Promoting tabloid journalism

The biggest achievement of tabloid newspapers in this country is said to be their penetration into a market which previously did not read newspapers or was not adequately represented in the mainstream media.

While I can’t say I’m a fan, I have to say, my recent experience with the Daily Sun has forced to me acknowledge that this tabloid gives its readers a sense of ownership over the paper, and is rightly referred to as “the people’s paper.”

The daily recently republished an article I wrote for The Media‘s sister website, Marketingweb, and before 10am that very same day I had received four emails from Daily Sun readers. You can imagine my surprise at this almost instantaneous response given that it is said most readers are semi-literate and often blue-collar workers. I continued to receive many more that week and became an overnight “celebrity” in my neighbourhood. Neither my neighbours nor the young boys who wash my car at weekends let me forget that they saw me in the newspaper.

Discussing efforts to encourage tabloids to enter the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards this year, my colleagues and I wondered how best the playing field can be levelled. After all, there are stark differences between tabloids and mainstream publications especially when it comes to the quality of the content and their writing styles. For example, how does one judge a piece published in Cape Argus or Beeld against one in the Daily Voice or Son when their writing and language use are worlds apart. Yes, the articles may not be that incomprehensible but part of the judging probably includes checking proper language usage with as few colloquialisms and slang as possible.

I debated this with an editor of one of the tabloid newspapers. I asked him why they run stories that are unbelievable to some of us such as people being raped by snakes or being victims of witchcraft.

“But who are we to question what the people say? If someone tells you that his house is haunted and that at night this and that happens, who are we to say that the person is lying just because they believe in something we don’t? You know very well that among black people, if something happens and they can’t explain it, there are those who will say it must be witchcraft.”

That said, is it then justified for a newspaper to publish a recipe for making a dangerous drug in the name of educating readers on how easy it is to make the substance?

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying tabloids should not be allowed to enter journalism awards because that would be discrimination. After all, there are positive contributions they’ve made to their communities such as leading successful campaigns against crimes like rape and drug usage. All I’m saying is it would be nice to see more of them use their influence more responsibly because, yes, tabloids have succeeded in getting people to read but does that count when all they are fed is information that doesn’t improve their lives?

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