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Since the 1980s, ‘tabloidization’ has been used to describe changes in journalism perceived to represent a decline in traditional journalistic standards. The term ‘tabloid’ strictly refers only to certain newspapers’ half-broadsheet size, but it has come to define a kind of formulaic, colorful narrative distinct from standard, ‘objective’ styles of journalism, and appealing to base instincts and public demand for sensationalism. British and US tabloids emerged in the early twentieth century, written in the idioms of the people, as William Randolph Hearst declared. The tension between a perception of tabloid style as representing either the legitimate voice of the people, or as a vulgarization of public discourse, has undergirded the debate about tabloidization since.
‘Tabloidization’ is a fairly recent term developed to describe a process of journalism’s decline. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, critics bemoaned the cheapening of public discourse represented by popularization of the news, and this lament gathered momentum over the next 100 years. However, neither journalists nor critics agree precisely what tabloidization is, or whether it is invariably a negative force. Empirical attempts to demonstrate the process have been inconclusive, but the phenomenon is seen to have distinctive characteristics of style and content. Stylistically, tabloid writing avoids complex analysis in favor of short, narrative sentences with a central emphasis on the personal, and dependence on visual images.
Tabloidization of content is usually framed as trivialization, with celebrity gossip and humaninterest stories crowding out serious news. Tabloidization is primarily audience- and advertiser- driven, in an increasingly competitive news environment. News outlets have proliferated across the digital world, with non-serious ‘chatter’ dominating. Recent fears about tabloidization are now less focused on print media, and more on a general decline toward ‘tabloid culture.’ Tabloidization may mean different things depending on context, and so the term lacks a single, clear definition.
- Bird, S. E. (1992). For enquiring minds: A cultural study of supermarket tabloids. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
- Sparks, C. & Tulloch, J. (eds.) (2000). Tabloid tales. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Zelizer, B. (eds) (2009). The changing faces of journalism: Tabloidization, technology and truthiness. New York: Routledge.