Modern Day Yellow Journalism

When the term “Yellow Journalism” was coined in the late 1890s, it was used to describe the signature styles and methods used by New York City newspaper giants Joseph Pulitzer (The New York Word) and William Randolph Hearst (The New York Journal). Huge, sprawling headlines covered each of their newspapers with alarming exclamations of war, crises and money rewards. Powerful words such as “death,” “slaughter,” and “glory” were used on the front page whenever possible in order to generate public interest and curiosity. Along with bold headlines, the yellow journalism of the late 1800s and early 1900s consisted of twisted facts, fake interviews, sensationalism and colorful comics. Today, the term retains most of its old meaning, but it has stretched to describe any journalism that treats news “in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.


       Today, it can be argued that an entire genre is dedicated to yellow journalism. They surround grocery store conveyor belts, catching people’s eyes with their bright colors and scandalous claims. Of course, these are tabloids. One can see similarities just by looking at the two’s bold headlines and generous use of exclamation points.

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In 2009, The Guardian reported an instance where a UK-based documentary team made up false stories about celebrities to see if tabloid journalists would fact-check such claims. The far-fetched stories included Amy Winehouse’s hair catching fire and a member of the pop group Girls Aloud announcing her enthusiasm for quantum physics. Avril Lavigne and Russell Brand were also victims of this project. The documentary’s director, Chris Atkins noted how all that was needed to be counted as a “credible” source was a name and a telephone number. He was offered up to £600 for the fake stories, which equates to about $943.

Here is a video of the documentary’s director, Chris Atkins, explaining the hoax.

“I wanted to show that celebrity journalism is nonsense and this has infected all parts of journalism. I thought that quite a fun way to illustrate this was to see if we could invent some stories ‑ utterly fabricated stories ‑ and try to sell them to the newspapers,” Atkins said.

The false stories in this hoax are just a small sample of the many falsities printed in tabloids. Just googling “tabloid lies” is enough to see just how common it is. For example, Jennifer Anniston dismissed reports of how “miserable” she is and In Touch Weekly falsely reported that Kim Kardashian couldn’t fit in her wedding dress and used a fake picture on the cover.

Although the content printed under Hearst and Pulitzer differ greatly compared to tabloids today, it’s easy for one to notice the similarities in style and motive. Both experience(d) a highly competitive market and want to gain as much readership as possible, and both use(d) exaggeration, bold claims, and lies to win.

Yellow Journalism in Other Parts of Media


Whether intentional or not, unethical and unprofessional journalism is continually created. One of the most recent cases of exaggeration and sensationalism in the media is the coverage of Ebola. Though the deadliness of the virus is undeniable, the amount of panic over it in the United States is disproportional.

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This cover gives off a very gory and ominous feel
This cover gives off a very gory and ominous vibe

Youma Seck, social economist, wrote an open letter October 30 to Western media for “inciting panic for the sake of ratings” where she noted that the media referring to Ebola-infected countries as “West Africa” gives readers a false idea of how widespread the virus actually is. “[West Africa] is a geographical area composed of 15 countries. Of those countries, three are the most affected by the virus (Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone), and Mali has only reported one case,” she said.

Seck also points out how countries in Africa that have never had a case of ebola are paying an economic price from all of the travel cancelations due to their tourism sectors taking a big hit. “As revenues from tourism depreciate, a domino effect is occurring, impacting other sectors such as the labour market, food prices, and general cost of living.”

“Furthermore, attention is being driven away from other important issues that are still in occurrence in Sub-Saharan Africa such as the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram, the continuing civil war in the Central African Republic, and the political uprising led by the civil society in Burkina Faso— that is just to name a few. Yes, Ebola is the hot topic of the last few weeks, but these and other news from the continent should not take a backseat.”


The Michael Brown case and the October 24 school shooting are recent incidents involving young men and gun violence. While many news sites were quick to point out Brown’s faults, news sites were also quick to point out the good qualities in Jaylen Fryberg, the school shooter who killed four classmates.

Huffington Post article written by Nick Wang addresses the differences in racial media coverage, highlighting headline treatments between black victims and white suspects.

