Yellow journalism uses sensationalism and exaggeration to attract readers. It is usually not well-researched and often only tells one side of the story. It will sometimes have made-up interviews or imaginary drawings. It isn't always false, though sometimes it is. It does tend to be overly dramatic and play on the emotions or fears of readers. Discover several yellow journalism examples to better understand the concept.
Examples of Yellow Journalism in History and Today
Yellow Journalism Today
Yellow journalism today isn't all that different from yellow journalism of the past, though it does seem to be even more prevalent now. While journalism is supposed to focus on factual information presented objectively, yellow journalism is anything but that. The war for clicks and views seems to have created an epidemic of sensationalized headlines that are anything but objective and often not even true (i.e., fake news).
Whenever you see sensationalized headlines that scandalize or exaggerate what the content is about, you're seeing an example of yellow journalism. For example, in December 2020, a Politco headline read "Biden to require walking boot after fracturing his foot" above a photo of Joe Biden wearing a mask (due to the Covid-19 pandemic). What actually happened? He tripped while playing with one of his dogs. His foot did have hairline fractures. But the headline made it sound much worse than it actually was. This was covered across all media platforms, from national media to local outlets, often with sensationalized headlines.
Yellow Journalism Examples
There are many notable examples of yellow journalism from today, as well as throughout history. These stories were sensationalized in broadcast and print media alike, and now in digital form as well.
- Spanish American War - Yellow journalism helped to push Spain and the United States into war in 1898. The Maine, a U.S. battleship, sank from an explosion. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst published false articles about a plot to sink the ship, thereby increasing tensions.
- Samsung and Apple court case - A story claimed that Samsung paid a $1.2 billion settlement to Apple in nickels. The story originated as comedy, but an American journalist published it as true.
- Ebola is Coming - During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Bloomberg Businessweek's cover graphic featured "Ebola is Coming" written across the full cover such that it appeared to have been drawn in blood. This terrifying image greatly exaggerated what was a very real threat without having to be sensationalized.
- Prince Harry and Megan Markle - When Prince Harry and Megan Markle announced in 2019 that they were giving up their titles to live a more ordinary lifestyle out of the public eye, the media went into overdrive. Their every move was covered, ironically focusing on the couple's desire to be out of the spotlight.
- Covfefe - When Donald Trump tweeted out Covfefe, the media scrutiny that ensued can be described as an example of yellow journalism. Yes, the tweets of someone in his position are closely scrutinized, but the extensive and ongoing media discussion of this was excessive by any standards.
- Baby snatched by eagle - This headline grabbed attention, but the accompanying video was shown to be a fake.
- World War I photo - The photo shows a man in front of a firing squad and the caption said the man was an enemy spy. The photo was a fake and the photographer was actually posing as the spy. It has since been used as a photo from WWII.
- Prime Minister called a traitor - ABC News reported that Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu called Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a traitor, but the report was false.
- O.J. Simpson - Live reporting of the chase and capture of Simpson sensationalized this tragic case after Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife.
- Tiger Woods - The news media had a heyday with the story of his affairs including interviewing sex addicts.
- Heidi Fleiss - She was convicted of prostitution and tax evasion and became very well-known due to the media coverage.
- Botox mom - This story of a mom giving her daughter Botox and waxings to keep her looking young was a hoax. The Sun, a British tabloid, paid her $200 to say she did it.
- Octomom - A former stripper gave birth to octuplets and became a media sensation.
- Crazed woman chases Brad Pitt - The headline is an eye-catcher, but she was really just running after him to take a picture.
Yellow Journalism in Tabloid Headlines
Many more examples of yellow journalism have been seen in tabloid headlines over the years, as well as other publications. Catchy headlines can be great as long as they're accurate and not overly sensationalized.
- Titanic Survivors Found Onboard
- Dick Cheney is a Robot - When he goes to the hospital, it's to get his circuits rewired
- Severed Leg Hops to Hospital
- Hubby's Bad Breath Kills His Wife
- Vampires Attack US Troops
- Half-Man Half-Dog Baffles Doctors
- Alien Bible Found, They Worship Oprah
- Man's 174-mph Sneeze Blows Wife's Hair Off
- Teen's Hair Changes Color … With her Mood!
- Supreme Court Judges are Naked Under Robes!
- Chain-smoker Kicks 30-year Habit … Then Chokes to Death on Wad of Nicotine Gum!
- Dolphin Grows Human Arms
- Man Gives Birth to a Healthy Baby Boy
- Abraham Lincoln was a Woman
- Jesus Action Figure Heals the Sick
- Half of U.S. hookers are space aliens - and they don't have sex organs!
- Man makes $60,000 a year as human lawn jockey
- Nazi UFOs to Attack U.S.
- Snake with Human Head Found in Arkansas
- News Reporter Eaten Alive by 80-Ft Dinosaur
- Man's Head Explodes in Barber's Chair
- Is Your Cat from Mars?
Don't Fall for Yellow Journalism
As you can see, yellow journalism attracts attention but typically doesn't have much substance. Learning to recognize fake news, misinformation and overly-sensationalized stories presented as if they were news can help keep you from being influenced by biased reporting and misinformation. Often, yellow journalism headlines don't even reflect the content of the stories they're introducing. Don't assume that headlines are true; read the full story and seek to separate what is factual from what is not true. This will help you become an educated consumer of news. Review these tips for writing a news report so you'll be able to identify actual news stories rather than examples of yellow journalism.