Tabloid and Traditional News
Tabloid and Traditional Television News Magazine Crime Stories:
Demography and Distinction
Maria Elizabeth Grabe
School of Journalism
Ernie Pyle Hall
[log in to unmask]
Submitted to the Radio -- Television Journalism Division of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for presentation
at its 1996 annual convention.
Tabloid and Traditional Television News Magazine Crime Stories:
Demography and Distinction
In recent times tabloid news has been accused of emphasizing and
sensationalizing criminal behavior -- thereby violating the journalistic ideal
of providing objective information to the citizens of a democratic society.
Yet, these claims have not been subjected to systematic investigation. This
study compares tabloid and traditional news magazine programs in terms of their
emphasis on crime stories and the content of these crime narratives.
Tabloid journalism cannot be easily defined. Today it is often
referred to as a distasteful and sensational "distortion of facts", that stands
in stark contrast to traditional, official or highbrow news. Mass media
educators and high profile television news anchors, like Dan Rather, have been
vocal recently in condemning tabloid journalism for its violation of highbrow
notions of what news ought to be. These guardians of good taste have labeled
tabloid news infotainment, body bag journalism, trash for cash, and, checkbook
journalism, and accuse it of operating on the principle if it bleeds it
leads. This tension between tabloid journalists and self-proclaimed
intellectuals also surfaced during the years of penny press journalism in the
1830's. Bessie cites the "Saturday Review of Literature's" rage against
tabloid poison: "What will the grandchildren of the tabloid readers be like ...
in emotions, ideals, intelligence, either wrought into fantastic shapes or burnt
out altogether. Soiled minds, rotten before they are ripe". Thus, through
alleged vulgar emphasis on the crime theme, tabloid news is supposedly violating
the traditional journalistic goals of informing the citizens of a democratic
society through objective reporting.
Crime is a staple ingredient of tabloid news. Dewerth-Pallmeyer's
and Hirsch's interviews with "Hard Copy" producers revealed strong links between
police departments and the "Hard Copy" program staff. Yet, Stevens argues
that traditional news emphasizes crime to at least the same extent as tabloid
journalism. The highbrow ideals of journalism as an objective information
service deserve further scrutiny.
Ruel is ambitious in describing the journalistic mission as a sacred
one, in which the goal is to write the first draft of history. This view of
journalistic endeavors as objective, factual, fair, impartial, balanced, and
reflecting reality is not uncommon among journalists, cultural critics, and
Yet, a number of scholars have questioned the existence of the
"nobody's point of view". Efron cites Bill Moyers as saying that
objectivity is the most profound of all myths about journalism. David Brinkley
has said that objectivity is not humanly possible because it reduces the
journalist to a vegetable.
Chibnall mentions that when a group of journalists finds similarities
in their stories about a specific event, they are usually eager to attribute
these similarities to journalistic objectivity while ignoring the possibility
that they are all well trained in the construction of narratives according to a
formula. Bird and Dardenne argue that news stories are cultural (not
natural) constructions by meticulous rules and devices. The inverted
pyramid model and the classic five W's (who, what, when, where, and why?)
formula for news writing provide an efficient organizing structure to the
journalist who has to formulate a report with precision and speed. Pre-existing
story structures thus serve to integrate new information into a framework that
has earned conventional acceptance from journalists and their audience.
Curiously, journalists from both tabloid and highbrow camps claim
"authenticity" through the application of different styles, exemplifying
objectivity in the case of highbrow news and subjectivity in the case of tabloid
news. Highbrow news reporters attempt to distance themselves in an attempt to
claim objectivity and authenticity. On the other hand, tabloid news follows a
recipe of involvement or subjectivity to produce authenticity and credibility.
Tabloid reporters become part of the human interest drama and the subjective
eyewitness camera viewpoint is employed to draw the viewer into the news
stories. Identification, empathy, or involvement are often the result.
According to Knight tabloid news " ... acts as a mirror, not in the conventional
sense as an attempt at reflection of reality, but as an instrument through which
the viewer is encouraged to recognize him/herself in meaningful ways."
Informing Citizens of a Democratic Society
Following the expectation that journalists should be objective
formulators of messages about "reality" is the expectation that journalists
provide the type of information that citizens in a democratic society need.
