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Yellow Journalism is Alive and Well

Updated on July 10, 2013

Yellow Journalism: Origin and Definition

Yellow Journalism Is Sensationalism

Yellow journalism--the scourge of every respected journalist and journalism student. The term "yellow journalism" was coined during the time of stiff competition between two American newspaper publishing giants, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II.

In order to sell more newspapers than the competitor, news was sensationalized and even altered to fit story ideas and the newspaper's dogma. Such practices of delivering "re-created" news were unethical, and still are today--but the practice is alive and well on every news media available.

Sensationalism at the Least

Initially, I began to write an article on the topic of advanced life directives, but became incensed when a current article referred to these directives being explained by physicians to their patients as "death squads." The term was originally coined by Sarah Palin when health care reform legislation was being debated. I paid no attention to the term at the time, imagining she was referring to panels of people who would be looking over patient charts and determining who would receive life-saving treatment and who would not. That, in my opinion, would be a death squad.

The media, always looking for catchy sound bites, latched onto this two word term and continues to use it. As of January 1, 2011, Medicare will pay physicians for counseling their patients on the definition of advanced directives and suggesting the patient consider complete their own. Without getting into the merits or disadvantages of this, I just want to say that in no way does this deserve the "death panel" moniker.

Sensationalism Montage in Major Media


The Good Old Days of News

I was spoiled, I admit it. I grew up watching the news from "Uncle" Walter Cronkite and the Huntley-Brinkley report. Back in those days, for those of you younger than 50 years of age, when the news came on, the reporters did something incredible--they told you the news. They didn't tell you bits and pieces of something, they told you the facts. At the end of the program, well, it was the end of the program. In today's news, the anchors give you their station's or company's view of the news, then they tell you what you just heard and what it should mean for you.

I don't know about you, but as a reasonably intelligent human being, I'm fully capable of learning the news and then determining what it means to me all by myself. I am weary of news anchors who tell you, "Fatal fire kills three, more on the eleven o'clock news." If it's important, tell me now. I don't need a carrot in front of my nose to determine whether I am interested in the news at eleven or not.

Granted, information overload wasn't nearly as prevalent in Walter Cronkite's heyday as it is today. Television, newspaper and radio now have to compete with the immediacy of the Internet. I would like to think they can find a way to do that without diluting the quality of the message.

These days, when I want straight news with no regurgitation, I find myself seeking out BBC News America. This news has neither a right or a left slant--how refreshing.

What Do You Think About the State of News Today?

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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alocsin, you've hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately the rise of "instant news" has increased competition for readers/viewers exponentially and caused many legitimate news sources to "play the game."

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • alocsin profile image


      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Sadly, with the rise of the Internet and many people relying on it for "news," more and more people are unable to distinguish between yellow journalism and legitimate reporting. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Dahoglund, all I can say is "Ouch!" about your earlier experience.

      Back in "the day" -- 1970s -- media such as "The Enquirer" and the like were tabloids for which no self-respecting journalist would write. Such sensationalism is nowadays too common. Maybe one day the pendulum will swing back again.

      Thanks for the read and the comment.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Jainismus, I appreciate your read and your comment. Unfortunately in this time period yellow journalism is all too prevalent.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I should have been aware of these trends. Years ago I worked for a paper in a college town.I was assigned to cover a lecture of a prominent politician. I later heard some criticism of what I wrote. It turned out it was not my story but that put out by the student paper,which was engaging in "personal journalism" by starting out descrribing the speaker as a sick,tired old man..."That might have been the beginning of a trend.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      6 years ago from Pune, India

      Yes it is alive. Thank you for writing on this topic.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Snigdha.s, insensitivity is a big issue with the current media. People who have recently undergone tragedies, or as you noted, are in an ongoing tragedy, are subject to intrusion, photos, videos and rude questions.

      I appreciate your read and comment.

    • snigdha.s profile image


      6 years ago from India,mumbai

      Agree with you. Have a family member in media and I know how they work. What i despise most is the insensitivity of media. Self immolation by a tibetan to get government's attention ends in his death and media busy taking pictures.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Kathleen Cochran, thanks for explaining where the recapping of news originated.

      And you're absolutely right about Cronkite and his contemporaries; they saw themselves as conduits of the news, not as celebrities.

      I appreciate your read and your comments.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      phdast7, having studied journalism in the 1970s, yellow journalism was a term with which I am all too familiar.

      I wonder if the term and all the entails is even relevant in today's journalism studies. The fact that traditional media now must compete with the instant availability of information via the Internet seems to have turned many "news establishments" into little more than sideshow circus hawkers.

      Thank you for SHARING.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The 24-hour news cycle and journalists who put their names on their news programs are the bane of journalism.

      Chronkite had 24 hours before anybody expected primetime news again, and he only had to beat 2-3 other guys to the scoop. He also never thought he was the news himself.

      The business of recapping a press conference or a speech was actually born out of an event ending before the half hour commercial break. The news anchors had to fill the time. Nowadays they'd let the Rapture wait for them to get their two cents in.

      You are right to be angry that the media has put into common useage a comment by a candidate. You should also be glad you were smart enough to catch it. Sadly most of us aren't.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      An important HUB especially as we are currently inundated more than usual with "Yellow Journalism" due the current political machinations. This is an old term that needed to be defined and re-introduced into our vocabulary. Clearly and fairly written without "purple prose." You have done uS a service. Thank you. SHARING

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Carozy, thanks for the read and appreciate your comment.

    • carozy profile image


      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Another enjoyable read

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks for reading, Junko. Are you as frustrated as I am at not only listening to what passes as news today, but then having the "news" people telling you what you should think about it?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I totally agree with you, LLwoodard. Do that again.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Pharmacist--isn't that the truth? Journalism in "real" life is a far cry from what is taught.

    • pharmacist profile image

      Jason Poquette 

      7 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

      Never heard the term "yellow journalism" before. I share your frustration with the media. The "news," as far as I am concerned, is simply no longer a valide means of communication. I love that old quip "Those who DON'T read the newspaper are uninformed. Those who DO read it are misinformed." Or something to that effect...

      Great article. Thanks.


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