Tablodization and the Media, Vol. 5 - 1998, No. 3
The author discusses two important perspectives on "tabloidisation" and its supposed impact upon news discourses: the polarisation perspective attributes to the changes in news journalism a sharpening differentiation and polarisation between tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, while according to the homogenising view, sensational journalism which once seemed to be confined to the media for lowbrow consumers, now spreads to all media. The article argues that tabloidisation debates often do not compare like with like, which follows in mistaken conclusions. A case in point is fabulous reportage as a specific form of journalistic discourse that cannot be considered a trivial form of news discourse, but a discourse sui generis, a distinct genre. Consequently, it does not make sense to compare broadsheet news discourse with fabulous reportage in tabloid newspapers; a valid comparison is between tabloid news discourse with broadsheet news discourse. The article presents such a comparative content analysis of news discourses in five broadsheet and five tabloid newspapers in the UK. The analysis if focused on five features of the supposed homogenisation: the coverage of foreign news, the use of pictorial material, the "softening" of hard news, and changes in topical patterns. It shows that the "classical" news discourse has not been "tabloidised," and this may also hold good for news discourse in tabloid newspapers.
In the United States, television news is where the issue of tabloidisation is most loudly debated, as news merges into the countless talk shows and syndicated "reality" programming. While critics often place the blame on the journalism profession itself, I focus on the audience drive toward tabloidisation, critiquing both the uncritical celebration of the "active" audience, and the view that audiences are simply mindless recipients of whatever journalists feed them. Using data from a small study of news audiences, I argue that we must understand the value of dramatic, narrative news in everyday life. At the same time, I argue that the storytelling news style, characterised by disconnected, highly personal narratives, is in danger of replacing rational, considered, and critical analysis in news. In particular, young people are becoming less interested in news, and less critical of the techniques typical of tabloid style. I conclude that we must strive to develop a journalism that could embrace tabloid style, while still inviting audiences to participate more fully in a civic democracy. If journalism cannot rise to that challenge, it may be that in the tabloidised environment of the American news media, the battle for large-scale, serious public discourse is already lost.
Japanese newspapers are unique in the world in that they have extremely large circulations and are, at the same time, "serious." The market leader, Yomiuri Shimbun, sells around 10 million copies daily and Asahi Shimbun, the next best-selling, sells 8 million copies daily. Per capita newspaper readership in Japan is one of the highest in the world. Another remarkable fact about the leading Japanese newspapers is that, despite the fact that they are now classed as serious, they originated as "little," or tabloid, newspapers. It was only gradually that they came to have their current status. The newspapers retain an element of their original tabloid character in their "home and family" sections, which are amongst the most popular parts of the papers. The readers of these sections are primarily women, and it is in these pages that many of the issues directly affecting domestic and family life in Japan have first been aired. The news in the political and economic sections of the paper is produced in close co-operation with powerful news sources in government, industry and the civil service, organised through the `press club' system. It thus tends to have an "official" character. The home and family sections are free of these restraints. The journalists employed on them are marginal to the internal status hierarchy of Japanese newspapers, and this was the first area of journalism to employ any large number of women journalists. Today, the position of the home and family section is being undermined. Social changes mean that young journalists are much less deferential than a generation ago, competition between media has meant the blurring of the boundary between hard and soft news, and newspapers overall are very keen to get closer to the aspirations and interests of their readers.
