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The Concise Encyclopedia of Communication by Wolfgang Donsbach

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Tabloidization

S. Elizabeth Bird

University of South Florida

Since the 1980s, ‘tabloidization’ has been used to describe changes in journalism perceived to represent a decline in traditional journalistic standards. The term ‘tabloid’ strictly refers only to certain newspapers’ half-broadsheet size, but it has come to define a kind of formulaic, colorful narrative distinct from standard, ‘objective’ styles of journalism (→ Objectivity in Reporting), and appealing to base instincts and public demand for → sensationalism. British and US tabloids emerged in the early twentieth century, written in the idioms of the people, as William Randolph Hearst declared. The tension between a perception of tabloid style as representing either the legitimate voice of the people, or as a vulgarization of public → discourse, has undergirded the debate about tabloidization since.

‘Tabloidization’ is a fairly recent term developed to describe a process of journalism’s decline. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, critics bemoaned the cheapening of public discourse represented by popularization of the news, and this lament gathered momentum over the next 100 years. However, neither journalists nor critics agree precisely what tabloidization is, or whether it is invariably a negative force. Empirical attempts to demonstrate the process have been inconclusive, but the phenomenon is seen to have distinctive characteristics of style and content. Stylistically, tabloid writing avoids complex ...

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