Journalism Essay


Subject:  (Journalism and Society) Media and Mass communication

4000 Words not including the references

Use many Examples

30 References with texts citation in Harvard style (please mention the citation within the content also).

Deadline: 4 /05/2013

Marking criteria of the research essay:

Key                                                1= Poor; 2= Could be better; 3= Satisfactory; 4= Good; 5= Excellent.
Conceptual development x3 1 2 3 4 5
Comprehensive approach x3
Reference to practice – global and local x3
Analyzing relationship between theory and practice x3
Logical development x2
Appropriate format x1
Language skills x1
Research effort x2
Reference list x2


Topic chosen:


The proliferation of television channels leads to sensualization of TV news.


Theories covered: ( 3 theories related is enough)

–  Media Dependency Theory (Ball-Rokeach and Defluer )

– Visual culture theory Map

–  Modelling Behaviour Theory.

– The paradox of TV privatization: when more is less (public and private channels)

-A theoretical model of the production of sensational television news

–  Information processing: A visual theory for TV News.

– Towards explanations for sensationalism

– News sources often exaggerate things because it may seem more exciting to the viewer or people who are watching the news

– Cultivation Theory (George Gerbner).

Relevant examples (you can use different examples)

Iraqi and Afghanistan war.

–  How Hosni Mubarak regime impacts on the TV and media (during Egypt revolution) through the Nile satellite channels (public channels).

–   Discuss In the same way that pamphlets didn’t cause the American Revolution, social media didn’t cause the Egyptian revolution,” said Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. “Social media have become the pamphlets of the 21st century, a way that people who are frustrated with the status quo can organize themselves and coordinate protest, and in the case of Egypt, revolution.”

– BBC exaggerated climate change in David Attenborough’s Africa

–  Al Gore statement about the Himalayas “it was going to melt by the year of 2032”.

Relationship between theory and practice

-Does all this exaggeration get them more viewers?

Nielsen Ratings is a well known company for recording ratings and other data about TV shows and TV networks. CNN, the station with the most reports about exaggerating news has 100 million viewers watching it.

–  Modeling behavior theory and how it has been practiced (Arab spring revolution).

–  Cultivation Theory (How they try to annihilate the spirit of Egypt revolution).

– Advertising the human needs and entrainments and influence the audiences. (A study on the effects of vividness was done by Brosius( 1993)

– Practical comparison (between two channels – exaggerating one with neutral channel and its impact – Third person effect theory).


The proliferation of television channels leads to sensualization of TV news


The proliferation of television channels is a relatively new phenomenon that unfolding during the last two decades of the twentieth century. In this new phenomenon, the public sector started declining in status and privatization was being enthusiastically embraced throughout the world (Beller, 2006). With this privatization, many private television channels emerged. This was supposed to be a good thing for the international TV audience. However, the proliferation of these TV channels ended up having some negative effects as well.

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Some scholars argue that the increase in the number of television channels on a global scale has led to the sensualization of TV news (Uribe, 2007; Vettehen, 2005). Vettehen (2005) argues that in today’s age of competition, the sensualization of TV news has become inevitable. Vettehen demonstrates this by giving the example of competition in the Dutch television news sector. According to Vettehen (2005), this sensualization is evident upon an in-depth analysis of various indicators, including news packaging, concreteness, proximity, and nature of content. According to Uribe (2007), a sensational news story is one that is dramatic and therefore has an emotion-arousing imperative.

On the overall, a trend has emerged where many television channels increasingly rely on sensational production to increase their popularity among viewers. It is imperative that a relationship between theory and practice is sought in a discussion of this trend. Many researchers have made significant contributions in this regard. For example, Ball-Rokeach (1990) argues that the media dependency theory is of great relevance in creating frameworks for joining process of mass media and public opinion. This theory is of great relevance for the present subject because it touches on issues of how mass media influences public opinion.

The objective of this paper is to discuss the extent to which the proliferation of television channels has led to the sensualization of TV news. The thesis of this paper is that the proliferation has indeed created a scenario of sensualization of TV news. The paper expounds on the relationship between theory and practice with the aim of demonstrating the various ways in which TV news has become sensualized with the advent of increased competition among private television channels. To achieve this goal, the paper provides examples of television news items from different parts of the world in which things were exaggerated to make them more exciting to viewers.

