Motivating news audiences: Shock them or provide them with solutions?

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Despite the well-established power of the media to shape public perceptions of social problems, compassion fatigue is believed to remain prevalent. So what does it take for someone to be compelled to act after reading a story or seeing an image of a prominent issue? This study, a 3-by-2 between subjects experiment, examined the effects of two journalistic techniques — shocking audiences into action with offensive stories or inspiring them to act with solution-based stories-in the context of sex trafficking. Results revealed that neither shock nor solutions stories led to increased empathy for trafficked individuals, greater understanding of the issue, increased desire to share the story or increased desire to act, but that readers of solutions stories felt more positive and were more likely to read similar stories about the issue. This suggests that solution-focused news stories might be at least somewhat more engaging than shocking and offensive stories.

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