Yet, there are reasons to question the efficacy of news as society's major
source of information. The highly structured inverted pyramid formula used in
news stories is an efficient and time-saving way of organizing information for
mass distribution. However, it may be counter-productive to the general
journalistic goal of informing the public. The inverted pyramid model does not
provide a logical procession of events. It starts with the lead (a summary of
the story), and then proceeds by revealing progressively more detail about the
reported event. Graber argues that despite the journalistic premium placed on
informing the public, the inverted pyramid model of reporting may encourage
partial reading because it provides a summary of the story in the opening
paragraph of the newspaper story. Bird and Dardenne similarly argue that
not only may people ignore a news story because the topic does not interest
them, but people ignore much of what is in newspapers because the storytelling
format is hard to follow.
It is interesting to note that Graber, Rayfield, and Stern found that
people do not remember much of what they are exposed to after either reading
newspapers or watching television news broadcasts. Stern found that a few
hours after the evening news broadcast, 51% of randomly sampled individuals did
not remember the content of a single story. Donahew conducted an
experimental study on the arousal and mood changes associated with different
styles of storytelling. Narrative styles generated significantly more
learning than traditional newspaper styles of reporting. LaBaschin argues that
television news producers are discovering the essentially narrative structure of
television and are increasingly presenting news as stories with beginnings,
middles, and ends. This may increase the public's recall of television news
Although Bird and Dardenne call for an abandonment of the distinction
between information and entertainment functions of news, tabloid is commonly
referred to as infotainment. All journalistic enterprises must entertain in
order to meet and invigorate public demand, thus shifting such enterprises from
pure informational goals. Bird and Dardenne argue that highbrow news is not
entirely devoid of the entertaining trivia that characterizes tabloid
journalism. Knight and Dean also appear skeptical of highbrow news as
purely an information source. They argue that all television genres blend
fiction and nonfiction, information and entertainment, while at the same time
going to great lengths to ensure that these boundaries are artificially
maintained and publicly recognized.
Unlike highbrow news, which aspires to be society's objective
watchdog on "reality" and pretends to focus primarily on meaty and timely
political and economic issues, tabloid news openly favors subjective news
coverage of scandal, crime, human tragedy, and the disruption of everyday life.
Consequently, the content of tabloid, which has been dismissed by highbrow news
intellectuals as trivial, exerts both an informational and entertainment impact
on the lives of many Americans.
The highly publicized criticisms of tabloid news in recent years
stand as a reminder of the publicly drawn distinctions between different news
formats. The historically reoccurring condemnation of tabloid news in a public
forum may reflect more important social processes at work than individual
opinions of this news format as a flawed and subjective information source.
Indeed, this study suggests that through the public rituals of separating
tabloid from highbrow news, social distinctions between society's members are
redrawn. The recent wave of criticism directed towards tabloid news reaffirms
its long standing position in the realm of low culture, while traditional news
is held up as an example of high culture (see Table 1 for a summary of the
traditional distinctions between low/mass/popular and high culture).
Table 1 about here
News and the High/Low Culture Distinction
The condemnation of tabloid news bears directly upon the high/low
culture distinction that includes but stretches beyond media fare. The
suggestion is that tabloid news fits into the low culture category, while
highbrow news fits into the high culture category. Thus tabloid news, like rock
music and other popular culture artifacts, presents the supposedly
unsophisticated version of the highbrow ideal.
Table 2 about here
According to Gans, high culture refers to the music, art, literature,
and other symbolic products that are preferred by members of the educated elite,
and to the styles of thought and ways of living associated with those who are
"cultured." Mass, popular, or low culture refers to the symbolic products
associated with the poor, uneducated, working, "uncultured" classes.
There is remarkably little information available about the tabloid
audience. However, because of the blue-collar values evident in the content of
supermarket tabloid newspapers, Bird argues that the readers may indeed resemble
the people in tabloid newspaper content. Preliminary examinations into the
Simmons Market Research Bureau's studies of media and markets (1990-1992)
suggest that Bird's observation that the newspaper tabloid audience is comprised
of predominantly working-class people is also true of the television tabloid
According to Bird, tabloid newspaper stories subtly suggest a
separation of tabloid readers from the upper-middle and upper-classes. For
example, even though tabloid news is preoccupied with celebrity stories, it does
not cover stories about celebrities from high fashion or art. Tabloid
television is politically cynical and morally conservative. It emphasizes the
corruption, self-interest, and greed of the politically powerful and the
upper-class, while simultaneously promoting traditional religious, blue-collar
values. Bird also argues that tabloid newspaper content has always provided
hope for working-class readers with its heavy doses of "rags to riches" stories,
while simultaneously offering consolation in its emphasis on "money can't buy
The rigid lines drawn between mass culture and high culture have been
criticized. As Shusterman reminds us, when we condemn the popular as fit only
for those with barbaric taste and dull wit, we are reinscribing and reinforcing
the divisions in society that our democratic pursuits have attempted to
eliminate. It is therefore alarming to see the dismissal of problems that
ordinary people may encounter in the current outrage over tabloid television.