Theoretical framework

Various theories can be relied upon in creating a better understanding the contemporary phenomenon of sensualization of TV news. More importantly, these theories can shed light on whether this sensualization has been triggered by a rapid increase in the number of TV channels following privatization efforts during the last three decades. Some of the dominant theories in this regard include media dependency theory, visual culture theory, modeling behavior theory, the theory of information processing, and cultivation theory.

Media dependency theory

The media dependency theory leans towards the social analysis tradition with focus being on how the mass media influences public opinion. According to this theory, considerable variation exists regarding the extent to which people are dependent upon the media as well as the type of media that are of the greatest influence (Grant & Guthrie, 1991). This theory was proposed by Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur (1976) with the aim of making significant contributions to the communications discipline.

The media dependency theory integrates several critical perspectives (Ball-Rokeach, 1998). First, elements from social categories and psychology are widely referred to in various arguments. Secondly, causal approaches are relied upon in creating a better understanding of the influence of media on individuals. Thirdly, and most importantly, the theory borrows heavily from gratifications research as well as research on various uses of media within the realm of media effects traditions. However, in this aspect, the theory focuses primarily on the rationale for the phenomenon of limited media effects. The final component of this theory is the inclusion of the contextualist philosophy, which addresses traditional concerns regarding the content of message communicated through media and their effect on various audiences.

Before any analysis of assumptions is made, it is important to note that the research generated on the basis of this model tends to be descriptive as opposed to being predictive. One of the propositions made in this theory is that an integral relationship exists among media, audiences, and the contemporary social system. On this basis, people are assumed to depend on the information provided by the media to meet their needs as well as achieve certain goals., just like in the case of the uses-and-gratifications theory. However, all people do not depend on the media in the same way and to the same extent.

According to the media dependency theory, individuals become more dependent on media that are able to meet most of their needs (Cottle, 2006). Similarly, individuals become less dependent on those media outlets that enable them to meet only a few of his needs. In this theory, dependency is also anchored on social stability (Cottle, 2006). Persistent social conflicts tend to challenge established beliefs, institutions, and practices. This compels people to reevaluate their choices and in some cases to make new ones. In times of such high degree of social conflict, people tend to depend more on the media for news and information. When social stability resumes, people may stop relying too much on the media.

The media dependency theory proposes that one’s needs may be personal or they may be shaped by cultural and social considerations. This essentially means that people’s motives, needs and uses of media are greatly influenced by outside factors that are beyond their control. These external factors constrain the uses of the media. They also influence the extent to which non-media alternatives become available. Moreover, individuals who have more alternatives for gratifying their needs become less dependent on a single medium. This assumption is of utmost relevance in the present paper because it contributes to the understanding of the influence of proliferation of television channels. It implies that the increase in the number of television channels provides viewers with many alternative avenues through which their need for TV news can be gratified. Whether or not this leads to sensualization of TV news is a different matter. Even more important is the fact that the issue of functional alternatives is influenced not just by psychological traits or individual choice but also by the availability of certain media.

In efforts to put the media dependency theory in practice, Grant & Guthrie (1991) focuses on an analysis of television shopping. Grant & Guthrie (1991) the process of television shopping transforms structural relationships in the media system. To understand this transformation, Grant & Guthrie (1991) suggests that aspects of dependency relations should be analyzed in a hierarchical manner. This implies that television dependency is likely to lead to dependency upon specific genders of television programming. This may ultimately lead to the emergence of ‘parasocial’ relationships with hosts of specific television programs (Grant & Guthrie, 1991). The results of this study indicate that genre dependency greatly influences patterns of relationships (Grant & Guthrie, 1991).

Information processing theory

In information processing theory, focus is on the ability by individuals to scan their environment and structure stimuli. Proponents of this theory argue that humans need to have an ability to scan their environment on a routine basis in order to take in, identify, and structure the most relevant stimuli while at the same time screen out irrelevant stimuli (Robinson & Davis, 1990). The theory also calls for the ability by individuals to structure all relevant stimuli and hold these structures in memory for long enough to ensure that the most useful ones are put in the appropriate category (Robinson & Davis, 1990). These stimuli are then stored in the long-term memory for future reference.

According to Robinson & Davis (1990), cognitive psychologists attest to the fact that this process is not as simple as it seems. It requires individuals to possess information screening skills in many stages. The information process theory is widely used in mass communication especially in the analysis of how individuals process television news. The theory is used for guiding and interpreting research on how television news broadcasts are decoded and interpreted by various audiences (Calder, 1980). There is abundant literature on the relevance of the information processing theory in creating a better understanding of trends in television news. One of the issues addressed in this regard is the tendency by some television channels to sensualize TV news.

