Yellow Journalism and Scare Mongering

My final post is concerned with the term “yellow journalism”. It describes a type of journalism and publication which uses large headlines, big pictures and sensationalist terms to appeal to readers. The British Press has somewhat of a reputation when it comes to its obsession with tabloid newspapers, especially when an interesting and controversial story is made public. I am writing about the origins of yellow journalism and its perks and pitfalls when it comes to subject matter. Yellow journalism has also been described as an instigator in moral panics or scare mongering and I shall be providing examples as to how this type of journalism is beneficial and dangerous.

The term yellow journalism comes from style of publications produced by William Randolph Hearst in the 1980s. As a newspaper publisher, Hearst started to incorporate more articles including melodramatic themes and sensationalism to appeal to his readers and to sell more newspapers. Kenneth Whyte has described Hearst’s publications as enjoyable pieces of entertainment for a readership who wanted non-elite newspapers. These types of articles had value for the readership and Hearst soon started to put in large-fonted headlines and larger pictures to visually draw more people into buying the paper.  It seems that yellow journalism of the 1890s and 1900s was concerned with providing more readers with a  non-elitist, enjoyable newspaper. In comparison with the British Tabloid Press of today, it seems that yellow journalism is no longer a respected and innocence form of journalism.

Many tabloid newspapers have been criticised for scare mongering over the years and taking sensationalism to a new level in order to sell papers. Mark Tilley has accused the tabloids of “dumbing down” newspapers and that their articles do not provide any credible interest or supporting information.  Tilley believes that yellow journalism was once an example of reading in popular culture, but now it is a shameful journalism profession, often associated with siliceous gossip rather than “real” political or social events. I would have to agree with Tilley to an extent. It seems that, once a form of innocent entertainment for those avoiding elitist newspapers, now it appears that tabloids have the connotation of “gutter news.” During my research, I have also found that yellow journalism is commonly associated with scare mongering. The term “scare mongering” is described as the use of fear and emotion to influence the actions and opinions of people and I have researched an example to illustrate.

The murder of  toddler Jamie Bulger in 1993 caused devastation and outrage across the country. Murdered by two ten-year-old boys, Bulger’s murder trial started a media storm and it was during these court proceedings that it was claimed that the two defendants had viewed the film Child’s Play 3, a horror film classified as an 18. Even though the film was indirectly linked to the case, the British tabloids started a campaign to stop these films from making it onto the shelves of shops and video stores. The Sun ran the headline “For the sake of ALL our kids…BURN YOUR VIDEO NASTY.” The campaign was encouraging parents to limit the number of videos their children viewed and was also campaigning for the British film classification criteria to be reviewed.  It was later revealed that neither of the ten-year-old boys had viewed Child’s Play 3, it was simply found in one of their Father’s homes but the tabloid press continued to convince readers that the young boys had killed Bulger whilst imitating some graphic scenes of the film.

Sensationalism in the tabloid press is not uncommon and it appears that provocative headlines and large pictures have been a part of the press for over one hundred years. However, there is a change between the reputation of these publications. Hearst’s publications seemed to providing a new frontier in popular culture, integrating personal interest stories with opinion and sensationalism, whereas tabloid publications of today are accused of “dumbing down” news and focusing on scare mongering and moral panic. While I would agree that the articles and headlines of the tabloid publications are still printed to appeal to a particular readership, there is definitely a change in the way these publications are received.

You can’t discount any print publication because it does not fit within the standards of broadsheet newspapers, often associated with high value news and discussion, but I would argue that the level of sensationalism within the tabloids has become so high that one could argue that it is not produced for the readers any more, simply the sales. Scare mongering and moral panics have become so integrated into the tabloid press that it is simply embedded in many of their articles in order to garner a response. Whilst it is no less valid and important than regular newspapers, one must be careful when selecting tabloid publications to read, especially as the headlines become more and more provocative.

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