“Tabloids” generally refers to any paper produced in the tabloid format, that is, relatively smaller than conventional “broadsheets” and without physically separate sections. For urban commuters, these features make the “tab” easier to read than the broadsheet. So too do a number of other characteristics associated with most—not all—North American tabloids: short news items, large print and a simplified writing style. Tabloids’ colorful headlines often feature puns, slang, or hyperbole, for example, describing a murder in a New York strip club as “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.” A tendency to cultivate a broad audience often results in sensationalist or salacious stories. Tabs generally eschew abstract discussions of state policy or political analysis, favoring instead news about crime, celebrity, sports, or the bizarre. The most notorious tabloids, weekly national “supermarket tabloids,” invariably trumpet tales of celebrity romance, dubious “scientific” breakthroughs, or alien abductions in their pages. Not surprisingly, these journals often face charges of illegitimate news gathering or even outright fabrication.

In the 1980s and 1990s, worried media critics charged that the success of tabloids had begun to infect the culture, leading to growing “tabloidization” within journalism and a gradual erosion of news ethics. This was precipitating, or at least evidence of, a decline in the nation’s public culture more generally. Similar debates have taken place in the past— with the advent of both the penny press and the yellow press—as established news organs find their niches threatened by more popular, more explicitly commercial sources.

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