In most instances, television is viewed as an easy medium that enables people to understand events and become eyewitnesses during crucial events (Tybout, 1981). However, from the point of view of the information processing theory, television is an extremely difficult medium to understand and use (Robinson & Davis, 1990). This is largely because in many cases, information is presented on TV in such a way that learning is inhibited instead of being facilitated. Sometimes, the problem has to do with the membership of the audience. For many people, television is primarily a medium of entertainment. To make sense of content intended for entertainment purposes, these people develop disinformation processing strategies and skills whenever they sit back to watch television. Unfortunately, these skills and strategies interfere with the effective interpretation of information.

People approach news in a passive manner and rely too much on schemas that are routinely activated (Lang, 1995). They fail to rely on highly structured sets of patterns or categories (Lang, 1995). They also fail to rely on interrelated conceptual categories (Lang, 1995). These people fail to realize that more accurate meanings would have been achieved through reference to interrelated conceptual categories. In simple terms, most people rarely bother about the task of processing of news content in a deep, reflective manner, meaning that most of it is promptly forgotten. This may explain why many television stations of today resort to broadcasting sensual TV news in efforts to attract the attention of the passive audience. Moreover, they operate in a highly competitive environment characterized by the emergence of many private television channels.

The information processing theory also posits that even when we make conscious efforts to learn some things from news, we tend to lack the schemas for use as a basis for making in-depth interpretations of news content (James, 1974). These schemas also provide an excellent basis for storing these interpretations in the long-term memory. Proponents of this theory also heap some of the blame on news broadcasters  (Grabe, 2000). They hold the view that it is difficult to make sense of the average newscast simply because it tends to have a bias against understanding  (Grabe, 2000). This bias is evident in the fact that the typical broadcaster attempts to squeeze too much information in one story. Similarly, there is a tendency for too many stories to be condensed in order to fit in the small time-frame allocated for the newscast (Grabe, 2000).

The visual culture theory

Discourse on the visual culture theory is normally based on visual studies. McCarthy (2001) points out that unlike the information process theory, the visual culture theory is yet to be conceptualized as a single strand of thought. In contemporary context, it exists as a framework for understanding the relevance of visual aspects of mass communication. In this realm, scholars focus on patterns and informal input in efforts to map the theory formation process by reconciling different strands of visual studies. Visual interest groups have greatly contributed to the development of the visual culture theory by publishing reports on various institutional developments (Altheide, 1987).

According to Barnhurst & Vari (2004), the debate on the best ways through which visual studies can be mapped into communication is ongoing. Barnhurst & Vari (2004) concurs with McCarthy (2001) that different current exist as far as the conceptualization of this theory is concerned. In these efforts, one of the areas where consensus has already been achieved is that of the sense of collectivity that is normally achieved by people who watch television together. This collectivity is normally demonstrated in restaurants, at home, in pubs, at the workplace, and even in institutions of learning.

From this perspective, the television is considered a single visual structure that binds people in space (McCarthy, 2001). In this context, some scholars in the realm of visual studies have attempted to categorize people depending on the locations where they watch television. This categorization based on the premise that television is a highly valued undertaking such that if one misses out on his favorite program, he is likely to look for an appropriate location away from home to watch it. However, things are changing in today’s information age since an increasingly large number of people are increasingly crossing over from reliance on the television to reliance on the internet for news. Moreover, some television contain the option of live streaming of programs, meaning that an individual may be able to watch his or her favorite television program on a portable device such as a laptop while on the go.

However, Jenks (2003) presents a rather pessimistic perspective as far as discourse on the visual culture theory is concerned. In his view, all attempts to develop a social  theory of visual culture are beset by paradox (Jenks, 2003). In the West, sight is considered a source of access to the individual’s external world (Avant, 2005). However, beyond this, visual ability seems conflated with cognition in complex ways. For this reason, it becomes unclear whether vision should be regarded as wholly autonomous or whether it should embedded upon contingent interpretation (Jenks, 2003).

