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What is common between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Paris Hilton, Poonam Pandey and Rakhi Sawant. If one has to answer this question from a mere factual point of view, he might falter. This is due to the fact that all these people (and many more like them) strike the common chord of the term ‘Tabloidization’. Defining tabloidization might be a little difficult, but if we want to check it out from a bird’s eye view, it will be the massive changes that have taken place in mainstream media over past few years. The factual meaning, however, comes from the word ‘tabloid’, which refers to a particular size used by the British newspapers (23.5 in by 14.75 in). Because of the extensive use of such sized newspapers, we can say that the British print media is ‘tabloidized’, quite literally.
The typical form of tabloid is marked by two major and distinct features: it devotes relatively less importance to issues of economics, politics and society and focuses more on ‘diversions’ like sports, scandals and popular entertainment. This new category of journalism and media is believed to be of great consequence, atleast to the practice of journalism at large and it is important to understand the reasoning behind it. In this article we will try to understand how the tabloids function, the historical background and the effect it has on the ‘serious’ media and on the society.
The existence of tabloids can be traced back to the first part of the 20th century in Britain. United States and rest of the Europe were a little late to catch up but during the late 30’s and post world-war 2 eras, tabloids started to grow here as well. The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, published by Hammersmith and Rothermere, were the first tabloids in Britain, which were soon followed by the likes of The Sun, published by the Murdoch group and currently Britain’s highest selling tabloid. In other developing countries, like China and India, the tabloid movement is growing and the growth has been especially rapid in last 10 years or so. Historically, tabloids have existed alongside other ‘quality’ papers, so to say. But, in recent years, we have been experiencing a glaring gap between ‘serious’ media and tabloids. We will be using the term ‘serious’ media only as to be able to emphasize ‘tabloidization’ as a phenomena which is not looked upon in a very positive manner, specially because of the features mentioned above.
Characteristic features of tabloids:
One of the main characteristics of tabloids have been that they have always been brash and loud, they have used sensationalism as a medium to engage the readers and give preference to anything and everything that arouses and titillates public interest. The most interesting part about tabloids is that the journalism covers the nuances of the fantastic and the crazily invented which the consumers are not only aware of but also accommodate the same in their reading strategies. Sex, scandals, celebrity, nightlife, glamour, horror, sting operations and probing into the personal lives of people are the areas frequented by the tabloids.
Another common aspect across all tabloids is the extensive use of posters and photographs, and usually the reporting lines are used as fillers. Most of the tabloids publish pictures of naked/semi-naked models on page 3 or 5 (Mid-day have them on page 2, known as the Mid-day mates). And other prominent stories include crime, sex, sensational news items, parties, celebrity remarks etc. however, it is wrong to assume that they don’t carry other ‘serious’ news such as politics, economics and other news of national interest, but the tone used is highly personalized and the reporters are opinionated. Such reporting does not provide any scope of objective and analytical reasoning being reported and fostered. Probably the only thing it efficiently does is to teach people to take sides. During the times when a media agenda needs to be set, tabloids will usually do the most myopic possible job. And it doesn’t end there; tabloids also have the tendency of juxtaposing reality and fantasy in order to arouse interest and even at times, mislead their readers. There are recorded instances of these tabloids carrying reports of alien attacks etc. The Sun went as far ahead declaring the first inter-galactic treaty being made when they carried a cover page picture of ET shaking hands with President Clinton.
Reasons, Consequences and Effects:
If we analyse tabloidization from a simple perspective, we will see that it is actually a very simple phenomenon. It is only a transition being driven by market forces from being driven by public agendas. But, if someone has to analyze it in a deeper way, then one must understand the political, economical and social reasons behind the growth of this trend.
Tabloidization has coined new terms, junk food and rag sheet for example, but what we can see is the fact that all these have derogatory connotations, primarily due to the fact that issues that concerns the citizen are thrown on the back-burner, while scandal, entertainment and lifestyle has taken the centre-stage. This has definitely harmed the relationship between mass media and politics and current affairs. We will look into a few reasons behind it phenomenon.
People want media to be more personalized, more interactive, and by juxtaposing the serious news and the tabloid, private and public spheres are getting connected constantly. This also portrays the shift in peoples’ outlook and justifies the declining audience for traditional news agenda.
Media itself has become more and more corporatized, which had lead to shaping of news in order to be able to cater to the taste of audiences. Like any other corporate business, revenue maximization has given way to the populist agenda.
It has become a trend in the competitive industry, especially in a free market.
Declining circulation is another major concern.
The increasing use of internet news, which massively deploy the tabloid strategy.
The worst possible effect of tabloidization is that it fails to serve the prime function of journalism, which is to inform the people about the issues which concern the public interest. As a direct consequence of tabloidization, we can see the change in priority in terms of time-slots; prime-time is no longer news and current affairs, it more about creating a spectacle.
Even though the classical definition of journalism does not talk about covering and reporting facts related to politics, economy or other issues of public interest only, they can even choose to cater to the section of people who are looking for content that suits popular taste and public interest. But tabloids are not only accused of sensationalizing news and blowing things beyond proportion but also for publishing and broadcasting information which is not verified and an unbiased opinion is seldom offered. This defeats the very purpose of journalism where the journalist should be seeking the truth and should not be offering a story tailored to suit the preferences of the readers/viewers and advertisers.
Despite having such negative connotations, there are justifications as well. Some believe that tabloidization (like talk shows) is a boon as they present different lifestyles and cultures which help in human integration. And some argue that is offers an alternative reality and helps utopian and emancipating fantasies.
On a very Indian context, it can be compared to the existence of channels like Aaj Tak and India TV, who are actually thriving despite the fact that they are nothing but tabloidized version of news channels. People prefer tabloids as hard news is at times difficult to digest and its impersonal nature doesn’t interest them.
Tabloidization and journalism:
The definition of
It is very difficult to reach a common consensus and brand tabloidization good or bad. On one hand, it is almost utopian to expect private media corporations to behave like public service units, especially in a consumerist world, and on the other hand we can debate whether the right of reader/viewer to truthful information is being violated or not. On a broad level, news agenda being more entertainment driven is understandable, but it becomes unacceptable when news is transformed into an entertainment package. The tabloids are engaged at the level of our deepest needs for safety and security and they constantly make us feel vulnerable (Sansani, for example). This is done in order to capture the attention and drive the public agenda through the media agenda. The fact that one third of American still believe that Saddam Hussain was responsible for the September 11 attack, is a glaring example of their success.
It might have been better if the tabloids would only have existed alongside the ‘serious’ news, but unfortunately (or fortunately!!) the line between the two seems to be blurring, and with the dropping demand for traditional media and astronomical rise in media consumption through the digital mediums, the situation will only become more complex. To conclude, we can only say that tabloidization follows the mantra of:
“Tickle the public, make them grin,
The more you tickle, the more you’ll win”
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