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Influence of Sensational Headlines on Readers’ Choice of Newspapers in Abakaliki Metropolis: A Comparative Study of Readers of the Sun And The Leadership Newspapers


The study examined the influence of sensational headlines on readers’ choice of newspapers in Abakaliki metropolis of Ebonyi state. A comparative study of readers of the Daily Sun and The Leadership newspapers. The survey method was used. The work was anchored on the uses and gratification theory. A total of 383 copies of questionnaire were distributed to selected readers of The Sun and Leadership Newspapers in Abakaliki metropolis of Ebonyi state. The findings of the study showed that sensational headlines misinform the readers by intentionally omitting facts and information, trivial information and events are misinterpreted and exaggerated as important and significant. Also that sensational headlines only attract the readers most times, while they don’t see what attracted them inside the pages of the newspapers. The work recommends that The Sun and Leadership Newspapers as well as other newspaper should conform strictly to the ethics of journalism, because this will help to reduce the high level of sensationalism in Nigerian journalism. Editors of the Sun and Leadership newspapers houses should try to cast headlines that will tally with the stories and also carry factual information in order to build up good image for their medium. Finally, newspaper editors should avoid the use of exaggerating phrases or sentences in their headlines so as to remain in line with the ethics of journalism which seeks to uphold objectivity and in all ramifications.



1.1 Background to the Study

The origin of sensationalism is traceable to the industrial revolution in the United States in the 18th century. The revolution brought about changes in all facts of life of the American society. There was the mechanisation of production process, general development of facilities, doubling the country’s population, increase in national wealth et-cetera.

            In fact, a new society developed gradually including the growing interest in reading and the cheap delivery rate of publications, many newspapers and magazines sprang up. By 1900, there were more than 12,000 weekly newspapers and 3,500 magazines and many sprang up by the dawn of each day.    By 1830, the status began to change with the introduction of small newspaper with a light style, not stressing political issues but crime, sex, divorce, romance scandal, violent news and gossip of the day.

            These newspapers were selling more than a penny and for that, they were nicknamed the “penny press”. The earliest penny press was the New York sun film and it was established in 1833 by Benjamin H. Day. Advertisers started patronizing these penny press, although the society’s elite found them disgusting. They were distributed on sidewalks and they came with big headlines, designed to attract the attention of the readers, this was the beginning of sensational headlines.

            The history of sensationalism cannot be complete without Joseph Pulitzer an immigrant, who initially worked as a reporter before founding the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1978. Within five years, he built the paper into the city’s leading paper by giving his readers what they wanted. In 1883, Pulitzer left the post-dispatch and went to New York, city, where he bought a drying newspaper called “World”. Within four years, the paper had reached a record of 250,000 circulations and became the leader in advertising volume and the country’s most talked about newspaper.

            Based on this, Ogunsiji (1989, p.5) notes that the primary purpose of introducing yellow journalism was therefore to increase the circulation of newspapers. Pulitzer’s success lag in the fact that he had not forgotten the basic news while wooing his readers with entertainment and sensational materials.

            Another star proponent of sensationalism was William Randolph Hearst. His association with the newspaper business came from his father who published the “San Francis Examiner” for political purposes. When William became the editor of the examiner in 1887, he took lessons of sensationalism from early penny press and applied them to big city journalism. Williams Examiner began to climb in circulation and at a point, it tripled in circulation rate and profits.

            Not satisfied with his exploits at San Francisco, William came to New York to battle with Pulitzer. He use Examiner’s money to buy the New York morning Journal. He also hired most of the good newspaper talents in New York City and the result was a steady climb in the journals circulation. It was the hiring away of one of Pulitzer’s top artists, Richard. F. Outcault by William that declared a serious war between the two media, and that left an imprint on journalism till date. Richard F. Outcault had drawn a certain cartoon in Pulitzer’s newspaper, the cartoon was about life in New York’s crowded rooms which featured a child character. The kid which became extremely popular was dressed on yellow dress and as such became known as the ‘yellow kid’.

            As Bittner (1989, p.40) recounted when Richard came to Williams journals, the kid came too. The kid also stayed behind to be drawn by George Bluks of Pulitzer’s newspaper. Competition between them was physical fiscal and a new tittle was given to this era of sensational competitive journalism known as ‘yellow journalism’.

            As Emery et al (1968, p.83) pointed out, there was circulation war between Pulitzer’s world and Williams journals, and this brought the circle of sensational publications to a new height.

            In Nigeria, the Ziks era 1937-1947, ushered in banner headlines, with this chains of newspapers and also sensationalism in the Nigerian journalism.

Since then, sensationalism has remained a way of selling newspapers. Most papers in Nigerian today are characterized by large and bright headlines coupled with sensational reporting of events. This work examines how this trend influences readers’ choice of newspapers particularly, The Sun and The Leadership newspapers.

