video. When this effect is used as a transition, the incoming framed
video (layer two) displaces the outgoing video (layer one) (Incorporated, 1996).
11. Highlighting. Areas of the screen are digitally highlighted. This effect
mimics a spotlight moving across an area.
12. Mosaic. An image is transformed into its component pixels, rendering it
unrecognizable. This is often used on a news source's face to protect a
person's identity (Smith, 1991).
Three coders each with graduate degrees in mass communication and between three
and eight six years of television journalism or documentary producing experience
participated in the coding process. An effort was made not to use naive coders
for this content analysis. The purpose here is to identify complicated
reporting and production techniques which require the trained eye of experienced
news producers to recognize with precision.
After a coding manual was developed three coder training sessions were held. A
pre-test during the last coder training session resulted in overall coder
agreement of 88 percent. Ten percent of the sample was coded by all three
coders, enabling the assessment of coder agreement. Critical categorical and
scaled items, which involved qualitative judgments, yielded coder agreement of
86 percent on the Krippendorff scale.
A total of 416.87 minutes of "Hard Copy" and 1101.58 minutes of "60 Minutes"
were analyzed. This excludes advertisement logos, promotions, anchor chatter,
and anchor lead-in narrations that precede segments. The mean duration of a
"Hard Copy" segment was 2.27 minutes and 10.30 minutes for a "60 Minutes"
Because "Hard Copy" programs are shorter than "60 Minutes" programs the data
are presented in a number of standardized expressions. For example, percentages
are used to express the portion of segments containing a specific variable.
Where the duration and frequency of occurrences were measured, the occurrence of
incidents is expressed as a percentage of total duration or total camera shots.
In addition, the average time interval between the occurrence of incidents was
If we consider stories about politics, economics, education, and
health/medicine as the news staples of an informed citizenry, "60 Minutes" leads
in serving democratic ideals. Table 1 shows that only 4.9 percent of "Hard
Copy" segments were about politics compared to 34.6 percent of "60 Minutes"
segments. The CBS program also featured more news about economics (8.4 vs. 1.6
percent), education (2.8 vs. 0.05 percent), and health/medicine (12 vs. 17.8
Table 1 about here
The argument that tabloid journalists are preoccupied with crime, disasters,
celebrities, scandals and sex is supported by our findings. "Hard Copy" outdid
"60 Minutes" in four of those five categories. The tabloid show had slightly
more crime stories (28.3 vs. 21.5 percent); three times more accident/disaster
stories (12.5 vs. 3.7 percent); six times more celebrity stories (56.5 vs. 9.3
percent) and twice as much sex stories (13.6 vs. 6.5 percent) than "60 Minutes."
However, "60 Minutes" directed slightly more segments towards covering scandal
(9.3 vs. 8.2 percent) than "Hard Copy."
Titillating Visual Material
Emotionally compelling images, violence, gore, and audiovisual evidence
appeared in more "60 Minutes" than "Hard Copy" segments (see Table 2). Yet,
these negative compelling images comprise a larger portion of "Hard Copy"
segment durations than "60 Minutes." . More than 36 percent of "60 Minutes"
segments featured emotionally compelling scenes. But less than 1 percent of
these segments presented positive emotion while more than 35 percent featured
negative emotion. Twenty-eight percent of "Hard Copy" stories presented
emotionally compelling visual scenes; 5.40 percent were identified as positively
and 23 percent as negatively compelling scenes.
Table 2 about here
Two hallmarks of the sensational genre, violence and gore, were featured in
more "60 Minutes" than "Hard Copy" stories. A little more than 13 percent of
"60 Minutes" segments featured violence but only 0.12 percent of the total
program duration was spent on violence. "Hard Copy" featured violence in 7.1
percent of all segments and devoted 0.61 percent of the total segment duration
to it. Similarly, gory scenes were featured in 16.8 percent of "60 Minutes"
segments compared to 14.7 percent of "Hard Copy" stories. But again, "Hard
Copy" spent more time on gore (2.32 percent of the segment duration) than "60
Minutes" (0.63 percent of the segment duration).
"60 Minutes" also showed authentic material in more stories (16.80 vs. 14.70
percent) than "Hard Copy" . But "Hard Copy" programs featured authentic
material for 3.38 percent of the total segment time while "60 Minutes" programs
featured it for only 1.47 percent of the total segment time.
