Succulent Sins, Personalized Politics, and Mainstream Media’s Tabloidization Temptation

Succulent Sins, Personalized Politics, and Mainstream Media’s Tabloidization Temptation

Jenn Burleson Mackay (Department of Communications, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA) and Erica Bailey (Department of Communication, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/jte.2012100104
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Abstract

This study uses an experiment to analyze how mainstream journalism’s use of tabloid writing techniques affects online credibility. Participants read four news stories and rated their credibility using McCroskey’s Source Credibility Scale. Participants found stories written with a tabloid style less credible than more traditional stories. Tabloidized soft news stories were more credible than tabloidized hard news stories. Results suggest that online news media may damage their credibility by using tabloidized writing techniques to increase readership. Furthermore, participants were less likely to enjoy stories written in a tabloidized style. An application of act utilitarianism suggests that tabloidization is an unethical method for increasing news readership.
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Introduction

There's a journalistic world where old-school objectivity fights for existence against dramatic disasters and fuzzy features. It is a place where journalistic ethics might take a backseat, while reporters or editors douse newspapers with sleaze and entertainment. With little more than a creative selection of verbs and a thirst for a sizzling story, American journalists can venture into tabloid territory.

This technique of spicing up mainstream media news often is called tabloidization. The exact definition of the term varies from one scholar to the next, but it is viewed as a method for attaining audiences in an ever-competitive media environment. Tabloidization has been described as dumbing down the news by giving consumers the stories that they want rather than providing useful public service information (Nice, 2007). The writing tone in these tabloidized stories is designed to be stimulating and exciting (McLachlan & Golding, 2000). Tabloidzation results in lower journalistic standards, less hard news, and more soft, sensational or entertaining stories (Kurtz, 1993). It is far too simplistic a notion to assume that tabloidization is a completely negative practice, however. The method also might be utilized to increase the audience of the media and to increase their knowledge of news and information (Gans, 2009).

This paper is an effort to understand the effects of online news tabloidization on credibility. The study will look at how readers evaluate the credibility of stories written with the tabloidized format compared to how they rate stories written with a more traditional journalistic style. A more traditional reporter's story would stick to the facts and get to the point of the story, whereas a tabloidized story might include sleazy wording or unnecessary intimate details designed to grab the reader’s attention rather than inform him or her. In addition, the researchers will consider whether tabloidization is more accepted in certain types of stories, such as feature pieces, as compared to hard news stories.

The study also asks how the media should respond to tabloidization pressures. In addition to studying participant responses to tabloidized content, this study will apply normative ethical theory to the tabloidization of online media, thus applying philosophical theory to the field of technoethics. Journalism ethics is concerned with how journalists make decisions that force them to weigh multiple values against one another (Plasiance, 2009). Ethics is concerned with the process that is utilized as decisions are made (Walker, 2000). Technoethics, on the other hand, focuses on ethics as it relates to technology throughout society (Luppicini, 2008). By using act utilititarianism, the researchers will examine how online journalists should address the challenges of technoethics and whether utilizing tabloidization for media survival is an acceptable ethical practice.

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