Changing the narrative : how media sensationalism affects public policy and how activists can use it to their advantage

Date of Award


Publication Type

Master Thesis


Communication Studies



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


The financial interests of news media drive sensational and exaggerated narratives on social problems. These narratives are more designed to generate audiences, rather than accurately inform the populace on current issues. In turn, media consumers come to understand societal problems in an Us versus Them discourse, which creates support for coercive punitive reactions to those problems. This thesis uses the war on drugs as a case study in how these narratives develop. The research also examines how the medical marijuana movement affected the narratives on drug issues to determine how activists might alter narratives in ways more favorable to their own causes.