"Hard Copy" used sex, re-enactment, and repetition in more program segments and
for larger portions of segment time than "60 Minutes." The most prominent
difference involves the sex category. More than 20 percent of "Hard Copy"
segments featured sex. These scenes took up 6.25 percent of segment time. On
"60 Minutes," less than 1 percent of segments featured sex and they took up 0.02
percent of the program time. More than 3 percent of "Hard Copy" stories used
re-enactment (0.35 percent of the total segment duration), compared to 1.9
percent of the "60 Minutes" segments (2.17 percent of the total segment
duration). "Hard Copy" repeated shots 126 times compared to 24 repetitions in
"60 Minutes." Moreover, 51 shots on "Hard Copy" were repeated twice, airing a
total of three times, compared to 6 shots on "60 Minutes."
Close-up versus long shots
Both programs favored close-up shots over long shots (see Table 2). Moreover,
close-ups and long shots seem to represent the same portion of camera shots and
program duration for the two shows. Yet "60 Minutes" producers appear to use
close-ups slightly more often and long shots slightly less often than "Hard
Copy" producers. Close up shots comprised 6.87 percent of "Hard Copy" camera
shots and 5.69 percent of the total program duration, whereas 7.17 percent of
"60 Minutes" camera shots and 8.3 percent of the program's total duration were
close-ups. At the same time 2.32 percent of "Hard Copy" camera shots and 1.87
percent of the program's duration were long shots. In "60 Minutes" 1.57 percent
of camera shots and 0.86 percent of the total program duration were presented
through the disengaging long shot. Finally, the average duration of long shots
in the two programs was not noticeably different ("Hard Copy" 3.01 seconds vs.
3.28 seconds on "60 Minutes").
Zoom-in versus zoom-out
"Hard Copy" generally used zoom movements more frequently than "60 Minutes."
Zoom-in movements were used every 32.32 seconds and zoom-out movements every
99.65 seconds compared to every 112.22 and 391.09 seconds in "60 Minutes."
Interestingly, both programs used zoom-in movements (an attempt at drawing
sensory attention to program content) more often than zoom-out movements (a
disengaging contextual view of program content). A total of 11.56 percent of
"Hard Copy" shots were zoom-in movements while only 3.75 percent of shots were
zoom-out movements. This means that one zoom-out movement was used for every
3.08 zoom-in movements. The "60 Minutes" ratio of zoom-in to zoom out movements
looks very similar at 1:3.48. Yet, it must be noted that a smaller percentage
of "60 Minutes" than "Hard Copy" shots comprised the zoom-in (5.33 vs. 11.56
percent) and zoom-out (1.53 vs. 3.75 percent) movement. A noticeable difference
between the two programs leads us to argue that generous use of zoom movements
indicates a sensational production style.
The eyewitness camera perspective
"Hard Copy" presented video material through the eyewitness camera perspective
more frequently (every 49.43 vs. 144.63 seconds) but with shorter average
duration (3.87 vs. 6.43 seconds) than "60 Minutes." It is important to note
that 7.84 percent of "Hard Copy's" vs. 4.44 percent of "60 Minutes" segment time
comprised the eyewitness viewpoint. This noticeable difference suggests that
this production technique should be viewed as a sensational formal feature.
At an average "Hard Copy" featured slow motion video every 53.10 seconds. By
sharp contrast, "60 Minutes" used this technique only about every 38 minutes.
This prominent difference is reaffirmed when in the proportion of program time
taken up by slow motion video. A little more than 7 percent of "Hard Copy's"
visual material was presented in slow motion whereas "60 Minutes" used it in
only 0.21 percent of their video material. This striking difference suggests
that slow motion is indeed a formal feature associated with the sensational
tabloid style of news packaging.
"Hard Copy" made frequent use of sound effects, which occurred every 83.1
seconds. In "60 Minutes" this production feature was rarely used; coders
identified one every 4130.94 seconds. It is also important to note that coders
rated the dramatic impact of sounds effects on a three point scale. A T-test
indicates a significant difference (p< .000) between their ratings. Not only
did "Hard Copy" use sound effects more often than "60 Minutes" but the dramatic
potential of the applied sound effects was rated significantly higher for "Hard
Copy" stories. This prominent difference indicates a production technique that
should be associated with sensational television news reporting.
