To Fix Fake News on Social Media, High Time We Understand Yellow Journalism

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Yellow journalism did not come out of thin air. It was practiced from a long time and has been very abstractly understood. Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that presents no legal well-researched news and uses eye-catchy headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques vary from exaggerations of news events and sensationalism. Yellow press newspapers mean having daily multi-column front page headlines covering a variety of topics using bold layouts, heavy reliance on unnamed sources and shameless self-promotion. Yellow journalism is actually a way of getting more viewers with minimum efforts.

In the ideal media scenario, the news must be something happening from around the world about which the public should know. Not only the news but also all aspects of it that affect the masses. However, nowadays social welfare has become a secondary aspect. The minds of the readers are being poisoned by giving them content that is baseless and sensationalized. Yellow journalism features sensationalized reporting for the sake of inflaming emotions and thereby making more money. Every medium has fallen prey to this and it is rather very difficult to check whatever goes up online.

Yellow journalism got the name from the yellow ink which was used to print a color comic popular during that time. The use of color for comics was a new concept at that time and helped boost sales. It is actually the use of explicit features and sensationalized news in newspapers, publishing to attract readers and increase circulation of news. It was coined in 1890’s when competition was seen between two New York City newspapers “The World” and “The Journal”. Both these newspapers were very similar in terms of the nature and style of writing and both went against the normal journalistic standards. So when and how did yellow journalism emerge?

Long before radio, television and the internet, newspapers served as a medium for communicating information to a wide audience. In the late 1800’s as immigrants came into American cities, newspaper publishers saw the potential for greater profits through increased sales. Joseph Pulitzer’s paper the New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal changed the context of newspapers adding more sensationalized stories and increase in the use of drawings and cartoons. This was when “The yellow kid” came in 1896 published by Pulitzer. The yellow kid was a little boy dressed in a yellow nightshirt whose job would be to give opinions on events in the city. ‘The World’ would be brought just because people were interested to read the yellow kid. It was also used to sway public opinion on important issues such as the Spanish- American war. The cartoon was created by R.F Outcault and this cartoon further increased conflict between Hearst and Pulitzer. Hearst later took R.F Outcault’s cartoon from Pulitzer by giving him a very high salary. The competition did not stop there. Pulitzer came up with a similar version of the yellow kid to continue his competition with Hearst. The news was overdramatized and altered to fit story ideas that publishers and editors thought would sell more newspapers. Newspapers of that era did not practice the objectivity that newspapers today strive for. This era was called blurring of facts and friction by many critics. There was an overemphasis on the negative.


Some very important characteristics of yellow Journalism include prominent headlines that want attention often about least important news. Excessive use of pictures of which many did not have too much significance. There was use of fake interviews and stories just to grab the attention of the readers. Sunday supplement and color comics were attached to increase sales. Use of multi-column headline, bold layouts and the large font was used on the front page. Such layouts sometimes were enhanced by the use of color. The tendency to rely on anonymous sources was a key practice of yellow journalism. There was also an excessive area for self-promotion. The stories published were biased and favored. The focus was on rich and famous people, crime and negative news. The stories were inclined towards the sensational angles rather than facts and hard news. Every feature has penetrated to the digital age and it is getting rather difficult to control what goes up online. The use of Yellow Journalism has been criticized because it goes against all ethics of Journalism and every care should be taken to avoid it. The best way to avoid yellow journalism is to check facts with several sources and not get all of the news from one source. The ease of the internet makes it easy to publish false and misleading material but it can also be used to find the truth. Also, journalism loses its significance if the facts are wrong and biased, therefore any individual practicing journalism should know the repercussions yellow journalism has and thus should avoid it.


Some examples include: a headline ” Baby snatched by eagles” grabbed attention but the video accompanying it was fake. Also, the Samsung and Apple court case where a story claimed that Samsung paid a $ 1.2 billion settlement to Apple in nickels. The story was originated as a comedy story, but an American journalist published it as true. These examples show how dangerous yellow journalism could be and why it should not be practiced at any costs. Not only does it from an opinion in the minds of people, it forms a certain kind of negatively which is very unhealthy in journalism. The public has the right to know all angles of the story and then form a neutral and unbiased opinion. There have been theories that say that the audience is gullible and takes what is given to them as it is, but this theory has changed since then and now the audience is more active than ever before.

Yellow journalism has been used in every era since the time of its inception. The relation between the digital age and fake news is very evident. Every time there is a major event, the media has always given its own views of the story. The 21st century can be called an era of media sensationalism which can vary from court houses to political campaigns where journalism is filled with opinion and heavily biased news reporting. With all the competing news coverage nowadays, the media focuses its attention on controversial subjects as much as possible to get their story heard. The more sensationalized or outrageous the story, the more sales it gets. One recent example of yellow journalism was the 2012 presidential campaign. Many news stories written about Governor Romney and President Barack Obama were sensationalized and many of them were over dramatic, portraying bias of one candidate over the other. This tendency affects the public’s right to form a neutral opinion and judge what is right.

Yellow Journalism will continue until people continue to feed off the tabloid stories that are released daily into the press. As long as there is crime, war and scandal there will always be over dramatizing and sensationalizing of stories. People want to hear about drama and scandal. It is human nature to yearn for information that is of dramatic type. Yellow journalism since 1800 has growth with the development in the world. It is a kind of journalism that exploits, distorts or exaggerates the news to create sensation and to increase sales. Even now we see how negative news makes it more to the bulletin and top feed than the positive news. It is fundamentally dishonest, unethical and questions the actual journalistic standards.

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