An important and particular feature of post-communist transformation in the media in East Central Europe was the rise of a section of the press devoted to sensation and scandals. This development was the result of different processes which occurred with the system change. The most important changes were the end of political control of the press; the liberalisation and marketisation of press markets; the commercialisation of the media and changing media consumption patterns. The development of sensational press was influenced by changing market conditions in post-communist media, particularly the saturation and shrinking of the press market, the expanding but increasingly competitive advertising sector and the limited potential for considerable financial gains in the national dailies market. Foreign investment also played an important role in the rise of popular press with foreign owners introducing Western type tabloids or acquiring stakes in local popular papers. Changes in newspaper demand, such as in reading habits and decreasing buying power of the population were influential factors as well. Post-communist cultural changes, with emphasis on internationalisation and promotion of consumer society, also affected what people wanted to read. The development of popular papers led to the segmentation of the Hungarian press market, where there were three groups: tabloids, qualities and specialised titles. Despite the increase in circulation and market share tabloids do not dominate the Hungarian market the way they prevail in the press markets of the Western world. Quality papers retain higher circulation figures overall and they also perform better in the advertising market. This is partly due to the fact that many press titles of the communist era managed to transform and rejuvenate themselves into market-type quality papers benefiting that they were already familiar to readers. This article argues that although the segmentation of post-communist press market in Hungary into quality and popular types does bear similarities with developments in Western Europe, it has special characteristics due to recent history, a different press culture and different media consumption patterns.
As modern democracies need the politically informed citizen and as politics nearly cannot be experienced and judged without the help of the mass media, there is growing concern for a tabloidisation process affecting the political news discourse within the media culture. This may be explained by both the consequences deriving from the symbiotic relationship between the media and the political system and the commercialisation of the media system since the opening of the television market in the mid 1980s in Germany. German research analyses of the phenomenon of tabloidisation have mainly been restricted to the audio-visual media. The paper intends to give a clearer insight into the nature of "tabloidised" political coverage in the press by describing its potential extreme forms. The prototypical representative of tabloid journalism in Germany is, in our opinion, the Bild-Zeitung. Taking the Bild as a kind of yardstick, as a prototype for tabloid journalism in Germany the manifest and traditional political content of its news discourse has been analysed using framing-analytical techniques. Frames combine a pragmatical, semantical and syntactical dimension, as they serve as internalised guides for information processing and as they convey thematically consonant meanings constructed from and embodied in the keywords, metaphors, concepts, symbols and other lexical or visual "bricks" of a given news discourse. Our exploratory analysis of the headlines in the copies of three different months in 1987, 1990 and 1994 each revealed six consistent and repetitive news frames which have been designated as follows: "politicians-as- ordinary-people", "politics-as-personal-confrontation-or-agreement", "women-politicians-as- typical-females", "the-power-block-vs.-the-people", "political-education-and-advice" and "anti-communism".
This article examines the decline of the tabloid press in England. It is a case study of competition between the Daily Mirror and Sun in the period 1968-1992 and the impact this had on the decline in reporting matters of the public sphere in favour of publishing material encouraging acts of consumption. It demonstrates that as consumption among the working- class grew over the period, editorial content moved way from matters of the public sphere in favour of material which encouraged acts of consumption. Further, it demonstrates that the advertising content of the two newspapers reflected consumption pattern changes in the economy as a whole during that period. Quantitative and qualitative content analysis also demonstrates that the increase in competition between the two newspapers for advertising revenue increased both titles' reliance on consumption editorial as a means of attracting new audiences. It was doing this at a historically-specific period in which consumption of mass- produced goods and services in the UK economy as a whole was increasing at its fastest-ever rate. The consequences of these changes were that tabloid newspapers in England were no longer able to be considered 'newspapers' in the classic sense.
This article investigates the use of personalisation in British current affairs programming. Arguing that criticism of personalisation in television journalism has tended to take its cue from problems with the human interest story in the popular press, it proposes that finer discrimination is required to evaluate degrees of compatibility between modes of personalisation and the knowledge-forming objectives of current affairs journalism. Querying assumptions that knowledge formation inevitably necessitates abstraction, universality, and avoidance of the personal, it explores instead how the personal can be variously deployed in ways that enable as well as impede logical analysis. Examples from programmes are provided to demonstrate both the drawbacks and the potential advantages of specific forms of integrating personalisation. Through a discussion of testimony, the use of case studies, and a human interest approach to investigative journalism, evidence is provided that personalisation can, under particular circumstances, be successfully allied with breadth of exploration of the issues, openness of perspective, and attention to the politically provocative aspects of the personal.