1.2 Statement of the Problem                               

Sensationalism has caused much problems in Nigerian journalism. Instead of focusing on important social issues, reporters or editors are turning to sensationalism. By hyping up the topics they discuss, they hope for more readers, but this usually comes at the cost of real objective journalism, and can even end up presenting the facts in a way that misinforms the readers. By being controversial and presenting facts in a trivial or tabloid manner, news stories become less about educating and empowering people and more about entertainment and theatre.

Sensational headlines intentionally omit facts and information. Because, when news stories are sensationalised, trivial information and events are sometimes misrepresented and exaggerated as important or significant. The public is now so used to the distorted picture. They don’t know which information is true.

Sensational headlines is deeply embedded with all the channels that the distinction between accurate and inaccurate news has completely vanished. And it corrodes the awareness level contemplate the critical issue and presented it in an immature and unrealistic way. It has also snatched interest from readers and has cause degradation of values in our society.

The major aim of this study is to take the minds of Nigerian journalists back to strict adherence to objective reporting, because it is only objective reporting that can curb sensational headlines in Nigerian journalism.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The general objective of this study is to determine the influence of sensational headlines on readers’ choice of newspapers in Abakaliki metropolis: A comparative study of readers of The Sun and The Leadership newspapers.

However, the specific objectives include:

  1. To determine whether headlines in the Sun and the Leadership newspapers are sensational.
  2. To find out whether sensational headlines are deceptive
  3. To discover whether sensational headlines influence newspaper buying habit.
  4. To provide research facts to editors of newspapers and journalists who believe that readers buy The Sun and The Leadership newspaper more because they go with sensational headlines.
  5. To ascertain the extent to which sensational headlines in the Sun and the Leadership newspapers influence their readers’ choice.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The following are the contributions of this study in terms of knowledge & benefits to the reader.

  1. It affords the reader the rare chance of studying in greater detail, the influence of sensational headlines on readers’ choice of newspaper.
  2. The study is significant because it reveals the problems and implications of sensationalism in Nigerian journalism.
  3. This research is particularly significant because not many studies have explored the influence of sensational headlines on the choice of readers in buying newspapers that go with it. In other words, most of the things people say concerning the effects of sensationalism have been by mere assumption or influence from the western world, especially in the days of yellow journalism.

The study will therefore be beneficial to: Media students, Newspaper readers, Media Educators, Newspaper Editors, and Researchers.

1.5 Research Questions

Research questions are formulated with a view to answering them through the research. The questions are basically derived from the research problems. The following are the research questions of this study.

  1. Do The Sun and The Leadership newspapers carry sensational headlines?
  2. Are the sensational headlines deceptive?
  3. Does sensational headline influence readers’ buying habit?
  4. What are the implications of sensationalism to Nigerian journalism?

1.6 Research Hypothesis

The following hypothesis were raised.

1 Ho: The Sun and The Leadership newspapers do not carry sensational headlines.

   Hi: The sun and the Leadership newspapers carry sensational headlines.

2 Ho: Sensational headlines does not influence readers’ buying habits.

   Hi: Sensational headlines influence readers’ buying habit.

3 Ho: Sensational headlines are deceptive.

   Hi: Sensational headlines are not deceptive.

1.7 Definition of Terms

  1. Influence

According to Oxford Advanced learner’s Dictionary, influence means the effect that somebody or something has on the way a person thinks or behaves or on the way that something works or develops.

Influence in the context of my study means the ability of sensational headlines to attract readers’ attention on newspapers.

  1. Sensationalism

According to Oxford Advanced Lerner’s Dictionary, sensational means trying to get one’s interest by presenting facts or events as worse or more shocking that they really are.

Sensational in the context of this study means something that is remarkable and causes great interest and excitement, such remarks are designed to arouse quick and intense public attention as well as capture attention.

  1. Headline

According to Oxford Advanced Lerner’s Dictionary, Headline means the tittle of a newspaper or article printed in large letters, especially at the top of the front page.

Headline in the context of this study is the summary of the main points in the lead and is expected to tell the readers at a glance what the story is all about and must be short, punching and attractive in order to catch the attention of readers.

  1. Reader

According to Oxford Advanced Lerner’s Dictionary, reader means a person who reads, especially one who reads a lot or in a particular way.

Readers in the context of this study refers to those who buy and read newspaper publications. In other words, they are seen as the prospective customers or audience of the print media (newspapers).

  1. Choice

According to Oxford Advanced Lerner’s Dictionary, choice means the act of choosing between two or more possibilities.

Choice in the context of this study means the right or ability of readers to choose newspapers that contain sensational headlines.

  1. Newspaper

According to oxford Advanced Lerner’s Dictionary, newspaper means a set of large printed sheets of paper containing news, articles, advertisement, et cetera, and published every day or every week.

Newspaper in the context of this study refers to a publication issued for general circulation and consumption at frequent intervals. It circulates news periodically.

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