“This is by no means standard media protocol, but it happens frequently, deliberately or not. News reports often headline claims from police or other officials that appear unsympathetic or dismissive of black victims. Other times, the headlines seem to suggest that black victims are to blame for their own deaths, engaging in what critics sometimes allege is a form of character assassination. When contrasted with media portrayal of white suspects and accused murderers, the differences are more striking. News outlets often choose to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions. Sometimes, they appear to go out of their way to boost the suspect’s character, carrying quotes from relatives or acquaintances that often paint even alleged murderers in a positive light.”

Notice not only the differences in the headlines, but the differences in the pictures. There are other pictures of Brown that would put him in more of a positive light, as well as other pictures of Holmes that would portray him more negatively. Why were these particular photos chosen?
Notice not only the differences in the headlines, but the differences in the pictures. There are other pictures of Brown that would put him in more of a positive light, as well as other pictures of Holmes that would portray him more negatively. Why were these particular photos chosen?

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While tabloids are obvious examples yellow journalism, topics such as ebola and the media’s coverage of race and crime require deeper analyzations in order to realize the sensational, biased, and “yellow” undertones written into stories today.

10 thoughts on “Modern Day Yellow Journalism

  1. I did think the Ebola coverage was interesting. The ability of the media to worry the general public on as minor of a threat in America as Ebola, was interesting and somewhat alarming. However, I also realize that the media coverage is done by business and, for businesses to be profitable, they have to follow and inflate these stories if other businesses of similar size and notability do likewise. Unfortunately, I think this is the way it will be unless the public as a whole reject sensationalist stories like these. It’s also interesting to think about the effect of profitability on the media’s coverage as far as race comes into play.


  2. I thought your analysis of yellow journalism was extremely interesting, particularly the part where you had talked about topics that are, currently, examples of yellow journalism in media today. One thing that I thought also would be a good example is the recent coverage of the Bill Cosby rape allegations. I think the media coverage for this particular event is extremely extensive given the fact that the alleged rapes didn’t occur recently, but rather years ago. It’s a good example of the power of media to add fuel to fires by choosing what to focus on and how much depth to focus in on it. What’s also interesting is an article I just read about Bill Cosby actually agreeing to do an interview a while back with a tabloid to try and combat the allegations; he basically acknowledged the power the tabloids have and it’s just all super interesting to me. Here’s a link to the article if you’d like to read more about it

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Something I have always wondered is how tabloids get away with outright lies. The coverage of Ebola and biased reporting of race, while it can be misleading, is still technically truthful. I’ve seen tabloids at the grocery store claiming that Michelle Obama is leaving her husband. If a more reputable source reported that, it would warrant the correction of the year. The same goes for the Amy Winehouse and Girl’s Aloud stories. Were there any consequences for having reported that false information? Funny how the less credible a publication is, the less credible it is required to be.


  4. I also found the coverage of Ebola interesting. It seems like stories like these just blow up overnight. I ran across a video on YouTube a few weeks ago that compared coverage of the “Ebola Crisis” in the US to coverage in the UK. The American media worked the public into a frenzy, while news outlets seemed much more calm and collected in the UK.


  5. I think it’s quite funny that the tabloids use a YELLOW font all over their cover page. Anyway I thought the project was well done and I’m very happy you included the ebola coverage because that was ridiculously sensational.


  6. I definitely agree with you on the sensationalism of ebola being a new-age yellow journalism. I’m also so glad that you pointed out the race biases in news stories. Too many times, young black victims will be discounted and discredited for a small misdemeanor in their past, but white shooters will be brushed aside as being “mentally unstable”, when their crimes outweigh a black victim.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really liked your article and it’s description of yellow journalism. I appreciated how you made clear that is its still extremely prevalent today, and how the medias possession of information allows them to report incidents in whatever light they choose, depending on the effect they want it to have on the people.

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  8. Not only is yellow journalism extremely prevalent in our society, the consumers are responsible for these businesses and stories. Though some of us have the sense to look up if the information given is credible, many don’t or can’t be bothered to. Readers want convenience and are easily persuaded into believing whatever is told to them. Our society wants the truth but contributes to the hype of rumors and biased stories for the sake of convenience. Do you feel like true, moral journalism is not as effective in our society as it once was because yellow journalism draws attention away from it?

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  9. I was pleasantly surprised with how you you brought up the concept of race and the media’s portrayal of how that may affect situations as was the case with the Micheal Brown Case. I’m interested to hear what your opinions are on the possible sensationalism that have arisen since the release of the Fergason Verdict.


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