Modeling Behavior Theory

In this theory, behavior is said to be modeled in a specific way through the demonstration of the desired behavior. In the context of television news, focus is on an in-depth analysis of patterns of choice as far as television programs are concerned (Webster, 1983). In this theory, attempts are normally made to analyze the systematic relationship between program content and program choice (Shrum, 1995). However, disagreements tend to emerge, with some scholars insisting that choice of program is influenced by scheduling factors rather than content.

The gist of argument in this theory is that people engage in learning not only by doing but also by watching what others are doing. In the context of the behavior modeling perspective, it is assumed that viewers can be influenced to undertake the television-watching experience in a certain way. However, this theoretical approach has a downside: individuals may be exposed to prejudiced ways of making sense of television broadcasts.

The paradox of TV privatization: When more is less (public and private channels)

The paradox of TV privatization has continued to occur for the simple reason that the process of privatization in the audiovisual sector ended up triggered unintended consequences (Feigenbaum, 2009). With the recent increase in the number of private television channels, the advertising market has become segmented. This has created incentives for cheap American programming to be imported by various countries around the world. Although the demand for such programming tends to be high, this occurs against the backdrop of the desire by local viewers to see their own cultures being portrayed on TV.

Therefore, the paradox emerges because of the fact that from a cultural perspective, it has triggered a phenomenon of less consumer choice instead of more choice. In this situation, cultural identities are lost. Moreover, local politics are transformed in such a way that people’s perceptions are influenced by political procedures and practices derived from the American society.

The proliferation of television channels has occurred largely because the role of the state has been reduced. The process of fragmentation of the television market has been accelerated by the emergence of delivery technologies in the form of cable, satellite, and internet platform. In this crowded newscast environment, competition has increased, triggering a wave of sensualization of  TV news.


A theoretical model of the production of sensational television news

In deriving a theoretical model of the production of sensational television news, it is imperative for focus to be on the highly competitive environment in which today’s television channels have to operate. Papathanassopoulos (1999) gives the example of Greece, where commercialization of the media has influenced many journalists to adopt a sensual approach to preparation of newscasts. In this new structure, competition is high and many journalists are tempted to go against the values of professional journalism by exaggerating news reporting.

Vettehen (2005) gives the example of Dutch television news programs in efforts to understand the causes of sensationalism of news. Vettehen (2005) observed that aspects of sensationalism were observed in Dutch television news programs between 1995 and 2001. The main aspects affected by this trend included basic needs content, proximity, and concreteness. Many television channels tended to be inclined towards broadcasting more sensational stories, perhaps to attract a wider audience.

In the UK, TV channels also have a tendency to prioritize on stories that trigger emotions among viewers. The channels tend to focus on those elements of content that are highly likely to trigger more emotional responses (Uribe, 2007). In this regard, focus is on those news stories that are traditionally considered ‘sensational’. Conventionally, these stories contain more emotion-arousing features than other categories of news stories. The main problem is that different people have different perceptions of what constitutes a sensational story. Some people consider crime to be a sensational topic while others think that there is nothing sensational about crime-related news (Romer, 2003). In this regard, the information processing theory may be relied upon in providing guidelines on what should be considered a sensational story. On the basis of this theory, a story may be sensational or not depending on the level of interpretation to which it is subjected by the viewer.

Information processing: A visual theory for TV News

It is common for news sources to exaggerate a news item simply to make it more exciting to viewers. The concept of information processing may be regarded as a visual theory for TV news simply because of the way it sheds light on ways through which people make sense of news stories. In this regard, emphasis is on the fact that the things that one learns from a news item depends on the efforts he or she makes towards it interpretation. The television is primarily a form of entertainment and this necessitates distortion of facts for fun. A person who chooses to watch news for entertainment purposes may derive meanings that are different from those of the individual whose intention is strictly to get crucial information.

On the basis of the information processing theory, it is extremely difficult for consensus to be reached on what constitutes sensational TV news (Hughes, 1980). It is on this basis that the cultivation theory has been proposed as a way of promoting mutual understanding regarding the notion of sensationalism in television newscasts (Gerbner, 2001; Gerbner, 2002; Shanahan, 1999). According to Gerbner (2001), when one lives with television for a long time, it becomes increasingly invisible. With time, the individual starts to view the television as just an appliance, a source of stories, and a core component of family life. In such a situation, many news stories will be broadcast without attracting the interest of the family members.

