‘If it bleeds it leads’


‘If it bleeds it leads’ is a common expression in the media world, meaning negative, sensational stories tend to receive more attention than positive stories.

In this lesson we will see how the media use sensational language to inform the public. We will look at headlines from different newspapers about the same story: a terrorist plan to attack several major European cities. You will rate the headlines on a scale of 1 to 5, comparing your ratings to those of other Subject Site users.

You can do a similar exercise with other headlines, using various daily papers from around the Anglophone world. As you read these headlines ask yourself the following questions that relate to sensationalism:

  • What are the connotations of the words used?
  • How does the choice of words point toward negativity?
  • How does the use of language point toward extremes?


Rate for sensationalism

The following headlines were taken from various newspapers on 29 September 2010. They are all related to the same story. Rate each of them on a scale from 1 to 5: 1 = not sensational; 5 = very sensational. Please contribute to these polls by rating them as well.

Discuss the differences in your ratings of the headlines. Why do you feel your opinion is different than your classmates’? How are some headlines more sensational than others? Try to identify the use of vocabulary that is sensational.





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