In reference to the content of tabloid news magazine programs Ruel
clearly reveals the elitist concern about the low taste captured in tabloid
news: " ... according to these news magazine shows, the entire planet Earth,
with its myriad complex, fascinating and obscure stories, seemed to shrink down
to a tacky little trailer park populated only by a cast of violent
offenders." Ruel's statement is a direct attack on the legitimacy of
problems such as disappointed love, family conflicts, substance abuse, violence,
and financial hardship. It assumes that international and esoteric matters,
such as the world economy or politicians' competition for the Nobel Peace Prize,
are more legitimate and more worthy of news coverage than the events that impact
the lives of ordinary people. Shusterman calls this denial of the legitimacy of
problems facing ordinary people a " ... convenient strategy for the privileged
and the conservative to ignore and suppress the realities of those they dominate
Interestingly, this dichotomous view of culture as high or low,
unites two otherwise irreconcilable political spheres. Indeed, the denigration
of mass culture provides a rare instance for elitist reactionaries and Marxists
to join forces. Cultural elitists fear for the extinction of individual
excellence at the hand of mass mediocrity. Gasset puts it bluntly: " ...
the mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is
excellent, individual, qualified and select." Similarly, Marxist concerns
about massification include its supposed promotion of alienation and detachment
among society's members through the destruction of primary demographic
groupings. Numerous studies have indicated that these fears of a mindless
homogenous mass audience are unsubstantiated. In fact, research results
indicate that through the consumption of mass culture, demographic distinctions
are reaffirmed. The notion that consumption of mass culture products, such
as tabloid news, causes the disappearance of cultural diversity in a mass
audience is therefore questionable. Indeed, tabloid and highbrow news may cater
to very different demographic groups, thereby supporting cultural diversity.
Yet, evoking the tabloid/highbrow news distinction reopens the matter of
massification - this time within the news realm. Unlike the traditional view
that mass culture (including tabloid news) is inferior and harmful to high
culture, this study proposes that the differences between tabloid and highbrow
news may be functional in perpetuating class distinctions.
The accusations against tabloid news are sweeping. Yet, no
systematic research has been conducted in support thereof. This study therefore
compares the prevalence and prominence of the crime theme in tabloid and
highbrow news magazine programs. The portrayed intensity of motivations behind
the crime and the victim's injuries are also under investigation as possible
indicators of subjective and entertaining dramatization of news. This study is
also concerned with matters beyond the judgment of tabloid news as a flawed,
inferior, and distasteful information source. The possibility that different
news formats cater to different audiences and that the content of tabloid and
highbrow news stories about crime may serve to perpetuate class distinctions are
examined. Tabloid and highbrow representations of criminal's and victims'
demography, comparative representations of the crime's location, and the outcome
of the crime are included in the coding instrument.
This study is a content analysis of six months of highbrow and
tabloid television news magazine broadcasts. The content of four different
tabloid television programs and eight highbrow news magazine programs was
analyzed. The analysis was conducted on two levels. First, individual programs
were analyzed to provide insight into the general prevalence of crime in the
programs during the six month period under investigation. Second, individual
program segments that featured crime as a central theme, were examined in order
to assess the demographic profiles of criminals and victims and the narratives
underlying the criminal act. Three coders participated in the coding procedure
which was completed over a one month period.
This study focused on news magazine programs because they feature
self-contained narrative segments and allow for relatively elaborate
storytelling. News magazine programs are more appropriate for an investigation
of crime narratives than the short and fragmented stories featured in television
newscasts. News Magazine storytelling relies on various techniques of
reconstructing a newsworthy event. It employs a strategic mix of on-site
filming, interviews, narration (anchors and field reporters), and music.
