News stories from the yellow press are almost always sensational. They often run headlines that make a mountain out of an anthill. For example, in a country where the president is often referred to as ‘the big man’ – a tabloid yellow press could run the headline: ‘Getting Rid of the big man’ – you’ll be shocked and intrigued, only to find out later that it is a report about eradicating malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Focus on selling
This is mainly true for countries where newspapers heavily rely on advertisements for profit. When such ads are not forthcoming, they turn to sensational featured news stories to sell products.
Quite simply, if a news story is pitching you a product, it is another example of yellow journalism.
Stories from the yellow press are usually not multi-sourced, and have a clear biased leaning. They do not represent conflicting or divergent views and are often based on limited and handpicked facts to support their own case.
Tabloids that practice yellow journalism often use anonymous sources to try and legitimize their sensational news stories. They quote sources that are only described as ‘reliable’, ‘impeachable’, ‘intimate’ and ‘highly placed’, but have no faces or identities.
The yellow press also gives blanket anonymity to sources simply because they demand for it. For example, political headlines blown out of proportion would include something like: ‘…speaking under condition of anonymity’.
Often it turns out that their sources are as unreliable as the stories they break.
Not concerned with truth
For yellow journalists, establishing the truth is not a major objective. Their aim is to take a few twisted facts, come up with questionable and border-line fake sources and break a story that is sensational and can pull readers.
For example, in 2010, a BBC Africa radio programme reported a boat accident in Sierra Leone, in which 200 people were reported to have drowned. The reporter even quoted a police source in the supposed area, but it later turned out that the story was false.
Invoking fear and alarm
Yellow journalists often take advantage of the ‘freedom of press’ to spread the agenda of particular political groups and invoke fear and alarm in the populace.
An example of this would be to print a story about a localized shooting in a manner that depicts it to be a planned move by a suspected group expected to strike in all major cities.
Big and bold
Whether in print or online for written publications, yellow journalism practitioners usually use bold front-page headlines and big front-page photos to catch the readers’ immediate attention.
Radio and TV channels also use dramatic sound alerts and flashing banners to recreate the same effect.
Yellow journalism examples today
Today, yellow journalism can most commonly be found on celebrity gossip newspapers and websites in Europe and the United States of America.
It is still common in countries where the daily sales are prioritized over the public’s right to know the truth. So-called big international media agencies are also guilty of the practice, especially when covering wars and conflicts like we have seen in Syria and most recently in Ukraine.
Professional journalists who respect the principles of their profession and adhere strictly to its dictates believe yellow journalism is anything but ethical.