The Future of Journalism: Living in “Yellow”, Expecting the Glow
By Diyah Hayu Rahmitasari
Journalism has transformed into many forms and styles in recent times (Zelizer, 2009, p.1). The transformation is not only about the format of the journalism, from verbal to digital, but also the contents in it. It depends on the structure of media industries, the social context where the journalism exist, and the market demand. One of the journalism styles that grows rapidly in recent years is tabloid style which also known as Yellow Journalism.
What is Yellow Journalism?
According to Bessie (cited in Franklin, Hamer, Hanna, Kinsey & Richardson, 2005, p.279) yellow journalism is a kind of journalism which focuses on sensational and emotional content. This type of Journalism was born in the United States in 1890, during The Spanish-American War and it was indicated by the “media war” between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (“Oracle Think Quest: Yellow Journalism, n.d”).
The term yellow journalism refers primarily to the cartoon character in the New York World, “The Yellow Kid” who wore an outsized yellow shirt (Rahmitasari, 2010, April 27). The use of image and cartoon in its publication is a part of the revolution in journalism. The early journalism was just a text without any image, but then it has been improved to another style which involves image and photography.
As this term became more popular, yellow journalism then referred to shameful journalism: journalism that focuses on sensationalism, dramatization, scandal and gossip (Rahmitasari, 2010, April 27). Here, in yellow journalism, no forum for discuss and debate of public issue is offered. The journalist tends to grab the public interest rather than to answer the public need (Franklin, 1997, p. 4).
The yellow journalism can be divided into two groups: ‘yellow’ in the writing style, and ‘yellow’ in the content. The first group is a journalism that involves excessive headline and dramatic picture. The second group is a journalism that focuses on particular themes such as crime, sex, scandal, violence, gossip or mystic.
Some scholars label yellow journalism in many different ways. Malcolm (cited in Franklin, 1997, p.4) called it Newszak, to describe the style of journalism which concern on entertainment, while McNair (cited in Franklin, 1997, p.4) named it Bonk Journalism. For Thompson, it is Gonzo Journalism (cited in Franklin, Hamer, Hanna, Kinsey & Richardson. 2005. p.95). Others simply called it Tabloid Journalism (Franklin, 1997, p.4). Although there are many ways to entitle the yellow journalism, the main principle is the sensationalism and the bias that embedded in this kind of journalism.
The Existence of Yellow Journalism
The existence of yellow journalism has spread all over the world. Born in America, it has significant influence for media in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia.
In Indonesia, the development of yellow journalism has been increasing rapidly since the 1998 reform, especially since the Law of the Press, Number 40, 1999, the law that guarantees the independence of the press, was issued. After this date, sensational journalism which characterized by the exaggeration of the pictures, the colourful headlines and the irritating titles, as described in the picture, has became the most popular style of Indonesia’s newspapers. This is why some people argue that the existence of yellow journalism depends on the freedom of the press. The more freedom the journalism has, the more ‘yellow’ they are.
Nevertheless, yellow journalism also exists in authoritarian country. For instance in China, journalism relies on market demand rather than the commitment to public interest (Bandurski, 2006).
In Australia, many publications perform in tabloid style. It is indicated by the catchy headline, the colourful front page, and the extra large picture that could be found in most of Australian newspapers and magazines.
What to Expect from Journalism
Living in the ‘yellow’ world, where yellow journalism has become the part of our everyday lives, we should be re-questioning about what we actually need from journalism. People should start asking themselves whether they really need those sensational gossips and scandal information or not. People should be re-thinking about the significance of that kind of information.
Basically, the purpose of journalism is to supply us with the information we need. As a human, we need to share information and communicate with others. We need to know something out of our own experience. We have natural curiosity about what happened and why something happened. Thus, we create journalism to provide us with the information.
But, the information here means something valuable. Something important which without it people cannot live properly. In fact, there are two basic types of information: public information and private information. Journalism is supposed to work in the public information area. The journalists’ duty is writing the news, with its worthiness and quality, not publishing irresponsible issue and gossip indeed.
However, as the news is ‘heavy’ and ‘plain’, people are getting bored with it. They choose yellow journalism instead although it is not accurate, and yet unimportant. What makes yellow journalism become extremely accepted is because they offer light issues and is easy to read (Conboy, 2002, p.44). It is also usually cheaper than the conventional one. This is why the serious journalism getting more lagged behind.
Moreover, the market competition has led the serious journalism to follow the yellow journalism style in order to grab readers. It makes the yellow journalism hit like a ray of sun. It is difficult to avoid the yellow journalism exposure today, even if we read the serious newspaper. The news now becomes the commodity. It is not about whether it is important or not. It is about whether it is marketable or not.
The “New” Journalism: Enchanted without Exaggerated
Hence, the existence of yellow journalism is undeniable. Unfortunately, the discussion about it always raises a debatable conclusion. Some people thought it is terrific, others thought it is awful.
Nevertheless, if yellow journalism has already emerged in our everyday life and we cannot avoid its ‘spell’, at least we can adopt some techniques from journalism in order to make conventional/serious journalism as glow as yellow journalism. However, this is the style of the writing, not the content that should be changed. As described by Shafer (2009), ‘Yellow journalism can be reinvented…in a way that preserves its best elements, subtracts the worst and still glows’.
Therefore, the new journalism in the future must combine the best side of yellow journalism and the best side of serious journalism. It must be stylish, easy to read, attractive, but still important, polite, and considering the ethics and the impacts at the same time. In short, it must be ‘spicy’ but still worthy.
Finally, the yellow journalism might be a bitter fact and a worst part of journalism. However, as long as the term ‘yellow’ here is not related to misleading news, lies and even rumors, we can still acknowledge it or even implement its performance. So that, we will have a new journalism in the future: the new one that not ‘yellow’ but still glow.
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