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, as well as the reason why the crimes on most Crime and Punishment Series are Always Murder. 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. Has nothing to do with actual trails of blood.
- In one issue of Joker's Asylum, the Joker takes over a studio filming a game show and seemingly forces the contestants, wired up to sinister looking contraptions and facing apparently lethal electrocution if they answer the increasingly impossible questions wrong. In the control booth, the producers practically drool over the prospect of the huge ratings this will bring in and refuse to intervene to stop him. However, when one of the contestants finally gets a wrong answer, all that happens is a harmless little jolt. Much to the producers' horror, it turns out that the joke was actually on them; the Joker had wired the studio up to broadcast the audio from inside the control booth, meaning that their cynical, callous indifference to human life was broadcast to all the viewers they'd been desperately trying to keep. Who's the real monster: the criminal madman threatening hostages, the cynical producers broadcasting it just for ratings, or the people watching at home?
- Happens once in a while in Diabolik with bloody and gory events being picked up by the news with the explicit intention to get more viewers.
- 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.
- Dirty Harry and his reporter girlfriend Samantha defy this trope in The Dead Pool when he's trying to talk down a suicidal man about to set himself on fire. They very nearly succeed when she turns off her camera and refuses to give him any of the publicity he craves, but then he does the deed anyway. Harry then tries to console her by reminding her she did the right thing: "Most reporters would have gone for the exclusive."
- The Scream franchise:
- 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 the accused killer Cotton Weary was innocent. Doesn't stop her from coming off as a sleazeball, though she does get better in the sequels.
- In Scream 2, the killer (at least, one of them) planned on invoking this in order to get himself media publicity and a sensational trial.
- Scream 4'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, to the point that his men actually sink a British Naval ship, massacre its survivors, steal a nuclear weapon (to aim at China) and bring the British and Chinese to the brink of war, all for the sake of broadcasting rights and ratings; it is strongly implied that he masterminds numerous other crimes and catastrophes for the sake of his business as well solely so that his outlet can get the story first, and at one point he even organizes the murder of his own wife and makes a news story out of it. In his own words:
Elliot Carver: There's no news... like bad news.
- The Night Flier: This is the entire tactic of the tabloid magazine Inside View. The gorier and grislier the crimes they report are, the more issues it will sell. At one point the editor boasts that he hopes the mystery killer claims more victims.
- Nightcrawler is about a video journalist who sells footage of grisly crime scenes to the TV stations to air on their news broadcasts, and is willing to go to any length to get that footage. The film is a commentary on how this attitude warps people, with Nina, the news director at Channel 6, shown to be just as amoral as the Villain Protagonist Lou Bloom. It's even noted in one scene that crime rates in Los Angeles are going down, which threatens the bread-and-butter of Channel 6's news operation. This very trope is name-dropped in the movie as the actually guiding philosophy of the videojournalist profession.
- Discussed fairly heavily by Andrew in Monsters after Samantha asks him whether he's bothered by the fact that he profits from tragedy.
Andrew: Do you know how much your father's company pays for a picture of a child killed by a creature? $50,000. Do you know how much money I get paid for a picture of a happy child? Nothing. Do you know where that puts me? Photographing tragedy.
- The film #Horror has a social media version of this. Cat White, the Enfant Terrible villain, murdered her friends in cold blood in order to become internet-famous.
- The 2016 film Christine is a dramatization of the last days of TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck, the provider of the page quote who is described in more detail below. In the movie, the manager at Christine's station cites this trope word-for-word when urging his reporting staff to get him juicier stories.
- One of the villains in Shark Night invokes the popularity of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel as proof that there is a market for his Snuff Film operation, in which he feeds people to sharks.
- In Indigenous, the news chopper locates one of the survivors, Elena, but doesn't land because they're milking the exclusive footage. Unfortunately, the chupacabra catch up to Elena. The live footage is part of what breaks the masquerade.
- North Face offers a fairly stark take on it from a reporter: "You either need a glorious triumph or a horrible tragedy. An unspectacular retreat [from the mountain the main characters are trying to climb] is nothing more than a few lines on page 3." (The movie is a Kill 'em All, so he gets his horrible tragedy.)
- Purposely averted by the news station seen in Scary Movie 3. Despite the reporter Cindy Campbell urging them to cover the story of the killer videotape in which viewers are brutally murdered by a scary woman seven days after watching it, the station is only interested in covering fluff stories and stuff like breast implants. Then, once they finally become convinced of the tape's existence, they choose to play it.
- In April Showers, the news media are all over the place in the immediate aftermath of the school shooting (they show up at an area where the injured are being treated and loaded onto ambulances moments after some of the students who just escaped the school do). One reporter asks his cameraman "Did you get it?" with a smile, referring to a wounded student lying on the ground surrounded by friends.
- 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 Buttafuocos.
- 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 types of news; but since they also leave the redaction office very often, leaving Pascual alone to his means, the problem only exacerbates.
- Actually subverted in The Truth; a story about a stabbing, apparently committed by the ruler of the city at that, is ignored in favor of the latest Human-Interest Story about a parrot keepers' meeting or a humorously-shaped vegetable. Or completely untrue but not necessarily bloody stuff in the rival paper like someone being abducted by elves (though Discworld elves being what they are, that actually could be bloody) and a rain of frogs in Genua.
- Though played straight in Going Postal and Making Money; a newspaper called the Tanty Bugle (after the city's largest prison) got its popularity by reporting on murders, preferably horrible ones. Moist von Lipwig is a bit put out that his inventive but bloodless crimes only merited two paragraphs.
- Gone Girl is a deconstruction of this trope. Nick's life is destroyed when the media declares that he's responsible for his wife Amy's disappearance, even though he didn't do it. Amy was keenly exploiting this trope in order to ruin Nick's life.