Moreover, the news magazine program offers comparable highbrow and tabloid
versions of the same storytelling format. This study focused on "A Current
Affair", "Inside Edition", "American Journal", and "Hard Copy" as tabloid news
magazine programs . The specific highbrow programs are: "Dateline NBC",
"Prime Time Live", "Turning Point", "48 Hours", "Eye to Eye with Connie Chung",
"60 Minutes", "Day One", and "20/20". Tabloid magazine programs are half hour
broadcasts during weekdays and typically feature three stories per program.
Highbrow magazine programs are usually hour long weekly broadcasts featuring
between three and five stories. Dewerth-Pallmeyer and Hirsch identify a number
of further differences and similarities between tabloid and highbrow news
magazine programs. For example, the formats of the shows are similar
although highbrow programs are hour-long weekly broadcasts and tabloid programs
are half-an-hour daily shows. Both tabloid and highbrow program spokespeople
say that they hire journalists and anchor people based on a combination of their
journalistic abilities and public recognition. The budgets of both news
magazine genres are relatively modest in comparison to prime time entertainment
programs (news programs are generally produced at approximately one third of
what it costs to produce prime time entertainment). Highbrow and tabloid shows
are all owned by large, diverse media organizations. Nonetheless, tabloid shows
are typically syndicated, while highbrow news magazine shows are part of
nationally scheduled network programming.
Tabloid and highbrow news magazine shows were purposefully sampled
from the larger population of television news. Unlike most studies of this
nature, which typically use a composite month of television programming, all of
the identified highbrow and tabloid broadcasts aired during a six month period
(October 1, 1994 to March 31, 1995) were recorded. An additional week of these
television broadcasts (April 1-7, 1995) was used in coder training sessions.
Half a year of television news magazine programs provided 272 hours of material,
a substantial yet manageable amount of television content for the analysis. It
is important to use an uninterrupted time period for the study because major
crime stories tend to evolve over several weeks and a randomly sampled composite
month of television content would only provide fragments of this evolving
storytelling process. Although this study is not directly concerned with how
crime stories evolve over time, there was concern about creating a sample which
could only provide fragmented episodes in a complex, interrelated, and evolving
social process. The six month period is also long enough so that prominent
crime stories such as the O.J. Simpson and Susan Smith's cases were able to
Coding was based on what was portrayed, reported, suggested, or
implied in the content of the news programs. Two different sampling units were
used. The first is the single tabloid or highbrow program, the second is the
individual program segment in which crime was featured.
Sampling Unit One: The News Magazine Program
Coding sheet 1 represented the news magazine program as the sampling
unit. Items focused on the general prevalence and prominence of crime in the
program. The prevalence of crime was assessed through items pertaining to the
number of program segments and crime segments in each news magazine program, as
well as the duration of crime segments. Items concerning the positioning of the
crime segment within the story line-up provided insight into the prominence of
crime in tabloid and highbrow news magazine programs.
Sampling Unit Two: The Crime Segment
The second sampling unit concerned individual segments within news
magazine programs. A crime story was defined as a program segment, which
featured one or more acts of breaking the law as central to the narrative. Only
a subset of all segments, based on this criterion, was coded. Three separate
coding sheets dealt with the criminal(s), victim(s), and crime(s) of each crime
story. A crime story may have multiple crimes, criminals, and victims, and in
such instances, coders coded each separately.
Coding sheet 2 was used to record demographic information about the
criminal. It focused on demographic variables, including gender, race, age,
class, occupational status, and the criminal history of the suspect. The
criminal was identified as the person, group, or organization suggested,
suspected, accused, charged, or found guilty of a crime. Three important
aspects were considered when coding a criminal. First, the criminal had to be
central to the crime narrative. Second, "suspect", "accused", "perpetrator", or
"sentenced criminal" were all coded as criminals. Once someone was identified
as a criminal (lawfully guilty or not) and presented as such in the story,
he/she was coded as a criminal. Third, this study included group and corporate
criminality. In such instances each of the identified members of the
corporation or group responsible for the crime were separately coded as
Coding sheet 3 was used to record the demographic information and
criminal history of the victim. The victim was identified as the person or
group which suffers due to criminal actions. Three important aspects were
considered when coding a victim. First, as with the criminal, the victim had to
be central to the crime narrative. Stories may provide criminals without
victims. In such instances only the presented criminal was coded. Second, in
cases of group victimization each central victim appearing, inferred, or
described was coded separately. Third, when animals were presented as the
victims of a crime, the "other" category was coded on all items except those
related to the severity of the victimization. Finally, in order for someone to
be coded as a victim, he/she had to be a direct or primary victim of the
criminal act. When acquaintances or family members of the primary victim are
portrayed as secondary victims (e.g., they lost the murdered family member) they
were not coded as victims. In addition, coding sheet 3 focused on the physical
and psychological harm done to the victim as a result of the crime. When the
victim suffered psychological harm, the portrayed seriousness of the injury was
coded on a 5-point scale.
