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The Sensation of Tabloids

So, I was looking at different tabloids and I stumbled across this forum post:

Not the best of websites, but I was intrigued by the idea. I LOVE fairytales, especially stuff like Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and more current stuff such as Once Upon a Time. I thought some of the articles were amusing. This has made me think more about putting together my own tabloid as a sort of final piece for this project. Who knows?


So, when people talk about supermarket tabloids, this is probably the first thing that comes to mind:

But what is it really like working at a news source like the National Enquirer. One reporter gave the lowdown in an article published on the Huffington Post website entitled, “Working at the National Enquirer Is Just Like Working at Any Other Newspaper — But Weirder.” Here are some excerpts from the article to give you a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes:

“…I’ve worked for the National Enquirer. And Star magazine. AndGlobe. And the National Examiner. All four tabloids are owned by the same company, American Media, Inc., which is based in Boca Raton, Florida.”

“Why would one company own four celebrity tabloids with four separate staffs? Wouldn’t it make sense to merge them all into one mega-tab? No. Each tabloid has its own audience. Star appeals to hip women in their 20s […] The National Enquirer‘s readership is older, more affluent, and more political […] Globe and the National Examiner are geared to middle-aged conservative women.”

“Believe it or not, there’s a pecking order in the AMI offices. Star magazine is considered top of the tabs. It has the highest circulation, prints on the glossiest paper, and possesses the most coveted demographic: young women. Nipping at its heels is the National Enquirer, next in circulation and the most journalistic of the bunch. Tied for last place are Globe and Examiner…”

“…at the tabloids, two lawyers review every story.”

“Most of what you read in the tabloids came from somewhere else. A staff of writers never leave the newsroom. They scour every other celebrity publication in existence — AMI has assistants walking around all day long, dropping copies of these publications on the writers’ desks. If the writers can’t verify these stories on their own, they just quote from them.”

One of the things I never really thought about until reading this article is that, especially recently, is that the National Enquirer has been attempting to put more truth in than made up stories:

“And it is good reporting. The Enquirer follows the paper trail — I bet it requests more public documents on a monthly basis than most “respectable” newspapers in this country. You don’t have to like the National Enquirer. But if you’re a journalist, you should appreciate the way it does things. Because it’s very similar to the way you do things.”

Within every joke or legend lies some truth.

The full article can be found here:

While searching for inspiration for my next post, I stumbled across this video on how to become a tabloid reporter. While I was expecting pure silliness, it’s actually got some serious undertones. Enjoy!

In my first blog, I wrote out a brief timeline of tabloids. What exactly is “yellow journalism?” An excerpt from an article published in 1909 gives us a good idea of what it is (click to enlarge):

1895 marks the beginning of the great circulation wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Hearst “stole” a lot of writers from Pulitzer’s paper New York World, including the author of the famous “Yellow Kid” comics, Richard F. Outcault. The cartoon was first published in the New York World. When Hearst hired Outcault,

“Yellow Kid”

Pulitzer then hired another artist to produce the same strip in his newspaper. This comic strip happened to use a new special, non-smear yellow ink, and because of the significance of the comic strip, the term “yellow journalism” was coined by critics. As the newspaper owners fought for readership, the news became over-dramatized, ripe with scandal, and the stories were altered to sell to the popular opinion of the time. Hearst saw the Spanish-American War as a prime opportunity to boost his newspaper sales. Hearst became one the first to station reporters in Cuba, and through his newspaper stories, pushed the president to sign the bill officially entering America into the war.

Finally, I leave you with a piece from an 1890 issue of the New York Times:

Sensational Journalism


“Sensational Journalism and the Remedy.” Samuel W. Pennypacker. The North American Review. Vol. 190, No. 648. Nov., 1909. pp. 587-593. University of Northern Iowa. <;.

