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What is Yellow Journalism

Zini Mehta Aug 19, 2020
The term 'yellow journalism' was coined way back in the 1890s to describe the competition between two newspapers in New York. Today, many practices of yellow journalism are common. This story helps you to understand the concept of yellow journalism.
Yellow journalism is a practice that involves the use of shocking features for the purpose of getting attention and increasing circulation. Stories are presented with little or no researched news; they are either distorted and exaggerated or even invented at times.
Other techniques include sensationalism, use of scandalous eye-catching headlines and misleading images. The sole purpose of this form of journalism is business, without regards to facts and the ethics of journalism.

How it All Started

The term 'yellow journalism' was first coined, based on a battle for readership between New York newspapers, New York World and New York Journal. In 1883, Joseph Pulitzer bought the 'New York World'; he was an aggressive and intelligent editor. He fought many important crusades on behalf of the poor.
He sought to make the newspaper entertaining and included contests and games, he also started the first color comic. Within just two years of purchasing the paper he succeeded in making it the largest circulated paper in the country. However, he was accused by the critics of sensational reporting, particularly against the government.
William Randolph Hearst took over New York Journal in 1895, he wanted to beat Pulitzer and increase the circulation of his paper. For this, he adopted the same tactics of sensationalism that was used by Pulitzer. The paper was full of salacious and sensational stories. He dedicated a large space to crime stories and even included nudity in his paper.
He went to the extent of luring journalists from Pulitzer's paper by offering them extremely high salaries. He also hired Richard F. Outcault, the cartoonist behind the hugely popular cartoon series 'The Yellow Kid'. The comic that was published in the Sunday Journal. After Outcault left, Pulitzer hired George B. Luks to draw the comic.
The competition between the two rival comics garnered a lot of attention. It was because of the significance of the comic, that the over-the-top sensationalism adopted by the two papers came to be known as 'yellow journalism.'

The Spanish-American War

Pulitzer and Hearst saw the forthcoming war with Spain as the perfect opportunity to further increase their sales. It is often believed that Hearst, in particular, played a major role in America's involvement with Cuba in the Spanish-American War. Hearst was the first to send a team of reporters to Cuba to report on the events happening there.
Both newspapers published exaggerated stories of brutality of the Spanish against Cuban rebels, no sordid detail was spared. It was believed that many reporters invented stories about the supposed 'evil' Spanish regime. The anti-Spanish stories created a frenzy among the Americans.
National sentiment was roused to such an extent that President McKinley was worried that if he did not engage in war, his political party would suffer heavily. When the war began, Hearst went to Cuba himself and reported accurate accounts of the war.

Yellow Journalism Still in Practice

The competition that was triggered in newspapers for increase in readership, sadly never really ended.
Many features of yellow journalism were adopted by newspapers, tabloids and news channels to grab eyeballs and are common today, even though there is a lot of debate and opposition to misleading news stories. Readers then, had no means of verification, but today they can figure out whether a news has been exaggerated for publicity.
Today, there are many examples of reports that are exaggerated, in fact tabloids, with their scandalous crime stories and salacious reports are a form of yellow journalism. Also, many local news channels sensationalize minor stories and present them like huge events just to attract people. If you read stories carefully, you will be able to distinguish the real from the fabricated ones yourself.

Features of Yellow Journalism

  • Misleading headlines that are not relevant to the actual story
  • Excessive use of pictures and bold illustrations
  • Use of bogus interviews
  • Inaccurate articles by so-called health experts
  • Emphasis on graphics over news
  • Dramatic crime stories
  • Stories written in the wrong context
  • Reports with only one side of the story
Not all stories that are sensational are part of yellow journalism, certain stories are sensational in nature. Apart from the above mentioned features, any report that does not adhere to the ethics of journalism, may be an example of yellow journalism.

Effects of Yellow Journalism

The main purpose of journalism is to inform; people make decisions on the basis of the information that is provided to them. Hence, it is essential that news is presented as it is. When facts are altered and exaggerated, people are misguided.
They may believe something that is not true, and the sensationalism may leave a long-lasting impression on their mind. Media is often used by the government to influence public opinion in their favor by presenting stories that are biased.
Thus, the perception of people on current issues is tailored. Moreover, it also leads to people taking interest in things that have no direct significance to their lives such as the lives of celebrities.
While, it is practiced today in almost all countries, it is most common in countries that have high illiteracy. It is often argued that media gives people what they want. However, this is not true, people are forced to consume whatever they are given.
The best way for journalists to refrain from yellow journalism is by checking facts from several sources, so as to get accurate information. Journalists should adhere to the basic principles of journalism and use the power that they have in a democracy with utmost responsibility.
Media houses cannot get away with such practices for too long, with time people realize which media sources are trustworthy and which need to be taken with a pinch of salt.