Application of music produced striking differences between the two news shows.
About 83 percent of "Hard Copy's" program content was accompanied by music; only
0.45 percent of the total "60 Minutes" segment duration featured music. But,
when "60 Minutes" producers used music, the dramatic potential of this
structural feature was rated no different from its application in "Hard Copy"
programs. A T-test showed an insignificant difference between coder ratings for
the dramatic impact of music in both programs. Nevertheless, the use of music,
according to these findings, is strongly associated with the sensational tabloid
style of reporting.
Coders rated the relative obtrusiveness of the reporter's voice tone on a three
point scale. A T-test indicates a significant (p< .000) difference (see Table
2). The voice inflection of "Hard Copy" reporters was significantly more
obtrusive than correspondents on "60 Minutes." This suggests that obtrusive
voice tone should be associated with sensational reporting.
Editing pace was much faster in "Hard Copy" than in "60 Minutes." The average
duration of a shot in "Hard Copy" was 3.78 seconds versus the 5.98 seconds for
shots in "60 Minutes."
Overall, "Hard Copy" producers clearly succumbed more often than "60 Minutes"
producers to the bells and whistles of editing effects (see Table 2). A total
of 22.88 percent of all transitions between shots in "Hard Copy" were decorative
compared to just 5.28 percent in "60 Minutes." The application of flamboyant
transitions between shots signals a sensationalist production style. Table 2
shows that dissolves were the most popular decorative transitional device in
both "Hard Copy" (11.66 percent of all transitions) and "60 Minutes" (5.06 of
all transitions). The most prominent difference between the two programs lies
in the application of flashes. "Hard Copy" used this technique (which mimics a
camera flash), in 8.25 percent of all transitions whereas flashes were used in
just 0.11 percent of all transitions between shots in "60 Minutes." Of all
decorative transitional devices, flashes appear to be the most illustrative of a
sensational production style.
Examining the time intervals with which non-transitional decorative effects
were used in the two programs it becomes clear that all effects occurred more
often on "Hard Copy" than on "60 Minutes." Table 2 details noteworthy
differences between the two programs by variable. Most importantly, "Hard Copy"
featured a non-transitional decorative effect every 50 seconds compared to every
306 seconds on "60 Minutes."
Overall the findings of this study suggest that the line that separates
traditional news from sensational tabloid news may be more sturdy than what
public debate on this issue suggests "60 Minutes" reporters certainly pay homage
to democratic ideals by focusing on socially significance news topics. Politics
and healthcare were prominently featured in more than half the "60 Minutes"
segments. By sharp contrast, celebrities were central to more than 56 percent
of "Hard Copy" stories indicating a trivial focus. Importantly, crime was the
second most popular topic on both shows and "60 Minutes" focused more often on
scandal than "Hard Copy." This fact may reflect the combative investigative
style of "60 Minutes" reporters (Campbell, 1991). According to Campbell (1991)
"60 Minutes" reporters often take the role of morality police detectives in
searching for clues, confronting villains, solving criminal or moral violations,
and mediating these violations against the backdrop of what is morally
Both programs made ample use of titillating visual material. In fact, "60
Minutes" featured compelling images, violence, gore, and visual evidence of
controversy in more segments than "Hard Copy." But "Hard Copy" used these
images for a longer percentage of segment time. This suggests that, when "Hard
Copy" producers get titillating visual material on tape, they make optimum use
of it. This fact perhaps reveals a key dimension of sensational news packaging.
On "60 Minutes," it seems that reporters feature potentially titillating
material with the purpose to present realism, even if disturbing, to viewers.
This investigative approach to reporting is a long-standing and respected
journalistic tradition. But on "Hard Copy" the use of titillating material
appears suspect. The prevalence of repeated images suggests an attempt to
prolong the thrill rather than to offer vivid proof of the scope or intensity of
social ills. Moreover, sex, as the prime agent for titillation, was a central
narrative theme in almost 14 percent of "Hard Copy" stories while 20.1 percent
of all "Hard Copy" stories showed sexually provocative visual material. These
findings stand in stark contrast to the relative absence of sex on "60 Minutes."
