Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yellow Journalism: Is George Clooney the Latest Victim?

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Lecturer of Journalism, Peoples Campus and RR Campus, TU.

In Nepal, there is no dearth of newspapers which try to damage the image and reputation of some people by publishing bad and misleading  materials about them. In case of Nepal's journalism, there is still a journalistic stigma attached to the weekly newspaper journalism as many of them are brazenly pro-corrupt politicians and tycoons. Therefore, the practice of yellow journalism and mud-slinging is not uncommon in Nepal. But make no mistake. Yellow journalism and sensational reporting is not confined to countries like Nepal alone, they are practiced even in countries like the US, the UK, Russia etc.

In fact the country of origin of yellow journalism was the United States where Joseph Pulitzer's "New York World" and William Randolph Hearst's "New York Journal" waged the intense battle to outdo each other in increasing the newspaper circulation in the period between 1895-1898. Therefore, it looks like, the term is first coined during the internecine warfare between the New York World and the New York Journal.

At first, the origin of the yellow press had nothing to do with the reporting and writing. In fact, the term yellow press derived from a cartoon strip about life in New York slums called Hogan's Alley by cartoonist Richard F Outcault. Pulitzer's New York World kicked off printing colorful comics and the well known 'protagonist' came to be known as the Yellow Kid and hence originated the Yellow Journalism.

Sensationalization, telling one side of the story, lack of well-researched materials, distorting or exaggerating the news to attract readers, using eye-catching headlines, treating  news in an  unprofessional or unethical way - the mantra that defines the yellow journalism.

In fact, the tabloids  in the UK and weekly news magazines in the US, even today, are running after the celebs not only to star hotels but into the sleazy clubs and restaurants too to find some embarrassing moments. Remember, the cause of death of Princess Diana were the paparazzi. Unhealthy reporting practices are reported frequently in the UK and US. Is American celebrity George Clooney who is going to marry Amal Alamuddin, a British national of Lebanese descent, gonna be the next target of yellow journalism?

The most recent epitome of the sensational journalism is the tabloid headline of the British newspaper  The Daily Mail about George Clooney: Sexiest Man Alive Becomes Angriest Man Alive. The Mail headline was, palpably, prompted by the ongoing war of words between the British newspaper and the US celeb.

The news stories on Clooney splashed across the front page of the Daily Mail and its web publication Mail Online are creating sensation in the US and the UK media, stirring a debate once again about the newspaper stories on  poking nose and exaggerating the quotes and the disgraceful intrusion on the private lives of the celebrities and politicians.

Even today, the popular weekly news magazines in the US, such as, Enquirer, Star, OK, People, In Touch and Us are competing to sell more copies by exaggerating news events, sensationalizing the stories, scandal-mongering and lurid revelations.

Not long ago, here in Portland, Oregon, USA, I confronted a Russian from Moscow who emigrated to the US recently. I told him that I was in the former Soviet Union for ten years and that I was pretty much acquainted with the Soviet propaganda journalism. (There was no yellow journalism in the USSR). We started talking in Russian about journalism in Russia and this was what he told me:"During the Soviet period, there was only Soviet journalism which was just the propaganda journalism. Now you can find newspapers of every hue including the yellow journalism in Russia."

Bottomline: You like or you don't,  yellow journalism is there in almost all countries (except North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam etc), it is here to stay for ever. You can't root it out easily, even if it is a bad journalism.

Instances of yellow journalism taking place now and then are one of the by-products of corrupt, immoral politicians, ostentatious celebrities, scandal mongers. One of the best way to control the yellow journalism is through the strict enforcement of code of conduct brought out for journalists. More professional journalistic training and workshops should be organized for the reporters. Adequate remuneration and perks will help the journalists stay away from the yellow "creature".

Obviously, the name "journalist", "reporter", or "press photographer" do not give anybody carte blanche to write salacious gossips or act like irresponsible paparazzi. Actually, they can not morally get away with anything they do, say or write.

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