Yellow Journalism is an unflattering term used to describe newspaper or any media coverage that is sensationalized in order to bring about a desired result. While not necessarily outright lies, it plays rather loosely with the truth or presents information in a way where conclusions are reached that might not be drawn if all information was presented.
It downplays legitimate news in favor of eye-catching headlines that sell more newspapers. It may feature exaggerations of news events, scandals, sex, weird events or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or journalists. Campbell (2001) defines Yellow Press newspapers as having daily multi-column front-page headlines covering a variety of topics, such as sports and scandal, using bold layouts (with large illustrations and perhaps color), heavy reliance on unnamed (often non-existent) sources, and unabashed self-promotion.
Mott defines Yellow Journalism in terms of five characteristics:
- scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
- lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
- use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called "experts"
- emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)
- dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system.
The term was extensively used to describe certain major New York City newspapers about 1900 as they battled for circulation. By extension the term is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion, such as systematic political bias.
Both Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst are associated with bringing yellow journalism into American society through their newspapers in the later half of the nineteenth century. The prominence of yellow journalism was especially notable in coverage of the Spanish occupation of Cuba and Pulitzer and Hearst took credit for the Spanish American War that followed, but historians dispute the claim. Their papers reached only New York City readers, and it was the rest of the country that demanded war in 1898.
- Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism (1941) p. 539 online
- Auxier, George W. "Middle Western Newspapers and the Spanish American War, 1895–1898," Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1940) v. 26 in JSTOR
- Campbell, W. Joseph. Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies, (2001) online edition
- Emory, Edwin and Michael Emory. The Press and America (4th ed. 1984)
- Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (2000)
- Rosenberg, Morton, and Thomas P. Ruff. Indiana and the Coming of the Spanish-American War, (1976), finds that Indiana papers were "more moderate, more cautious, less imperialistic and less jingoistic than their eastern counterparts."
- Smythe, Ted Curtis, and Sloan, W. David, eds. The Gilded Age Press, 1865–1900, (2003), online
- Sylvester, Harold J. "The Kansas Press and the Coming of the Spanish-American War", The Historian 31 (February 1969), finds no Yellow journalism influence on the newspapers in Kansas.
- Welter, Mark M. "The 1895–1898 Cuban Crisis in Minnesota Newspapers: Testing the 'Yellow Journalism' Theory", Journalism Quarterly 47: 719–724 (Winter 1970)