The most prominent line between "60 Minutes" and "Hard Copy," however, is drawn
in terms of audiovisual form. The bells and whistles that mark a flamboyant
production style clearly belong in the realm of "Hard Copy" and are sparingly
used on "60 Minutes." These include zoom movements, slow motion, sound effects,
music, digital video effects, and obtrusive reporter voice tones. Table 4
summarizes the most prominent differences between the two programs in terms of
their content and form, suggesting specific dimensions of sensationalism.
Table 4 about here
The principal contribution of this study is perhaps methodological. This
content analysis represents a firm departure for measuring sensationalism in
terms of form. As many other scholars have argued, a definition of
sensationalism based on news story topics seems overly simplistic. Clearly, a
traditionally sensational topic like crime could be packaged into a story that
omits the merest hint of sensationalism while news producers could, by playing
up the bells and whistles of sensational formal features, transform a story that
officially belongs in the non-sensational topic category into a thrilling
sensational experience. By moving beyond content and into the realm of
sensational form this study helps to explicate what we mean when we evoke the
term sensationalism to refer to journalism.
If we take seriously the most conventional meaning of the word sensational --
to provoke startling sensory and emotional responses -- we must study the impact
of sensational formal features on the information recall, physiological, and
emotional, responses of the television news audience. In this way research may
assess the merits of society's constructed meaning for the concept of
sensationalism. More importantly, this research should allow comparisons of how
sensational and proper news packaging styles are doing in fulfilling the
journalistic call to inform the citizens of a democratic society. Notes.
Table 1. Content: News Topics
News topics "Hard Copy" "60 Minutes"
Politics 4.9 34.6
Economics 1.6 8.4
Education 0.5 2.8
Crime 28.3 21.5
Health/medicine 12.0 17.8
Accidents/disaster 12.5 3.7
Celebrity 56.5 9.3
Scandal 8.2 9.3
Sex 13.6 6.5
Notes. Results presented as percentages of "Hard Copy" and "60 Minutes"
segments. The columns don't add up to a 100 percent because the news
topics are not mutually exclusive.
Table 2. Content: Titillating Visual Material
Variable "Hard Copy" "60 Minutes"
Emotionally compelling visual scenes 28.80 36.50
Positive emotion 5.40 0.90
Negative emotion 23.40 35.60
Total duration 5.97 4.53a
Violence 7.10 13.10
Total duration 0.61 0.12a
Gore 14.70 16.80
Total duration 2.32 0.63a
Sex 20.10 0.90
Total duration 6.25 0.02a
Audio/visual evidence 16.30 24.30
Total duration 3.38 1.47a
Re-enactment 3.30 1.90
Total duration 0.35 0.02a
Repetition 39.10 16.80
Once 126.00 24.00b
Twice 51.00 6.00b
Three times 12.00 2.00b
Four times 5.00 1.00b
More 1.00 0.00b
Results are presented as percentages of "Hard Copy" and "60 Minutes"
a Indicate percentages of total "Hard Copy" and total "60 Minutes"
b Indicate raw frequency counts.
Table 2. Form: Visual Treatment
Variables "Hard Copy" "60 Minutes"
How many 460.00 792.00
Duration 1422.00 5485.00
Average duration 3.09 6.93
Time interval 54.37 83.45
Percentage of total shots 6.87 7.17
Percentage of total duration 5.69 8.30
How many 155.00 173.00
Duration 467.00 568.00
Average duration 3.01 3.28
Time interval 161.37 382.05
Percentage of total shots 2.32 1.57
Percentage of total duration 1.87 0.86
How many 774.00 589.00
Time interval 32.32 112.22
Percentage of total shots 11.56 5.33
How many 251.00 169.00
Time interval 99.65 391.09
Percentage of total shots 3.75 1.53
How many times 506.00 457.00
Duration 1960.00 2937.00
Average duration 3.87 6.43
Time interval 49.43 144.63
Percentage of total duration 7.84 4.44
How many times 471.00 29.00
Duration 1786.00 136.00
Average duration 3.79 4.69
Time interval 53.10 2279.14
Percentage of total duration 7.14 0.21
How many times 301.00 16.00
Duration 434.00 64.00
Average duration 1.44 4.00
Time interval 83.10 4130.94
Mean rating of dramatic impact 2.68 2.13**
Table 2. Continued
Variables "Hard Copy" "60 Minutes"
How many times 495.00 16.00
Duration 20749.00 296.00
Average duration 41.92 18.50
Time interval 50.52 4130.94
Percentage of total duration 82.96 0.45
Mean rating of dramatic impact 2.32 2.13 n.s.
