What is yellow journalism? Yellow journalism is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. It is used, often incorrectly, as an insult to publications that someone disagrees with, “FAKE NEWS”, but what does it mean?
The phrase yellow journalism is an American term indicating that a newspaper, or other publication, has falsified their article with no real sources or evidence to back up their claims (Wiki). The phrase is insinuating that their articles are not intended to be factual, they are meant to be eye-catching and attract as many viewers as possible. They push sensationalist, fear-mongering, and scandal-mongering titles. They value views or clicks, not content.
What is yellow journalism in the news?
You may think by watching the news that the world is ending. All of Australia is burning, and the koalas are going extinct! Your favorite celebrity is getting divorced! Everyone in China is at risk of catching the coronavirus! More war in the Middle East! You would be well within reason to feel like society is collapsing, the end is nigh, and there is nothing anyone can do. But that isn’t the case.
Australia is not all on fire, most of it is fine. Koalas will be fine, as they always have been, and China will be over this epidemic in no time. War in the Middle East has been going on for decades, not much has changed. So why are you being told the opposite? What is yellow journalism doing here?
It’s simple: boring news is not interesting. Announcing on the evening news that everything will be okay soon doesn’t attract viewers. Instead, fear-mongering and outright lying drums up the conversation and increases viewership. This is not a left vs right news sources issue, they all do it. Some more than others, but they all do it. Sensationalist headlines are more eye-catching, meaning more viewers, meaning more ad revenue. This then starts a vicious cycle of sensationalism leading to more money and back to the start we go, on an incredibly un-fun ride.
Yellow journalism online
It is not just physical newspapers, online newspapers, and the news that do this. The biggest online content sites are doing the same, but it has been renamed to click-bait. After all, what is yellow journalism if not a money-making machine? Online, it works just the same: someone makes an outrageous claim or statement in the title and you feel compelled to click to find out more. Once you have clicked you could find the article is completely irrelevant to the title and contains useless, or even incorrect, information.
This again is just a way to drum up revenue, page views equal money from advertisers. Have you ever been on a website and you must click an arrow to change page for each step of a 10 step list? Have you thought to yourself, “Why did they not just put this all on one page”? The reason is that they don’t want you there to view their content, they want you for the page views.
How to spot yellow journalism
Spotting yellow journalism can be hard. After all, it is meant to look like real journalism. The best tells are usually at the beginning and the end of the text. They are:
The title is one of the most important parts of an article. It tells you what the article is about, and that is what makes people decide whether they want to read on or not. This makes it one of the easiest parts of the article to manipulate. When spotting yellow journalism, look for hyperbole in the title. If the title claims that “Koalas are functionally extinct” (which is a real “fact” that was being reported recently), it immediately looks fishy.
First, why would fires over a relatively small part of Australia, which is an entire continent, cause ALL koalas to die out? It wouldn’t. Next, you might think, “Wait, don’t they have koala sanctuaries, they are one of their most iconic animals?”. Yes, yes they do, they have thousands of sanctuaries. The title should immediately raise red flags that this article might not be 100% correct. After all, it made some very bold claims that it must now back up with credible sources.
The sources for an article must be given either at the end of the article or provided throughout where necessary. If the sources of an article either don’t exist or raise concerns, this is a good indicator of yellow journalism. A good source is a respectable establishment, evidence of an interview with a credible person, or first-hand experience.
An example of this could be a car crash, the article is explaining what injuries were sustained during the crash. Someone on twitter with 500 followers who have now decided they are an expert, because they heard about it from a friend, is not a good source. A medical professional who was on the scene and experienced what happened first hand, is a very credible source.
What is yellow journalism? In conclusion
Those who ask “What is yellow journalism?” should remember that it is not a new thing: it has been around as long as journalism has existed. But is becoming more and more common to generate discussion and money. If you know what to look out for, it can be much easier to spot. Always take information from a publication you don’t completely trust with a grain of salt, until you have verified for yourself if it is true or not. A lot of the time it is common sense, sometimes it can be much harder. If you keep your eye out for red flags, you will be fine.
by Sam Butcher