However, situations arise when a unique story suddenly attracts the attention of everyone at home. Gerbner (2001) argues that such a story may be regarded as sensational. However, Gerbner (2001) fails to appreciate the fact that the story may have attracted the family members’ attention for the simple reason that it is of special relevance to them. Nevertheless, what remains true is that the change in level of attention greatly influences information processing among the family members. From an international perspective, the same form of reasoning is being used to increase the level attention during television newscasts. One of the ways of increasing this attention, heightening the level of information process, and drawing a larger audience is through sensualization of TV news.

Examples of sensualization of TV news

There are many examples where television channels portrayed elements of sensualization of news. One of these examples is that of during the war in Iraq. In March 2006, violence erupted between various religious factions in Iraq after the bombing of a Shiite shrine (, 2006). Following this bombing, foreign TV reports exaggerated the number of deaths, thereby threatening to worsen the situation in the country. The number of attacks on various mosques in Iraq was lower than the one reported by foreign television channels. The US military confirmed that only 30 mosques had been attacked leading to the death of 350 civilians (, 2006). However, CNN reported that the number of mosques attacked exceeded 100, and that at least 500 civilians had died during those attacks (, 2006).

Another example is that of the Egypt Revolution. During this revolution the social media was the primary method of creating awareness, inspiring protestors, and organizing protests. Many television stations made frequent references to reports being communicated through social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. In essence, these stations were facing stiff competition from social media as sources of news relating to the revolution.

According to Sascha Meinrath, the director of the Open Technology Initiative under the auspices of the New America Foundation, the social media was used during the Egyptian Revolution in the same way that pamphlets were used during the American Revolution (Gustin, 2011). Through the social media, Egyptians who were frustrated with the country’s status quo organized themselves and coordinated protests that culminated in the revolution. This example demonstrates the rapidly changing environment in which TV news are relayed to the world. In today’s globalized world, people no longer have to rely on television. In efforts to retain relevance, television broadcasters are left with no alternative but to sensualize news.

Another example of TV news sensualization is that of a BBC documentary in which David Attenborough provided exaggerated information regarding climate change in Africa. Attenborough falsely reported in the BBC One’s documentary on Africa that over the past 20 years, parts of the continent have warmed by up to 3.5 degrees Celsius (, 2013). The report from which Attenborough had obtained the figure of 3.5 degrees Celsius clearly indicated that it represented ‘maximum temperatures’. However, Attenborough misinterpreted the meaning and took the figure to mean ‘average temperatures’. By making such an alarming, inaccurate statement regarding climate change on a prime-time TV program, Attenborough participated in the contemporary trend of sensualization of TV news with the aim of attracting more viewers.

Relationship between theory and practice

One of the most important questions is on whether this exaggeration gets TV news broadcasters more viewers. Many indications are that sensualization of news on television leads to an increase in the number of viewers. According to Nielsen Ratings, CNN, an international television media outlet, is the channel with the highest number of reports about exaggeration of news (Anish, 2013). Yet the station has some 100 million viewers regularly watching it around the world (Anish, 2013).

During the Arab Spring Revolution, there was evidence of applicability of the modeling behavior theory. This theory was seen to have been put in practice when the ‘required behavior’ was produced, culminating in the Egypt Revolution. The leaders of the revolution worked towards ensuring that there was correspondence between the behavior that they triggered on social media and what actually happened on the streets of Cairo. In other words, the anger and bitterness that was expressed on social media ended up being replicated on streets across the country in the form of protests. The social media was used as a platform for modeling the sort of behavior that ultimately triggered the revolution. On the other hand, the applicability of the cultivation theory is evident in the way in which the pro-establishment forces attempted to annihilate the spirit of the Egypt Revolution.


In summary, the sensualization of TV news is a recent phenomenon that has been occasioned by the proliferation of television channels. During the last three decades, the emergence of network, cable, and internet platforms accompanied by the privatization trend have opened up television broadcasting market. Although this turn of events has brought about many positive effects, it has also triggered a wave of unintended outcomes. One of these outcomes is the sensualization of TV news.

Different theories explain this phenomenon of sensualization from different perspectives. The theories that this paper analyzed include mass dependency theory, visual culture theory, modeling behavior theory, information processing theory, and cultivation theory. These theories greatly contribute to the contemporary understanding of the paradox of TV privatization. The main reason for exaggerating things is to make them more exciting and increasing the number of people watching news on specific television channels. For many TV channels, these efforts have succeeded. For example, CNN, one of the international television channels with the highest number of reports about exaggeration of news, has millions of regular viewers around the world.


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