Coding sheet 4 was used to record information about the criminal act
per se i.e., the location of the crime, the nature of, and motivation behind the
criminal, and the aftermath of the crime. The crime is the act committed by the
criminal, which establishes a relationship with a victim (except of course in
the case of a victimless crime). As with the criminal and victim, each criminal
act central to the crime narrative was coded. The intensity of the portrayed
motivations for the crime was coded on a 5-point scale. Finally, an open-ended
category inquired about additional portrayed motivations for crime. The outcome
of the crime was examined on a number of different levels. The prevalence of
the "crime doesn't pay" myth, the struggle between good and evil and the
portrayed roles of the criminal, victim, and law enforcement system in the
struggle between good and evil were scrutinized.
The operational definitions of crime, criminal, and victim used in
this study are not attempts to describe the "essence" of these constructs.
These definitions were merely useful within the parameters of this study, which
involves more inclusive treatment of crime portrayals than what is stipulated in
criminal justice definitions of crime.
A primary coder and two secondary coders participated in this
content analysis. A week before the coder training started, coders were
provided with the code book. They were asked to read it closely and identify
problems they encountered in the content of the code book. During a practice
coding session the coding instrument was applied to program material. A few
additional items within variables were added to improve exhaustiveness. The
additional week of magazine program content was used as a final pre-test of the
coding instrument. Using the Krippendorff Canonical Matrix Formula, an
acceptable level of coder agreement (83%) was established at the end of the
training period. The same formula was used in a post hoc assessment of
coder reliability. Ten percent of the six month sample (3 weeks) was randomly
selected and coded by all three coders. Agreement between the three coders in
this study was .91.
Because there were significant differences between the number of
crime segments produced by tabloid and highbrow programs, percentages were used
to make comparisons between these two news genres. Rather than performing post
hoc control measures on data, percentages provided a simple and reliable means
of comparison under these circumstances.
Chi-square analyses were used to determine if there were
statistically significant relationships between and among a number of nominal
level variables. For all these analyses alpha error rate was set at the .05
level of statistical significance. Two-way chi-square analyses were performed
to investigate statistical relationships between two separate variables. For
example, in a crosstabulation of the criminal's and victim's gender, the "male",
"female" and "unknown or other" categories for criminals and for victims were
included in a two-way chi-square analysis. In such cases, the location of
statistically significant relationships between variables had to be further
investigated. Therefore, cells which were critical contributors to the
significant chi-square statistic were identified.
Yet, because this study is concerned with differences between tabloid
and highbrow news magazine programs with respect to specific categories within
variables, the differences were explored through one-way chi-square analyses.
For example, portrayals of the criminal's gender in tabloid and highbrow news
magazine programs were compared using the percentages related to the "male",
"female", and "unknown or other" categories in three separate one-way chi-square
analyses. In this way, rather than assessing whether a statistical relationship
was associated with gender in general, statistical differences between tabloid
and highbrow portrayals of specific gender groups were assessed.
The final comments about the use of chi-square analyses involve Ott's
suggestions that all values should be 5 or more before the outcome of chi-square
tests can be used in answering a research question or supporting an
hypothesis. Although most analyses were performed on percentages, the
frequencies of cells were scrutinized for values less than 5. The programs
under investigation produced impressively high frequency counts within most
categories. However, there were instances in which the "unknown" and "other"
categories within variables contained low frequencies. In such instances, as
Ott suggests, these categories were collapsed or excluded from the chi-square
The Prevalence and Prominence of Crime
Crime was significantly more prevalent on tabloid than highbrow shows
(see Table 3). In fact, 888 crime segments were coded as tabloid. The
remaining 178 crime segments were part of highbrow news magazine broadcasts.
