Sensationalism and sensitivity at odds

There are numerous chronic problems in today's media. Some are ingrained from the old days of journalism while others made their appearance with the new mediums that media has spread. It is easy to see the unifying reasons behind them. Haste, sloppiness, rating concerns, sensationalism and so forth plague today's media, causing resentment in conventional media. It is hard to escape from them as well. However, it is extremely disquieting to see that the lack of meaningful strides causing these mistakes to become institutionalized and ingrained, which in turn leads to us seeing numerous errors in a single article. These mistakes feed each other, allowing them to gain even more of a foothold despite attempts to stop them. Trying to tackle them one by one becomes effective as the remaining issues allows the problem to stay alive.

An example provided by a colleague showcases the case of different problems feeding each other. I will not name names, but the story was reported across most of the Turkish media. Time and time again, we wrote about how to approach news stories covering abuse and rape. We highlighted the importance of the correct method when conveying the story to the readers. We are not alone in that regard either. It remains to be a sensitive issue where numerous parties from the reader's representatives to nongovernment organizations try to get the media to adopt and actually enforce a set of guidelines and principles when it comes to news stories of this nature. However, despite the repeated times we brought it up, it seems that more emphasis would not go amiss.

Then we have the galleries, a relatively new invention of news websites. Although a boon in stories that rely heavily on visuals, it also becomes a hindrance when the story is unsuited to it as it forces the readers to jump through numerous hoops before they can get to the meat of the news.

Both of those problems exist on their own. We saw it all too often. But the example we will look at today managed to bring them together in an attempt to "tell the story" of sexual abuse.

Let's list the identifying features of the report. The example my colleague provided had the photo of a woman and a man, with pixelated eyes, on the cover. The woman's picture was considerably larger than the man. It was prioritized.

It had a title saying, "As he was smoking a cigarette in the garden…" in lowercase, followed by "Disgusting statement from brother-in-law that raped his aunt" in all caps.

It was presented in a gallery format with 16 slides, transforming a news report that contained five or six paragraphs.

So far, we already have enough to criticize but one could still argue that the editor could have pulled it off. Maybe he reached new information that could be presented in gallery format. Perhaps it had courtroom or crime scene photos. Of course, that wishful thinking immediately disappears when you actually start to click through the gallery.

It was really five paragraphs, spread thin in 16 slides. How did the editor manage it, you might wonder? Well, the answer is easy but no less problematic. Numerous pages did not possess a single line, instead showing photos as people clicked through to reach the content. Then another question appears. What about the photos themselves? Did they have anything meaningful to contribute?

I'm afraid the answer to that question disappoints as well. Because by then you start to see the results of the first problem I mentioned, as the report failed to tick a lot of boxes when it comes to the guidelines of covering sexual abuse.

Most of the photos in the gallery belonged to the victim along with her father and children. It was like a family album, only with the faces pixelated. Did those pictures have any newsworthiness? You could argue that the newspaper prioritizes victims over the culprits, but it appears that the pictures used here does not add to that sensitivity, especially when you consider the possible negative ramifications.

The main problem lies with the presentation here. The way this is laid out only serves to portray the situation in a theatrical manner. It tries to get clicks by using open-ended and sensationalist titles.

By bringing up the photos over and over, it victimizes the woman and her family once again. Even if that was not the intention behind the way this story was presented, the title can easily be perceived as an effort to get the reader's attention with sexual connotations.

Our wording and presentation represents us. Therefore, we must report on the stories of abuse and rape accordingly with all the consideration and gravitas it requires instead of reporting them like a tabloid news story with sensational tendencies.

As we said before, even if we try to tackle one problem, the need for clicks and sensationalism tendencies can easily overwrite previous sensibilities. We must ensure that the focus on fixing a single issue does not precede the attention of the overall problems. It is a vicious cycle, one we must break if we are to feel any sort of pride in our vocation.

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