Seal Caught Molesting a Penguin

Seal Caught Molesting a Penguin

By: Bob Brumfield, Account Manager, Fusion PR

From time to time, the media has been accused of sensationalism. At the birth of the tabloid, penny papers were sold for a penny and the most sensational headlines drew newly literate working-class readers, resulting huge profits. These papers were all about sex and violence, and are historically seen as at least partially responsible for making some of history’s most vile and notorious criminals, as well as some of its most salacious strumpets, into the first media stars (think ‘15 minutes’ about a century or more before Andy’s bad wig).

One of the earliest stories to break down this barrier between the sacred and the profane was the Jack the Ripper case in London. Then, broadsheet papers found it to their financial detriment not to report the killer’s latest conquests. So, with much editorial huffing and puffing, the finest serious news outlets that Victorian England had to offer were forced to stoop and report on the killing spree that gripped the city. This “maturing” of news media only helped to extend its global reach, as the news really did travel fast.

Today, the news is far less stuffy, as is exemplified by this fairly serious, yet irresistibly tongue-in-cheek science article forwarded on by Fusion colleague Chris Michaels, ‘Seal caught on tape molesting a penguin.

To the delighted interest of biologists around the world, this article details what is thought to be ‘the first example seen in the wild of a sexual escapade between a mammal and a different kind of vertebrate.’

While this particular story comes from MSNBC, CNN is perhaps the most delicious offender of this kind. On any given day, one can visit the organization’s website and find links to articles such as ‘Polygamist objects to child bride’s book,’ and, ‘Beer, free stuff lead to ‘man cave.’ In fact, there was a Gawker article recently devoted to just these kinds of headlines.

A discussion on this topic has marked the beginning of the end of many a doomed relationship for me throughout the years. The talk is usually about whether this kind of sensationalism cheapens the media, or whether the media was already cheap. These kinds of cheeky headlines make sometimes dense news more accessible, while drawi ng ad dollars in a competitive media landscape, as such editorial flourishes naturally attract the eye. Being unable to take much of anything very seriously, I appreciate it very much when headline writers are purposefully silly. Most of my exes, however, have not agreed.

And I’m sure you have your thoughts on this as well, and we’d love it if you’d leave a comment below. Secondly, as PR folks, I’m pretty sure I know where you fall along this ‘sacred v. profane’ spectrum — “anything that makes the eyes go there!” – but I’d love to hear more detailed thoughts on it. I leave you with this to ponder:

Can such headline treatments hurt your client? Do you have an example? Does it depend on the client?

2 Comments
  • jordan

    May 16, 2008 at 9:17 am Reply

    Great thought. Funny, when I want to read the news I read the Journal. When I want to enjoy the news I read the Post. So there ya go. Today, I found the headline “Jason’s (Giambi) Lucky Thong” to ponder. It doesn’t get better than that.

  • Bob Geller

    May 16, 2008 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Very amusing. The unfortunate result of the quickening pace of news and more news moving online is that there is more competition for eyeballs.

    This results in the need for catchier headlines and shorter stories as opposed to real journalism.

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