Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yellow Journalism and the Drudge-Effect

The topic of "Yellow Journalism" has been popping up in several of my classes recently. It got me thinking a lot about my own writing online, other sites that play into this style, and the CNN-FOX effect. (Image: Drudge Report Archives) As much as I hate to admit it, sensationalism is almost a necessity for online news sites. Whether bloggers or online journalists, all reporters who want to succeed in this saturated market have to resort to sensationalism. Yellow Journalism is certainly not a result of the internet, but it has found a new home online.

Online, no one has succeeded more with the yellow strategy than Matt Drudge. The Drudge Report claims to have more than 24 million visits over the last 24 hours and about 638 million over the past month. Drudge makes full use of his 1990s web design arsenal, including the Drudge Siren shown above, to pull his readers into his world.

Though Drudge's content more closely resembles an outright tabloid, the site has gained a stunning reader base, which rely on it for news. During the presidential election, Drudge's traffic beat the New York Times, and just barely finished behind Fox.

Though yellow journalism does not fulfill the needs of democracy for a reliable, educational press, millions of viewers flock to sensational news while snubbing actual news. At MacNN, it never ceases to amaze me that hugely important positive stories get only a fraction of the reader discussion that occurs with moderately important negative stories.

I've witnessed first hand how easy it is to sensationalize something bad. On the flip side of the coin, sensationalizing a good story often results in a public denouncement of the story as biased. The double standard of the readers makes yellow journalism even more complex and confusing. While everyone enjoys a pile on, a group hug is out of the question.

When it gets down to it, there are few ways to control a phenomenon like yellow journalism. The public craves the sensational and will abandon your site, newspaper, or television station if you don't deliver. At the same time that media consumption has reached an all-time high, so has public ignorance. Though that judgement is a matter of opinion, I stand by it. I think citizens will need to demand better for this to ever change -- after all, yellow journalism is a creation of public demand.