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If It Bleeds, It Leads

A basic fact in the news media is that, if a story involves a brutal death or injury of some kind (or the likelihood of it), it is likely to get higher ratings. The more lurid the story, the better its chances of being the ratings leader. Natural disasters, bank robberies, shootouts, rapes, serial killers, Gang Bangers, school violence and animal maulings all draw an army of news vans the same way that a limping gazelle draws a pride of lions, except the gazelle is already dead and the lions are broadcasting images of its dead body to thousands, if not millions. By doing so, the news media is following a decades-old mantra: "if it bleeds, it leads!"

This mantra is deeply ingrained in journalistic norms. Newsworthiness is determined by several factors, and death/destruction fulfills many of them a lot better than news about society working its wonders another day. Also, because getting information on them is easy (through the police or government agencies via press releases) and since they take place on public streets where permits or business permission are never required to film near, they are generally rather cheap to cover. They also tend to provide flashy visuals. As a result of all this, Accentuate the Negative tends to be in full effect at many news desks. Just look at your average day's worth of coverage from CNN, Fox News or your nightly News Broadcast and count the number of stories (or rather, the amount of coverage) given to good news rather than disaster and criticism.

Some have suggested that coverage like this, focusing on negative stories of war, death, and destruction rather than the positive things that are happening in society, is responsible for making people cynical about the world around them. People who watch the news start to feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and give up on the idea that society's problems can be fixed. In addition, when the media obsess over violent crimes, deeper problems with society (such as cities running out of money) go ignored, leaving the public uninformed.

Another, even darker effect of the news media's obsession with violence and the one that is often emphasized in fiction is the kind of message it sends out to impressionable viewers. By glorifying the actions of violent criminals, the media tell viewers, "Hey, if you go out and fire a machine gun into a crowd of little children, you too can make the national news!" Critics of this type of reporting often point out that it's hypocritical for the news media to accuse violent movies, music and video games of making people violent when they're indulging in far more grisly and true-to-life stuff every night at 11 stuff that is being plastered over countless TV screens, implicitly turning the perpetrators into celebrities. Additionally, it provides terrorists and other assorted nutjobs a very convenient stage from which to spread fear and their political agendas by way of violence.

The entire reason why Missing White Woman Syndrome exists. Compare You Can Panic Now, Could This Happen to You?. Contrast Human Interest Story. When used in fiction, it's often a sign that the news outlet indulging in it is a Strawman News Media.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fanfic 

    Film 
  • Natural Born Killers is a ruthless satire of this trope, focusing on a pair of Bonnie and Clyde-esque spree killers who engage in their crimes in order to get media attention.
  • In S.F.W., the media's obsession with the lurid events of a hostage crisis at a convenience store turns the hostages into unwitting celebrities.
  • In Scream (1996), this trope is personified with Gale Weathers, a tabloid reporter who cashed in on the murder of Sidney's mother by writing a bestselling book detailing her alternative theory of the case. In a subversion, it turns out that she was right, and that Cotton Weary was innocent. Doesn't stop her from coming off as a sleazeball, though she does get better in the sequels.
    • In the second film, the killer (at least, one of them) planned on invoking this in order to get himself media publicity and a sensational trial.
    • The fourth film's killer had a similar motivation. Jill would kill a bunch of people, then pin the murders on someone else and become the Final Girl in her own real-life slasher flick, riding it to book deals and TV appearances much like her older cousin Sidney had done.
  • The mockumentary Medium Cool is about this.
  • In Network, Howard Beale's suicide threat causes ratings on his news show to jump, teaching his network this lesson. It leads to shows like The Mao Tse-Tung Hour, following a group of leftist revolutionaries based on the Symbionese Liberation Army.
  • In Rob Zombie's Halloween II (2009), Dr. Loomis has become like this, writing a best-selling book about the killings from the first film while making a killing himself.
  • Invoked by name by Kelsey Grammer's character in 15 Minutes.
  • This is definitely the belief of Elliot Carver, the media mogul villain of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. In his own words:
    Elliot Carver: There's no news...Like Bad news.

    Literature 
  • America (The Book) gives a huge Take That to the news media for indulging in this, pointing out how they were busy covering the Kobe Bryant rape case while America was getting ready to invade Iraq.
    • The same chapter gives a ratings scale for various scandals, rating it in Buttafuoco'.
  • In Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Pascual, one of the news redactors in the radio station where the protagonist works, has a natural liking to this kind of news, and when left alone he fills all the time slot with the most lurid tales he can find. It wouldn't be so bad if he worked in a more low brow station, but since he works in a "classy" one he is reprimanded for this habit very often. Usually his coworkers temper it by reminding him that they have to include other type of news; but since they also leave the redaction office very often, leaving Pascual alone to his means, the problem only exacerbates.