- This is basically the central moral and title inspiration for Michael Crichton's State of Fear. Around the midpoint, the novel's talking head character goes on about how prior to the 80s words like epidemic and crisis never appeared in news media, but as the Cold War was winding down the government needed a new thing to control the population through a constant state of fear. Enter the media to focus on everything negative and spin it into the latest imminent threat.
- The Shipping News: At the Gammy Bird, a rinky-dink newspaper serving a rinky-dink Newfoundland town: "We run a front-page photo of a car wreck every week, whether we have a wreck or not."
- "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
Or another Vietnam
To entertain you all
- Disturbed criticizes this in its song "Legion of Monsters", about how the glorification of murderers in the news only inspires new murderers to do the same thing.
- Roger Waters' album Amused To Death is a Concept Album about how television will be the bane of humanity, and so has several songs about this.
...But that's OK, see the children bleed, it'll look great on the TV!
- The music video for Rammstein's "Ich Will" satirizes this trope by having the band portray people literally robbing a bank for media attention rather than money, and the journalists assaulting them with questions as if they were politicians or celebrities. It works so well for them that the video starts and ends on them receiving a Golden Camera award for the robbery.
- "Shoot 'Em Up" by Blue Stahli is about the media's tendency to treat mass murderers like celebrities. Bret wrote the song out of his disgust at seeing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone.
It doesn't matter if you disagree
We're makin' it hand over fist on tragedy
The revolution will be televised
But just the part that we can monetize
That's the way, that's the way
You gotta give 'em all a show
- Referenced in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Nature Trail To Hell" with a comparison to the sort of Slasher Movie parodied in the song ("...If you like the six o'clock news / Then you'll love Nature Trail To Hell...")
- Referenced by name at the beginning of Delain's The Glory and the Scum ("We all live in unforgiving precarious ways / If it bleeds it leads is all we seem to hear today")
- 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.
- Drop the Dead Donkey. Gus Hedges decides they should have a Crimewatch program, but their Crime Reconstruction of a robbery at a post office isn't dramatic enough, so Gus has a clerk being shotgunned to death in Slow Motion and an old lady getting her teeth knocked out, none of which actually happened.
- 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.
- 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.
- In San Andreas, field reporter Richard Burns complains about the lack of casualties during a news segment.
- In We Become What We Behold, a short flash Deconstruction Game that satirises social media and clickbait, you play as a media mogul who takes pictures of a crowd walking around. It starts with taking pictures of people in hats and cute couples, but then this stuff stops being "newsworthy". So you take a picture of a squarehead with a mental illness yelling at a circlehead, then distrust being sown between the two groups, then outright hostility. And then things get really nasty.
- Satirized by The Onion, along with Missing White Woman Syndrome, in "Missing Girl Probably Raped."
- Satirized somewhat more gently, along with general pop-culture obsession with the apocalypse, by CollegeHumor in "The End Of The World As We Know It (On Channel 9)"
- This trope has become a common point of criticism for tabloid YouTuber DJ Keemstar, who sees repeated accusations of actively seeking out and exploiting internet drama simply for views and revenue.
- In the Justice League episode "Wild Cards", the Joker broadcasts a threat to blow up the Vegas Strip unless the Justice League can stop him. As the drama plays out, other news broadcasters pick up the Joker's show... which feeds into his real plan to expose millions of viewers to Ace's insanity-inducing gaze.
- In the King of the Hill episode "Gone With the Windstorm", Nancy's news agency seemed more interested in broadcasting her near-death experience covering a forest fire than showing any concern for her well-being. When they find out their news van was on fire, a technician at the station was begging for the camera to show the burning van. When it is seen exploding on camera, the crew cheers.
- 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.
- The page image comes from a New York Post article and shows a man about to die after being pushed into the path of an oncoming Q train at Times Square station. Needless to say, this caused a whole shitstorm of controversy. Although the image did temporarily boost the paper's sales.
- 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.
- Many mass shooters before and after Columbine have tried to invoke this trope, going so far as to mail news stations their manifestos and personal pictures. Some even upload their writings or videos to the internet.
- 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 (the jury even apologized for his name being dragged through the mud), he found himself blacklisted from working in Hollywood. He appeared in only one film after the trial and ended up working behind the scenes under a pseudonym.
- 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. The authorities of the time executed him and tried to Unperson him, but to no appreciable effect.
- 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.
- 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).
- Show of hands - how many Tropers, when reading the Real Life section, looked up the case via Google or That Other Wiki? Whether it's genuine curiosity or Bile Fascination, this trope is Truth in Television.
- Often a violent attack or death at an event in an can have serious consequences as to whether It Bleeds and Leads. For example:
- Our American Cousin, an obscure 19th-century play that is only remembered because of the Lincoln assassination.
- While the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic gained some fanfare, it wasn't anything more significant than any other maiden voyage of a large ocean liner. The White Star Line already had a near-identical ship already in service and a third sister ship was in the works. While the Titanic was a modern marvel for her time, she would not have become as much of a cultural icon if it wasn't for the devastating wreck that claimed roughly 1,500 lives.
- John F. Kennedy's ill-fated trip to Dallas certainly would have no historical significance had he not been assassinated there.
- The 2013 Boston Marathon was supposed to be just another Boston Marathon...except that terrorist bombings exploded there.
- The Dallas police shooting was just one of many Black Lives Matter rallies.
- The 2017 Unite the Right rally did get attention because of the presence of white supremacists and several violent clashes there. It was one single action there, a white supremacist killing over a counter-protester with a car, that ultimately made the difference between a one-day-wonder and one of the biggest news stories of the year.
- ¡Alarma! was a Mexican news-magazine that specialized in very graphic pictures of traffic accidents, murder victims, as well as pictures of scantily clad women.