But emotions can be like an addiction. The only way to hold a viewer’s attention is to continually ratchet up the emotional stakes. It’s not enough to connect passionately to a picture or a video clip; the audience also expects a fierce attachment to news anchors and reporters — they want to see journalists emote, which is embraced as a more reliable truth than the facts and figures being reported.
Media analysts refer to this as the “post-literate” society, where words matter less and images are our main “language,” the most effective way for humans to communicate.
In a way, we’ve been here before: Call it “pre-literate” America, at the beginnings of mass communication more than century ago. Back then, vast sections of the populace, from rural areas to immigrant-swelled cities, had at best a basic grasp of reading. In that culture, “yellow journalism” thrived. Newspapers relied on simple sentences, bold headlines and lots of big photos. The Hearst and Pulitzer chains competed for emotion-driven stories like crime sprees and sex scandals. Their papers were often aligned with a political party (Pulitzer the Democrats, Hearst the Republicans) and each accused the other of exaggeration and sensationalism — in other words, “fake news.”