July 25 2016

Yellow Journalism


In the late 18th century America’s New York World was owned by Joseph Pulitzer and the New York Journal was owned by Randolph Hearst. The term yellow journalism was first coined during the newspaper wars between these two leading newspapers. In an attempt to increase sales both these papers changed the content of their newspapers, adding more sensationalised stories and increasing the use of cartoons and drawings. In 1896, Pulitzer published a cartoon of his own called the Yellow Kid. Yellow Kid was an overnight success. Pulitzer built the New York World into the highest circulating and most popular newspaper in New York. The mix of solid news coverage with sensationalism made for a heady mix and the citizens of New York lapped it up. Eventually Hearst managed to lure many of Pulitzer’s staff to his paper. Their rivalry only served to stoke the competition. The news was largely over dramatised and altered so that it would evoke strong interest from the public. The term Yellow Kid became synonymous with sensationalised stories that discredited the stories of other papers. Somewhere along the way objectivity had been compromised. When Remington one of Hearst’s reporters sent him a telegram from Cuba stating that there was not much going on there. Hearst wrote back saying ‘you furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war’.

Yellow Journalism is now over hundred years old. Back then it emphasized on sex, violence and crime sprinkled liberally with emotionalism, inaccuracies and exaggerations. Most journalists claim that Yellow Journalism has now been replaced with informed, intelligent and unbiased reporting. They claim that the Yellow Kid is now dead. But critics beg to differ. Their views are amply supported by the news articles we see in paper these days and the new that is broadcasted to us throughout the day. It is increasingly apparent today that Yellow Journalism sells. Sex and violence are the most important topics after money. Television has taken it a step further. The line between news and entertainment is so distorted, one can hardly tell the difference anymore.

The newspapers carry articles based on the claims of unnamed sources that are given an opportunity to express baseless allegations. Journalists seem to increasingly display motives that have nothing to do with social consciences and the disclosure of injustice. They are not aimed at uncovering the truth. They no longer carry the voice of the voiceless. The goal of journalism today is profit and record sales. It is the new face of Yellow Journalism – news that is tainted and smacks of unprofessionalism, news that feeds off the lives of celebrities. A good example of Yellow Journalism is that associated with the death of Princess Diana. To what level does one stop? Has the need of sensationalism so superseded the need for truth that journalists are ready to drive the truth in to the ground? Where does Yellow Journalism draw the line?

Closer home the much talked about wedding of Aishwarya Rai to Abhishek Bachchan was covered like no other. Hours on end, channels showed reporters contemplating the type of Mehndi Aishwarya would chose to have it done. It was hilarious the amount of prime time TV that was wasted on the speculations of who would be invited to the wedding. Surely there were more newsworthy stories.

The absence of truth and propriety in newspapers today, the poverty of serious interest in reporting news as is without sensationalising it is what makes one believe that Yellow Journalism has not yet been done with. It is still Yellow only a different shade perhaps.

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