Posted By: Linley Sanders
Some people seek fifteen minutes of fame through news organizations—that’s nothing new. But unfortunately, this attention-seeking leads the way to sensationalized stories, and many reporters fall for these traps—hook, line, and sinker.
This was seen most recently in the coverage of the “Craigslist Killer” where 19-year-old Miranda Barbour, who is accused of killing a man she met through Craigslist, told a local newspaper that she killed 22 additional people.
Without proof, facts, (or a consideration that no other bodies had been found), many newspapers ran with the story. Through this, Barbour entered our headlines and conversations once again. She gained public attention—the very thing she hoped to accomplish—with pleas that satanism was the reason she committed murder.
A spokesperson for the Satanic Temple quickly rebutted this claim, and a USA Today article reported that, “Miranda Barbour wants to make a media splash. And he says she is using Satanism to distance herself from the horror of murder.
Sadly, many media outlets fell into this trap. USA Today covered the story with the headline “Accused Craigslist Killer Claims More Slayings” and TMZ went with, “Satanic Murderer Miranda Barbour—’I’ve killed less than 100.'” Other news sources reported the story a little more cautiously, citing officials who doubted the legitimacy of the claim, but the sensationalized headlines stayed.
With “exciting” stories, it’s easy to fall into sensational journalism and get caught up in the soap opera effect of certain news pieces. This was seen with the coverage of Casey Anthony during the trial for her alleged murder of her daughter. It was called the “trial of the century” and the world tuned in to watch.
The more appropriate way to report these news pieces is to only give it the legitimate news attention that is deserves. Don’t make it the top story if the news content does not justify that position, and if you do, make the headline reflect the illegitimacy of the claim.
As journalists, our job is to filter through events and claims and present the credible, investigated ones to the public. If we stop doing that, we simply become reporters of yellow journalism.