I am writing an essay on why mass media coverage is always negative news. But I am having trouble connecting it to my argument that the media makes us more fearful.  How would I connect that? ...

I am writing an essay on why mass media coverage is always negative news. But I am having trouble connecting it to my argument that the media makes us more fearful.  How would I connect that? 

It seems very contradictory to say we fear the news, but it sells, and we watch. If fear sells, then why do we fear what we're watching?

By the way this is a sociology research paper. 

Expert Answers
appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This subject interests me a great deal, as I teach media studies and we often talk about news coverage. There has been a saying going around for years now with regard to news media coverage, particularly television news: "If it bleeds, it leads." This means that stories featuring violence or other causes of bodily harm (like a tornado) are often the lead stories in a nightly news broadcast.

Because news networks seek to get high ratings, to improve their standing and please their advertisers and shareholders, they're constantly weighing decisions about which stories to emphasize. By focusing on stories that generate fear (on violent crime, for example, or terrorism, or an epidemic like Ebola), the news networks are counting on the fact that viewers want to get as much information as they can to avoid being harmed by the perceived threat. News programs will often have short "teasers" featured earlier in the broadcast schedule to get viewers to tune in; by crafting these teasers to make viewers worried about potential threats, they can insure more people will tune in to watch the news broadcast.

In addition to reporting the story, many news networks also provide analysis and other information, to help viewers feel like they are making an effort to stay informed and, thereby, "safe." If a situation is still unfolding, e.g. a shooting that has an office building on lockdown, then the news producers will also try to have information on giving tips to police, finding out about traffic being rerouted, and also how to get information on people who may be injured. Having this kind of information available during the story with a "ticker" across the bottom of the screen underscores the sense of urgency.

The 24-7 news cycle makes it possible to follow national or international news on a constant basis and get updates when needed. But this means that it is also possible to watch the news non-stop, which psychologists have concluded may be unhealthy for individuals suffering from anxiety or depression disorders. Watching the news can even convince people that they're living in much more dangerous conditions than they actually are; recall the widespread paranoia about Ebola a couple of years ago, when the realistic possibility of contracting the disease for anyone in this country was extremely low.

The film NIGHTCRAWLER starring Jake Gyllenhaal explores the fear-based logic used by television news, particularly the fear of suburban crime outside Los Angeles. It follows a young man who decides he wants to film traffic accidents, shootings and other violent occurrences that take place at night so he can sell his footage to the local news network. The film provides a fascinating look inside a newsroom that is focused on bringing in more viewers using a tactic of generating fear.