In my last post, I touched on the recent case of the Duchess of Cambridge and the nude photos posted of her in a French tabloid. But that is just one of the many instances in which paparazzis have crossed the line, and celebrities have fought back. Much of the drama surrounding Princess Kate is reminiscent of the excessive attention Princess Diana, Prince William’s mother, received while she was alive. While Princess Di’s death was later blamed on the incompetence of her driver, her legacy as a harassed celebrity lives on. There are so many more public figures who have fought back.

  • Lindsay Lohan: Reportedly instructed her assistant to hit a paparazzo with her car in 2010. The former child star has been under scrutiny for her drug use, body, and theft.
  • Britney Spears: Oh, Britney. The singer has been all over the tabloids. She sued US Weekly for libel after they published a piece saying that Spears and former husband Kevin Federline supposedly made a sex tape they showed to their lawyers. In 2008 Spears started dating paparazzo Adnan Ghalib–who then relayed Spears’ private information to his employer. With this came the peak of Brtiney Spears’ meltdown.
  • Sharon Osbourne sued The Sun when they reported that she was “driving her husband Ozzy to destruction” by overworking him. Sharon won, and The Sun apologized for the story they “basically made up.”
  • Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie won a lawsuit against the London tabloid News of the World. The tabloid spread false claims that the couple was planning to split.
  • Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony sued The National Enquirer over claims that linked them to a drug scandal.
  • Katie Holmes sued American Media, Inc. (the owners of Star) for suggesting she does drugs and her family life is miserable.
  • Katy Perry sued an Australian tabloid AW over a claim that she cheated on her (now ex-) husband Russel Brand with a record producer.
  • David Beckham  filed a lawsuit for libel, slander and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” against In Touch… and also sued the hooker he supposedly hooked up with.

…Obviously there have been are times when the truth is stretched just a little bit too far. One of the most recent issues is the Murdoch phone tap scandal. Rupert Murdoch, chief executive officer and chairman of News Corporation has admitted to hacking phone lines, including those of celebrities, politicians, law enforcement officials, solicitors and even ordinary people. Watch this video up until about 5:15.


The first effect of this scandal was the closing of the News of the World, which ran for 168 years before saying goodbye. Early last month it was reported that the number of victims jumped to about 1,000 with another 3,076 possible victims of “illegal eavesdropping.” Not only was Prince William’s phone hacked, but also the voicemails of numerous other celebrities including: Angelina Jolie, Hugh Grant, Jude Law, Paul McCartney, and Brad Pitt, to name a few. The Murdoch case is a prime example of when journalism crosses both ethical and legal lines.


Everyday hundreds of tabloid publications are distributed around the world. Everyday we are exposed to scandalous stories about celebrities’ escapades. We’ve seen celebrities at their best, their worst, and their naughtiest. According to an article in The New York Times, “How the Supermarket Tabloids Stay Out of Court” (1991),

“Every few months a Hollywood celebrity walks into Vincent Chieffo’s law office in Los Angeles, angrily waving a copy of one of the supermarket tabloids, those weekly newspapers that offer readers a feast of gossip, scandal and believe-it-or-not phenomena.

Asserting that an article is not true, the celebrity asks about suing the newspaper. Mr. Chieffo, a veteran entertainment lawyer, usually responds with what he calls “the facts of life” in the never-ending battle between these publications and the famous people whose lives provide the fodder for each week’s blaring headlines.”

Tabloids face few lawsuits against celebrities, mainly because the libel standard for public figures is high. Celebrities and Politicians put themselves out in the open to be scrutinized by the public eye; they have to prove “actual malice” in order for any libel case to move forward.

So, what makes the royal case of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge any different? “Closer” is published by the Mondadori Group, who released a statement about the photos:

“The editors of both titles decided to publish the photos because their content is a clear expression of the news, they depict a true event, and they do not undermine the people photographed.”

A spokesperson for the Royal couple countered, “There can be no motivation for this action other than greed.” It’s a serious invasion of privacy. Middleton clearly had no idea she was under the lens of the paparazzi; the couple expected complete privacy at this secluded estate.

