Have you heard that pop superstar Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce are dating?
We’d wager most people’s answer to that is “yes.”
The American public is so attuned to Swift that whether she’s weighing in on politics, making spectacles of her relationships or simply existing, nearly her every move is monumental.
But a recent romance has seemingly taken the world by storm. Stans, bloggers and journalists alike have taken notice of the couple — in large part because the Swift brand revolves around her personal life.
After only a few rumors from post-game interviews and sightings of Swift at a Chiefs game, many media outlets, much of social media and the general public seem to be taking part in the discussion of this celebrity couple.
How can another conversation topic possibly compete with the power duo of one of the biggest names in the music industry and one of the biggest names in the NFL?
A media frenzy, propelled by the smitten stars themselves, ensued shortly after news of their relationship came to surface. Fox News and the Associated Press join the slew of TikToks and tabloids covering the pair.
Taylor Swift is not just a famed country star turned pop singer. She’s a sensational gold mine.
Swift is aware of the phenomenon that follows her. She told Vogue in 2019, “When I make a mistake, it echoes through the canyons of the world. It’s clickbait, and it’s a part of my life story, and it’s a part of my career arc.”
With this in mind, it’s fair to assume that nothing she does occurs without some level of calculation. In the past, as in a seven-year-long relationship with actor Joe Alwyn, she kept the details private.
But the prowess of both Swift and Kelce is being wrapped up in a whirlwind of sensationalist media.
Sensationalism is a media tactic that selects coverage based on what will excite the largest audience.
Niel Postman, a renowned media critic, suggests the descent of news and information into irrelevance and entertainment may have implications for our notion of truth. He argues that journalism and news becomes less about informing the public and more about entertaining the public.
He writes in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” that “…we are presented not only with fragmented news but news without context, without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news as pure entertainment.”
As new media arises, including the likes of constant streamers, Snapchat-only outlets and vertical-video commentators, the competition for audience engagement becomes more severe and the guidelines of journalism are blurred.
So another thing begs to be considered: what will generate the most buzz?
Sensationalism can diminish or neglect core news values. Since when does a rumored relationship suffice as the foundation of a news story? Above all else, news must be truthful, objective and accurate. Celebrity gossip hardly upholds these requirements.
There’s nothing wrong with entertainment media when it is accurate and ethical. There’s certainly an audience and a space for it.
But sensationalism can push exciting stories to the front of the agenda at the expense of accuracy and objectivity — and even bigger, more hard-hitting stories.
Perhaps the average person doesn’t actually care about Taylor Swift or who she’s dating. It’s possible that her army of Swifties are so vocal online and so willing to read any story about her life that it skews things to make it seem like everyone cares.
The premeditated and calculated approach of sensationalism can bring particular topics — like Swift and Kelce’s romance — to the forefront of conversations and push all other issues to the side. And that’s dangerous.