1. Yellow journalism dates back to the end of the 19th century.
(Office of the Historian, JSTOR Daily)
The term “yellow journalism” was coined in the 1890s to describe the battle between news moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. To increase their respective daily newspapers’ market share, they started sensationalizing the news and putting exaggerated, eye-catching titles on the front page. Writers then began referring to this type of journalism as “yellow” to distinguish it from serious, fact-based journalism.
2. This style of journalism got its name after a comic character.
Around that same time, Pulitzer’s newspaper published a comic strip featuring a character called “the yellow kid.” One of the lesser-known yellow journalism fun facts is that this sensational journalism style was named after the comic character.
The character himself was involved in the war between the two moguls. When its creator left Pulitzer’s newspaper to join Hearst, Pulitzer hired another cartoonist to make a similar character. Both battling newspapers started publishing competing versions of the “yellow kid” comic strip, so contemporaries began referring to their war as the battle of the “yellow kids.”
3. Celebrity culture and yellow journalism often go hand-in-hand.
By the mid-20th century, the media had become fixated on celebrities and their private lives. For a long time, celebrity culture was an integral part of the yellow journalism definition. The very profitable alignment of paparazzi photographs, celebrity culture, and yellow journalism exploded in the 1990s, mostly thanks to Princess Diana.
At the time, she was the world’s most photographed person — even grainy paparazzi photos of her cost up to $650,000. In 2007–2008, about a decade after Princess Diana’s death, a paparazzi photograph of bald Britney Spears sold for $500,000. During that period, Spears alone was responsible for 20% of paparazzi photographers’ total income.
4. Yellow journalism has evolved into what we now refer to as “fake news.”
With the rise of the internet, journalism has moved to the digital world, and yellow journalism followed suit. In this era, yellow journalists gradually shifted their focus away from celebrities as politics became the primary entertainment source — and we eventually got “fake news.”
This term refers to two types of news. The first type contains entirely fabricated information presented as a news story. The other type contains some accurate information but is presented in a highly exaggerated, sensational style to attract clicks and views.
5. The exaggeration of negative news has serious and measurable consequences.
Exaggeration is at the core of yellow journalism, and its consequences can be very harmful. Research-based yellow journalism stats show that the exaggeration of negative news can skew people’s perception of reality. For example, due to sensationalist tornado reports, most Americans believe tornadoes have a higher death rate than asthma, even though they actually kill about 50 people per year, compared to 4,000 who die of asthma complications.
6. The circulation of the yellow press has been declining for years.
It’s no news that print journalism has been rapidly declining over the last decade. Regardless of their sensationalist content, yellow journalism newspapers — mostly tabloids — seem to have met a similar fate. The UK is particularly notorious for its numerous tabloids, but their circulation is collectively dropping each year. Between 2018 and 2019, the Daily Star saw a 14.9% drop in circulation, The Sun fell by 12%, and the Daily Express decreased by 9.1%.