Communication Tabloid Journalism
by
Maria Elizabeth Grabe, Namrata Sharma
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0157

Introduction

The term tabloid is often traced back to Alfred Harmsworth, who used the term in 1896 to describe the size of his British newspaper the Daily Mail. Early tabloid newspapers were recognized by their compact size and oversimplified news content, which made them accessible to non-elite readers. Currently, the term tabloid applies to all news media—regardless of platform or trendiness—and refers to stylistic and content dimensions of news messages. Within the tabloid market, however, distinctions are drawn between daily newsstand papers and weekly supermarket publications. While the daily tabloid papers share some elements of the news agenda with the mainstream press (e.g., both cover political stories and election campaigns), the weekly tabloids emphasize scandal, sports, and entertainment (see Sparks and Tulloch 2000, cited under Cross-National Comparative Work). Some of the early research on tabloid journalism was inspired by (and supported) criticism that emerged from high-minded public intellectuals and elite journalists in the late 1800s. Certainly the tabloid was—and perhaps still is in some circles—viewed as a corrupting force that soiled the sacred mission of journalism to inform the public. Indeed, some of the early research echoed this normative stance. Historians were the ones to bring context and nuance to this moral panic, and later on cultural studies scholars made the tabloid a legitimate cultural product, worthy of serious scholarship. Along the way, a few quantitative scholars offered evidence to suggest that tabloids might help—not hinder—informed citizenship. John Langer’s Tabloid Television: Popular Journalism and the “Other News” (Langer 1998, cited under Struggle for Definition) forcefully entangled these research streams in arguing for the relevance of tabloid news as a symbol of cultural values and as an information tool. Key scholarly outlets and the advances (theoretically and methodologically) in this relatively young and somewhat disjointed area of research will be reviewed in this bibliography.

Journals

Research on tabloid news fits comfortably in mass communication and journalism studies. Although most of the early research in this area emerged in book or book chapter form, flagship journals in the field, such as the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Communication Research, and Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, have devoted a substantial number of pages to the topic. Tabloid studies connect to old research traditions at the audience reception end, examining variance across news channels (radio, TV, online, newspaper, etc.) and packaging options in how news users process information and evaluate news. Respected younger journals such as Journalism and Journalism Studies have offered space to authors to explore conceptual, historical, and methodological dimensions of tabloid. Media, Culture & Society has published interdisciplinary studies that consider simultaneously social, political, and economic contexts. Comparative studies of cross-national range that explore message characteristics like content and formal dimensions have appeared in the European Journal of Communication and Journalism Studies.

  • Communication Research. 1974–.

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    This bimonthly publication focuses on a wide range of communication topics and theories. It is a good resource to obtain articles assessing the impact of tabloid news on the audience, using quantitative (and often experimental) methods.

  • European Journal of Communication. 1986–.

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    This journal offers variety in studying aspects of global media and communication. In terms of tabloid research, in features comparative cross-national studies or explores the particulars of tabloid news in one given country of Europe.

  • Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 1957–.

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    This journal is published quarterly by the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) and concentrates on research in the domain of electronic media, mainly television. It features articles exploring central dimensions of tabloid news, including its history, contemporary trends in content, and effects on the audience. It offers scholarship from varying methodological approaches and crosses the quantitative/qualitative divide that some of the other journals adhere to. Further information available from Taylor & Francis Online.

  • Journalism. 2000–.

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    Articles exploring theoretical dimensions of tabloid news are often featured in this journal. It offers an invaluable body of literature for understanding critical approaches to tabloid studies and covers topics relevant to the practice of journalism as well as the experiences of the audience.

  • Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. 1924–.

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    Published quarterly by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), this journal has offered scholarship on market forces, content, and effects of tabloid news.

  • Journalism Studies. 2000–.

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    With affiliations to the Journalism Studies Division of the International Communication Association (ICA), this publication serves as a platform for critical discussions of tabloid journalism, often linking its historical roots to contemporary mutations. It is also a good resource for cross-national comparative articles on tabloid news culture.

  • Media, Culture & Society. 1979–.

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    This is a good place to find interdisciplinary research on tabloid news that fuses social, political, economic, and historical dimensions, employing a range of research methods.

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