Mean rating of reporter's
voice inflection 2.61 1.73**
Mean duration of a camera shot 3.78 5.98
Transitions 100.00 100.00
Decorative 22.88 5.28
Cuts 77.12 94.72
How many 21.00 8.00
Time interval 1191.05 8261.88
Percentage of all transitions 0.32 0.07
How many 759.00 554.00
Time interval 32.95 119.31
Percentage of all transitions 11.66 5.06
How many 116.00 1.00
Time interval 215.62 66095.00
Percentage of all transitions 1.78 0.01
How many 537.00 12.00
Time interval 46.58 5507.92
Percentage of all transitions 8.25 0.11
Other digital transitions
How Many 56.00 3.00
Time interval 446.64 22031.66
Percentage of all transitions 0.86 0.03
Table 2. Continued
Variables "Hard Copy" "60 Minutes"
Non Transition Effects
Total 506.00 216.00
Time interval 49.43 306.00
How many 151.00 42.00
Time interval 165.64 1573.69
Supers to emphasize information
How many 189.00 91.00
Time interval 132.34 726.32
How many 15.00 8.00
Time interval 1667.47 8261.88
How many 33.00 4.00
Time interval 757.94 16523.75
How Many 17.00 5.00
Time interval 1471.29 13219.00
Frame within a frame
How Many 42.00 28.00
Time interval 595.52 2360.54
How Many 59.00 38.00
Time interval 423.93 1739.34
Notes. Time interval indicates the average number of seconds between the
occurrence of production techniques.
Table 3. Dimensions of sensationalism
Politics Less than 5 percenta
Sex More than 13 percenta
Titillating visual material
Sex More than 20 percenta
Re-enactment More than 3 percenta
Repetition More than 39 percenta
Zoom movements Every 30 seconds or moreb
Eyewitness camera perspective Every 49 seconds or moreb
Slow motion Every 53 seconds or moreb
Sound effects Every 83 seconds or moreb
Music Every 50 seconds or moreb
Obtrusiveness of voice tone 2.61 rating or higherc
Flashes Every 46 seconds or moreb
Other transitional effects Every 30 seconds or moreb
Non-transitional effects Every 59 seconds or moreb
Notes. Based on our findings we suggest the above index for sensationalism by
quantifying the occurrence of variables as (a) a percentage of total story
segments, (b) a time interval in seconds, and (c) a rating on a three point
scale. Percentages, duration and rating scores are based on the content and
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 See also (Bradford, 1993; Briller, 1993; Kurtz, 1994; Rosenberg, 1989;
Salerno, 1995; Schorr, 1989)
 The National Enquirer's readership is almost 2.5 times that of the weekday
New York Times readership.
 Yet Stevens (1985a) points out that complaints about sensationalism date at
least back to Ancient Rome.
 Two experimental studies, using undergraduate college students as subjects
comprise this body of literature. Tannenbaum and Lynch (1960) found that
evaluative, excitement, and activity factors describe the dimensions of
sensational newspaper stories while Austin and Dong (1994) found that
sensational stories were rated as more biased and less accurate than
 Carroll's (1989) study shows that local news stations in large markets
devote double the amount of time to crimes, fires, and disasters than stations
in medium and small markets.
 Close-up shot. Emphasis is placed on a part of the whole object through
mere optical closeness. Extreme close-up shots of the human face are easily
identifiable. The cut-off points are on the forehead and chin. However, close
up shots can also be used on other body parts like hands or feet or objects like
a newspaper article, bullet shells, scattered glass, a syringe, etc. The key
here was to use the proximity of a close-up on the human face as a comparison
for shots of other body parts or objects.
Long shot. This shot is often used to reveal the environmental context of
objects. A long shot was defined as a shot that reveals an environment so that
if a human body is (or should be) present it's vertical height will comprise
half or less of the screen.
 During a zoom-in the camera moves from a longer shot to a closer shot
whereas the camera moves from a closer shot to a wider shot during a zoom-out.
The movement can vary in speed.
 We used Zettl's (1984) definition: a scene in which the objects appear to
be moving more slowly than normal. In television, slow motion is achieved by a
multiple scanning of each television frame.