Colin Sparks & John Tulloch (eds.) (2000). Tabloid Tales: Global Debates Over Media Standards. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield). xiii + 315 pp. ISBN 0-8476-9572-7. $38.95 (paper). Chapter notes and references, index, authors' bios.
Rather than a "debate" per se, this book contains a collection of essays on a variety of different journalistic problems, mostly related to what Sparks calls "the panic over tabloid news," many of which have substantial implications for the readers of this magazine. The need for standards seems to be taken as given, but there is much less agreement on which standards are desirable. The scope and range of these chapters are impressive-although the word "tabloid" appears to be used pejoratively rather than descriptively by most of the writers, regardless of the country (e.g., Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, United States) in which their research was done.
Tabloid Tales is divided into three parts: "Are the Tabloids Taking Over?," "Tabloid Journalism in Perspective," and "What Implications Does Tabloid Journalism Have for Society?" Within part one are chapters on political space and the trade in television news (by Andrew Calabrese); an inquiry into tabloidization and the success of German local newspapers (Klaus Schﾔnbach); a quantitative investigation into changes in British newspapers 1952-1997 (Shelley McLachlan & Peter Golding); a content analysis of three decades of competition between two examples of the British tabloid press (Dick Rooney); and the development of the tabloid press in Hungary (Agnes Gulyás).
The second part includes chapters on "the eternal recurrence of new journalism" (John Tulloch); the "home and family" section of Japanese newspapers (Kaori Hayashi); journalists' views of tabloids (Mathieu M. Rhoufari); tabloidized political coverage in the German Bild-Zeitung (Ulrike Klein); and tabloidization, media panics, and Mad Cow disease (Rod Brookes).
The third part of Tabloid Tales contains chapters on audience demands in U.S. television news (S. Elizabeth Bird); literacy, seriousness, and the Oprah Winfrey Book Club (Janice Peck); rethinking "personalization" in current affairs journalism (Myra Macdonald); popular journalism and the transition to democracy in Mexico (Daniel C. Hallin); and tabloidization, popular journalism, and democracy (Jostein Gripsrud).
Are the implications of tabloidization as important as this book implies? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But this book may well be an examination of a basic (and disconcerting) idea, and not merely the collection of symptoms that a hasty look at the table of contents would imply. The growth of tabloidization and infotainment, the substitution of scandal and notoriety for news, and other evolutionary (or devolutionary?) changes in the very concept of journalism are important in their own right.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Spring 2004 (15:2), pp.29-30.