    Music 
  • "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley is a biting take on this, and still relevant (although undercut somewhat by the events that inspired it — Henley's 1980 arrest on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and drug possession).
    • Can we film the operation? Is the head dead yet?
  • Tool calls out the media and their audiences for this in "Vicarious."
    I need to watch things die from a good, safe distance
    Vicariously I live while the whole world dies
    You all feel the same, so
    Why can't we just admit it?
  • A lot of Marilyn Manson's earlier material is based around this trope. It goes all the way to the band's name, taken from media icons Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson; the stage names of the individual members were each composed of the first name of a popular actress or female figure and the last name of a Serial Killer.note 
  • Live On T.V. by Canadian band The Box is entirely about this.
    One must see all the truth on T.V.
    Some hotel burning
    Airliner crash
    Or another Vietnam
    To entertain you all

    Live Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Forell uses a variation of this trope with Delenn.
  • Diagnosis: Murder: Murder x 4: Steve tells the assassin, who is terminally ill, that his death by a SWAT sniper will be broadcast on live television by 8 news reporters.
  • Discussed by Charlie Brooker on Newswipe.
  • Reality TV show Next Action Star followed this trope in the first episode. At the end of the sequence where the terrorists attack the journalist and cameraman, the journalist "cut" herself. The cameraman's script was to say "If it bleeds, it leads".
  • Invoked in The Wire by detectives Freamon and McNulty as part of their fake serial killer scheme; they know that the more lurid the story is, the more coverage it will get. The trope is later discussed and namechecked by news editor Gus Haynes when the case draws the attention away from the indictment of a prominent politician.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied somewhat Anviliciously in a Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin's father is watching TV proclaiming upcoming coverage of a serial killing, and why a bushfire conflict half a world away should have the average Joe Schmoe "paralyzed by helpless fear". He ends up reading the paper instead.

    Theatre 
  • In Street Scene, Kaplan complains that the newspapers cover "notting but deevorce, skendal, and moiders." When Mrs. Maurrant and Sankey are murdered, a tabloid printed the same day depicts their last moments in a lurid "composograph" picture.
  • In Menotti's opera The Saint of Bleecker Street, Maria Corona, commenting on the melodramatic murder reporting of the Italian papers, jokes that she'd have to kill someone to get her picture in the papers.
  • In The Adding Machine, Zero, in internal monologue, repeats headlines about Death by Woman Scorned, while Daisy, contemplating suicide, repeats headlines about female suicides.
  • In Leave It to Me!, Thomas points to the front page of his paper, which has stories about war, murder, kidnapping, corruption, to show a would-be agitator what he has to do to get his name in there.

    Video Games 
  • In the video game adaptation of World's Wildest Police Videos, one mission has you trying to not only catch a crook, but also evade a persistent news van that's trying to get footage of the stakeout.
  • During the "Hot Fuzz" side missions in Saints Row 2, the cameraman tagging along with you will occasionally quote this trope while you're driving.
  • Parodied multiple times in the Grand Theft Auto series.
    • In San Andreas, field reporter Richard Burns complains about the lack of casualties during a news segment.
      "Officials say there are still no reported casualties, which is truly unfortunate, as it makes for incredibly boring news."
    • Also in San Andreas, the ad bumper for one of the news reports announces "Prepare to be scared. The news is next." Really, all of the fake news programming in all of the GTA games is built around this trope.
    • In Liberty City Stories, Ned Burner has Toni commit quite a few atrocities, including the murder of three celebrities and causing tons of damage and casualties with a fire truck, just so he can get good stories to cover.

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • The page quote comes from Christine Chubbuck, a chronically depressed anchorwoman on WXLT (now WWSB) in Sarasota, Florida who was upset about how the station manager had told the staff to focus on "blood and guts" in their reporting. It was one of the many factors that caused her to kill herself during a live broadcast.
  • This is pretty much the entire business model of HLN post-Network Decay, as evidenced by the popularity of shows like Nancy Grace and Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell.
  • At least part of the alleged motive of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold was to get immortalized by the media for their crimes. It worked well enough that it got them an entire page on this very wiki.
  • Robert A. Hawkins, the man who shot up the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, said in his suicide note that he wanted to "[go] out in style", leading many to believe that his main intention was to take advantage of this trope and get himself immortalized like the Columbine gunmen.
  • This trope wound up destroying the career of silent film star Fatty Arbuckle. When a woman died at a party he was holding, the media jumped onto exaggerated reports that he had raped and killed her (some went so far to say that she had been crushed to death while having sex with him; his nickname "Fatty" was not accidental). Even after he was declared innocent, he found himself blacklisted from working in Hollywood.
  • Usually true in large cities, to the point where some stations specifically try to avoid this and only show positive news in order to distinguish themselves from the competition. An example in Atlanta is the news channel 11 Alive (branding of NBC affiliate WXIA), which has revamped its image to only show positive news stories.
  • Older Than Feudalism example: In an explicit invocation of this trope, one Herostratus set on fire the famous temple of Artemis in an Ionian city of Ephesus, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the world for its beauty and riches, exactly for that reason.
  • This occurs quite a bit in Brazil. There are at least three Separate, But Identical news programs on different stations exclusively about crimes/murders/road-accidents, competing for the same time slot at lunchtime.
  • The "Summer of the Shark" in 2001 is often cited whenever this trope is brought up. During the summer of 2001, the media became focused on shark attacks, reporting what it saw as an "epidemic" of such instances. In reality, there were fewer shark attacks that year than there were the year before, or in 1995 — it's just that those two years had, respectively, a Presidential election and the OJ Simpson trial to capture the media's attention.
  • Show of hands - how many Tropers, when reading the Real Life section, looked up the case via Google or That Other Wiki?
  • French Canadian daily newspaper Le Journal de Montreal has never shied away from having its headlines based on the catchy French alliteration "Sexe, Sang et Sport" (sex, blood and sports).
    • The format failed miserably in the City of Brotherly Love, where The Philadelphia Journal folded after four years, having lost $14 million ($35.3 million in 2013 dollars).

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