A new sensation? An international exploration of sensationalism and social media recommendations in online news publications

Danielle K. Kilgo, Summer Harlow, Víctor García-Perdomo, Ramón Salaverría

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


The well-known phrase ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ describes the sensational approach that has penetrated the history of news. Sensationalism is a term without complete consensus among scholars, and its meaning and implications have not been considered in a digital environment. This study analyzes 400 articles from online-native news organizations across the Americas, evaluating the sensational treatment of news categories and news values, and their associated social media interaction numbers on Facebook and Twitter. Findings suggest that ‘hard’ news topics like government affairs and science/technology were treated sensationally just as often as traditionally sensationalized categories like crime or lifestyle and society. In addition, audiences are not necessarily more likely to respond to sensational treatments. This study also finds that online-native news organizations use sensationalism differently, and there is significant variation in publications from the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1497-1516
Number of pages20
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the Digital Media Research Program of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas and Dr. Thomas J. Johnson for their support of this project. In addition, they would like to thank the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Grant Ref. CSO2015-64662-C4-1) and the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for their support for conference travel to present previous versions of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2016.


  • Audience interaction
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • news values
  • online journalism
  • sensationalism
  • social media


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