Have you stood in the check-out line at the supermarket and shook your head in disbelief as you read the shocking headlines on the tabloid newspapers?
We all have at some time or other. It seems we instinctively recognize yellow journalism when we see it.
But it's not always as obvious as tabloid journalism. And if you are looking to make a career writing the facts, you need to know how to avoid the pitfalls tabloids so lucratively exploit.
One of the most recognizable traits of disguising opinion as fact is the scary headline. Usually, this headline is the largest one on the page and meant to strike fear into readers hearts.
When a headline makes a sensational claim, especially one that is meant to scare the reader, it smacks of yellow journalism.
Another trait of these types of stories is that they favor large, colorful graphics. And a lot of them.
It's one thing if a story is using graphics to illustrate how to perform a task or is centered around a collection of photographs that show the progression of an event.
It's another when large splashy, often altered, graphics are used primarily to draw attention and generate fear.
Going back to tabloid newspapers, pay attention to the covers of these papers. They are filled with large, attention seeking pictures.
In a good news story, the graphics enhance the story, not distract from it.
The most insidious trait of yellow journalism is the way it misleads readers.
Using fake interviews or taking materials out of context in order to place a different spin on them gives some of the more subtle work credibility where there is none.
A major player in misleading readers is the use of pseudo-science. This is science that is not backed up by any peer-reviewed research.
In fact, it often is an opinion, rather than a researched conclusion.
Using information to mislead readers is a direct violation of journalism ethics.
When tabloids want you to look at them, they use color. And they use it well. You'll notice a lot of red and yellow in these papers. That's because red and yellow have been shown to draw attention and increase sales.
Using color to get attention is an overt trait shared by all of yellow journalism.
It is used to different degrees, but consider the colors used for Sunday supplements in your local paper. See?
Now, don't get me wrong, sympathy for a true underdog is admirable.
However, when a "news" publication exhibits excessive sympathy for someone who is bucking the system (whether for good or ill), you might want to watch your step.
This is common in politically biased news.
The favored candidate will be painted as the can-do guy who can make everything better, but he faces horrible oppression by those in power. Sound familiar?
Wherever it appears, remember that yellow journalism is opinion pretending to be fact.
Don't fall for it.
And don't write it.
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