In his book “I Watched a Wild Hog Eat My Baby,” former National Enquirer editor Bill Sloan wrote that the publishers realized “there are two overwhelming reasons why no celebrity of any stature would stoop to suing a gutter-level publication like the Informer even in clear-cut cases of libel. For one thing, the publicity surrounding this type of suit could prove a thousand times more damaging than the original fabrication. For another, the publisher probably didn’t have any money to pay damages anyway.” Even if someone could prove that a story was fake, there isn’t really any law against making up fake news stories, as long as real people mentioned in the story haven’t been libeled. While the nude photos of the Duchess are indeed an invasion of privacy, it is true that she was sunbathing topless at the estate. For the French tabloid, the publicity outweighed the penalties.

An article from states two main arguments of tabloids, in which exposing a famous person’s possible not-so-chaste private life is okay:

  1. The person of interest is a role model, and must be exposed if they are behaving in a perverted manner or simply “not behaving impeccably.”
  2. It’s [the tabloid’s] job to expose those who mislead the public.

Libel occurs through the written word.  Individuals subject to libel can sue for general damages including emotional distress, loss of reputation, humiliation, and more.  They can also sue for financial losses affecting their property, profession, or business.

When deciding whether an story is slanderous, some things must be taken into consideration:

  1. Truth– The law says tabloids can defame someone and get away with it if the charge is true.
  2. Privilege– Any circumstance that justifies or excuses the actions of the defendant.
  3. Absence of Malice–  For any libel case to move forward, the statement must have been published knowing it to be false or with reckless disregard to its truth.
  4. Fair Comment– If you put yourself out there for public scrutiny, critics have the right to comment on whether or not they like what they see.

Regardless of whether or not it’s legal, celebrities and politicians can suffer damage to their reputations and their careers through libel, just like anyone else.


What are the Characteristics of a Tabloid?

  • News featuring celebrities, sex escapades, murder and gore, among all sorts of other scandals.
  • Tabloids are a key source of gossip in today’s culture.
  • Dramatic word use and colorful adjectives are typical.
  • The headlines typically have a certain shock factor.
  • Simple sentences and short paragraphs appeal to a larger group of people.
  • Stories are personal and appeal to people’s emotions.
  • Sometimes, entire stories are made up. For example, the sex/gore tabloids of the 1950s and ’60s were almost entirely fictional.
  • Answer the basica questions of journalism: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
  • Sensationalism triumphs over factual reporting.


Headlines are the most important part of articles. In tabloids, they often are shocking and make the reader anxious to read on. A headline must:

  1. Clearly tell the reader what the story is about.
  2. Draw the reader in–interest will make them want to read on.
  3. Be on the front page, and be striking enough to grab the eyes of passer-bys.
  4. Fit into a limited space but still be bold and stand out.
  5. A headline must attempt to convey a complete message.

Some tools to use in order to attract the readers attention:

  • Alliteration (“Celebrity Big Blubber”)
  • Slang (“How Obama Blew Year 1”)
  • Misspellings of words (“It’s the Sun Wot Won It”)
  • Rhymes (“Pregnancy Diary”)
  • Puns (“From Russia With Gloves”)


Tabloids are typically a hybrid of newspapers and magazines. Some are the same size as newspapers and printed on newsprint. Others, such as Star, are printed on glossy paper, in color throughout, and bound like a magazine. Just like in both newspapers and magazines, tabloids have a table of contents and are broken up into different sections. Typically, tabloid journalists take small news and expand upon it. The best stories to focus on are ones about celebrities and politicians, or news of the just plain weird. Tabloid articles tend to sound very dramatic and are full of quotes from “reliable sources.”

These same components apply to different mediums of tabloids, such as television. E-News is basically a spoken form of what we see in publications such as In Touch and Star This is a perfect example of what kind of news tabloids are concerned with. As one internet meme says:”[Rover] finds evidence of water on Mars. Honey Boo Boo gets more attention on the news.”