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Tabloid Journalism

Page history last edited by Howie Good 15 years, 6 months ago

      Technically speaking, the term "tabloid" refers only to the half-broadsheet size of the papers. It is now almost invariably used to refer to the paper whose "stock in trade is the human-interest, graphically told story, heavy on pictures and short, pithy, highly stereotyped prose" (Bird 8).  According to Joseph Medill Patterson, who originated the idea for the tabloid in its present form, a tabloid should feature "one story, preferably related to crime, sex or heroic achievement," many catchy pictures, gossip and fictional stories in a "limited, colorful vocabulary" (Bessie 131). The audience for tabloid magazines usually includes the masses, mainly because "from the start the tabloid identified itself completely with the common people.  It concentrated upon their interests, dramatized their heroes and villains, responded with keen sensitivity to their needs and spoke their language" (Bessie 17). 


      Tabloids have flourished "in times of increased competition in the news industry as well in times of rapid social change, such as that experienced by the immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries" (Ehrlich 3). The New York Illustrated Daily News (Illustrated was shortly dropped from its name) was introduced in 1919 and immediately broke all records in newspaper circulation.  From as early on as 1924, the objective of tabloid journalism has been to entertain rather than to inform. "We intend to interest you mightily," explained Bernarr MacFadden, publisher of the New York Daily Graphic, perhaps the loudest of the tabloids of the Roaring Twenties. "We intend to dramatize and sensationalize the news and some stories that are not news... If you read it from first to last and find anything therein that does not interest you, we want you to write and tell us about it" (Bird 7). 

     Closely following the introduction of the Graphic  -- soon nicknamed by wit as the Pornographic -- was the New York Mirror,  whose circulation in March 1925 "crossed the 250,000 mark and by the summer of 1926 . . . had mounted to 370,000," a total exceeded by only the Daily News (Bessie 143).  With these two prominent publications, the awareness of tabloids swept the nation and became a popular source for news regarding crime, sex and celebrity gossip.  During the Great Depression of the thirties, tabloids provided a release from the grim outlook on life, with their comics, playful articles and sports news. 


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     The introduction of the "supermarket tabloid" started a revolution within the tabloid journalism genre in the 1960s. One of the first major transformations  was Allied's News Company's tabloid, National News Extra. The idea was to stuff Extra with "file photos, bizarre in-house columns, a few knockoffs from other papers, and cover stories concocted out of desperation, alcoholic fantasy, and whole cloth" (Sloan 12). This new layout influenced the owner of the National Enquirer, a major competitor to Allied's other magazine, the National Tattler, to change  as well. Generoso Pope, Jr., the owner of the National Enquirer, also took note of how successful Woman's Day magazine, one of the only publications sold at checkout lines, was in supermarkets and decided to  revamp his own tabloid in the late 1960s. Pope decided not to change the layout of the magazine, but the material covered in it: "At a casual glance, the 'new' Enquirer still looked pretty much like the old Enquirer.  It still had the same splashy photo layouts, blaring headlines, circus makeup, and breezy, rat-tat-tat writing.  But the different in tone and subject matter was like the difference between night and day.  Now, instead of 'MOM BOILED HER BABY AND ATE IT,' it was 'YOU CAN'T GET A DOCTOR WHEN YOU NEED ONE' and 'Outraged Public Authorities Demand... GET TOUGH WITH COLLEGE RIOTERS'" (Sloan 79). This transformation started a major revolution of "supermarket tabloids," which, "as any checkout-lane browswer knows, serve up a mixture of celebrity gossip, human-interest features, usually with a 'sensational' twist, stories about occult and psychic phenomena, UFOs and so on, and large doses of advice, self-help tips, and medical news" (Bird 8).

     Tabloidism has since extended itself to television and many magazines. These entertaining news venues are often confused with real, genuine news. The indistinguishable nature between tabloid television news and investigative news for audiences is disturbing, but understandable, as "tabloid and investigative traditions may occupy common ground; reporters in both genres may share a certain body of literary devices and lore in telling their stories," allowing confusion to take place (Ehrlich 3).  A main concern regarding tabloid television, however, is that it is usually filled with gossip and interpretations, as opposed to "hard" news.    


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Works Cited


Bessie, Simon. Jazz Journalism. New York: Russell & Russell, 1938, rev. 1966.

This book recounts the rapid rate at which tabloids swept the nation and how the picture-packed newspapers came to be.  It contains reprints of front pages of The New York Graphic, the most flamboyant of the early tabloids.


Bird, S. Elizabeth. For Enquiring Minds : A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids. New York: University of Tennessee, 1992.

This book explains monumental stepping stones throughout tabloid history with sample tabloid covers.  This book also explains the tabloid from the writer's and the reader's points of view.


Ehrlich, Matthew C. The Journalism of Outrageousness: Tabloid Television News vs. Investigative News. Columbia, SC: The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1996.

This monograph explains why and how tabloid journalism became so popular and what topics tabloids thrive on. It also exposes the real thoughts behind tabloid journalists’ approaches to their scandalous stories.


Sloan, Bill. I Watched a Wild Hog Eat My Baby! : A Colorful History of Tabloids and Their Cultural Impact. New York: Prometheus Books, 2001.

This book describes how tabloids came to be sold at supermarkets and gives a brief chronology of tabloid journalism.  It also offers a synopsis of the process tabloid writers use to develop stories.


"Newspaper Publishing -- The Modern Era." Encyclopedia Britannica. <http://www.britannica.com/ebchecked/topic/482597/publishing/28674/great-britain#ref=ref398269>. 

This website gives historical context behind the advancements of tabloid publication. The section concerning the Industrial Revolution and the period after World War II helped explain the furious growth of this type of publication.


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Comments (2)

Erica said

at 10:21 am on Nov 24, 2008

Hey jess, your article looks good too me! the quotes are a little chunky sometimes though. paraphrase some of them maybe? Also your last graf could be filled out a little more - maybe use some examples like E! News or Jon Stewart to finish it up a little stronger!

Howie Good said

at 12:12 pm on Dec 4, 2008

I cut passages that were hard to follow or that interfered with what seemed to be your main focus in that particular section.

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