Sensationalism is all the rage on the internet today. In truth, it likely has been since the advent of language (no, not necessarily on the internet, just in general). Young children use it; “There were like a zillion mosquitoes!” Parents use it; “For the hundredth time, come to the table for dinner or you will have to starve tonight!” But most interestingly, journalists from amateur to professional use it. It’s what sells the story even if there isn’t really a story to sell. So how, you ask, do you use sensationalism to your advantage? How can you write a breaking news story about completely mundane events? Just follow the simple steps below and you will soon experience the thrill of reeling in readers with the most commonplace events… sensationalized!
Your first objective is to select a subject that no one would care about unless they read it in the newspaper, online, or saw it on television. For example, consider the following topics:
- A child is a few minutes late for dinner
- The pet cat disappears for a few days then returns
- The moon is bright at night
- The sun rises in the morning
Now let’s face it, no one wants to read about any of these things… or do they? Of course they do. I mean, think about it, the average internet surfer is so bored with their life that they willingly subject themselves to article after article about what this celebrity said about global warming, or what that one wore to take their dog out for a walk, or even what their dog did when it saw a stray cat down the road. After all, this is big news. We even have an official sounding category for it: arts and entertainment. It sounds all legitimate that way. The ARTS – it makes you think of things like the Sistine Chapel, the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David and the works of Shakespeare and Mark Twain all rolled into one.
Trust me, these folks need you to write something for them to read. They don’t care what it’s about; it just has to sound like earth-shattering, life-changing news. It is your social duty to regularly output some exciting mindless drivel on which the internet zombies can feed.
But I digress; back to our examples listed above. You need to spin them in such a way as to make the humdrum outcome seem miraculous. Additionally, you will have to add drama – lots of drama. The outcome, however probable or even inevitable must seem elusive and fraught with doubt. Finally, you must make it personal. Use names and circumstances, and lots of present tense. Using these three interrelated techniques, the article should now read something like this:
Three year old Randy Jenkins was missing. Mrs. Jenkins, feared the worst. She had lost her husband to a tragic work commute seven hours earlier, and having misplaced her cell phone, was now for all intensive purposes a single mother; isolated from the world. She didn’t know how she would make it through the next few hours. It seemed as though grief would tear her apart.
Mrs. Jenkins had slaved over microwave macaroni and cheese for part of the entire evening. Macaroni and cheese was Randy’s favorite. Of course, Mrs. Jenkins tearfully reminisced, Randy didn’t call it by its proper name. You see, Randy suffered from a severe case of underdeveloped adulthood, one of the more noticeable symptoms being a pronounced difficulty enunciating. In his words, his favorite dish was “marronee sheeze.” He was usually never late for marronee sheeze, Mrs. Jenkins sobbed.
Just when it seemed all hope was lost, and it looked as though she might have to call him to the table a second time, a miracle happened. Mrs. Jenkins heard a quiet voice coming from down the hall – Randy’s voice. His voice grew louder and louder until finally his small form rounded the corner and he ran into the dining room. Randy was alive! A full three minutes after first being summoned he had somehow managed against all odds to make it to the table intact. Amazingly he bore no visible physical scars from the ordeal. Mrs. Jenkins cried tears of joy as she wrapped her son in her loving embrace. She watched his easy smile which she knew must be hiding the pain he subconsciously repressed inside. Holding him once again she knew that together somehow, someday, they would be able to work past the emotional damage and be a real family again. Of that she was certain.
Now comes the test. Use the techniques you have learned today and write an article for one of the other three headlines. Come on, sensationalize! Without it we would all have to go and do something drastic like live our own lives. You don’t want to have that on your conscience, do you?