Table 3 indicates that a chi-square analysis of these frequencies produced a
significant difference (p < .001) between expected (equal) and observed
More important though is the finding that a significantly larger
percentage (p < .05) of tabloid program segments was devoted to crime than was
the case with highbrow story segments. Approximately forty three percent of
tabloid segments were coded as crime stories. Only 25% of highbrow shows were
coded as crime stories (see Table 3).
Table 3 also reveals a significant difference (p < .001) between the
recorded minutes of crime content in tabloid and highbrow shows. Moreover,
almost half (49.2%) of the tabloid program duration was devoted to crime
stories, while 26.9% of the total highbrow content duration was coded as crime
stories. This difference was significant (p < .02).
Table 3 about here
The coded positions of the first crime segment within a program were
used to investigate the prominence with which tabloid and highbrow news magazine
programs presented crime stories. The fifth and sixth positions produced
frequencies of less than 5 and were therefore excluded from further analysis.
The frequencies related to the first through fourth positions were expressed as
percentages of the overall number of coded crime segments for each news genre.
A two-way chi-square analysis was performed on this crosstabulation of tabloid
and highbrow percentages. Table 3 presents the comparative prominence of crime
in tabloid and highbrow news magazine programs. It is clear that there was no
significant difference related to the prominence with which these two news
genres presented crime stories.
Tabloid and highbrow presentations of the crime's location (in space
and time) as well as the types of crime and motivations behind crime were
remarkably similar. In fact there were no significant differences with regard
to these variables. Both presented the crime as occurring in cities (77% of
tabloid and 73% of highbrow crimes), during the night time (80% of tabloid and
66% of highbrow crimes), and in private environments (73% of tabloid and 59% of
The two news formats also placed similar emphasis on violent crimes
(89% of tabloid and 85% of highbrow crimes) committed with a weapon (69% of
tabloid and 61% of highbrow crimes). In addition, there were no significant
differences in tabloid and highbrow emphases on sex, property and financial
crimes. Both presented psychological instability as the most prominent (92% of
tabloid and 85% of highbrow crimes) cause for criminal behavior, and poverty as
the least likely (1.0% of tabloid and 0.9% of highbrow crimes) cause for crime.
The demographic profiles of tabloid and highbrow criminals and
victims were remarkably similar as far as gender, race, and age are concerned.
Criminals were most likely to be presented as African American male adults.
However, when one considers the criminal's social class and employment status
significant differences appear.
A significantly (p < .05) larger percentage of criminals in highbrow
shows (49.7%), than tabloid shows (30.5%), belonged to the working-class. On
the other hand, a significantly larger (p < .01) percentage of criminals in
tabloid shows (55.2%) than highbrow shows (29.9%) belonged to the upper-class.
Highbrow programs were also more likely than tabloid shows to present the
criminal as unemployed (17.1% vs. 3.3%). This difference was significant (p <
.01) difference. Tabloid shows, on the other hand, were more likely (p < .001)
than highbrow shows to present the criminal as legitimately employed (see Table
Table 4 about here
Tabloid and highbrow programs presented the victims of crime in
surprisingly similar ways i.e., young adult, female, Caucasians. There were no
significant differences between their presentations of this demographic profile.
Chi-square analyses of two categories approached significance. One involved the
social class of victims, the other their employment status at the time of the
crime. It appears that highbrow shows were more likely (although not
significantly so) than tabloid shows to portray the victim as belonging to the
middle-class. Tabloid shows were also more likely (although not significantly
so) than highbrow shows to present the victim as a homemaker (see Table 4).
The demographic relationship between criminals and their victims was
examined through tabloid and highbrow crosstabulations of class, gender, race,
and age. The crosstabulation of race produced insignificant chi-square vales
for both tabloid and highbrow programs. Tabloid and highbrow portrayals of the
victim's and criminal's class followed similar, yet not identical patterns (see
Table 5). Highbrow shows tended to feature the working-class criminal more
prominently than tabloid shows. Tabloid shows presented the upper-class
criminal as the most prominent (67.5%) victimizer of the middle-class, whereas
highbrow shows presented the working-class criminal (50.5%) as victimizing the
middle-class. Both the crosstabulations of tabloid and highbrow presentations
of the criminal's and victim's classes were significant (p < .001).
Table 5 about here
Both tabloid and highbrow shows portrayed male criminals as the most
prominent victimizer of male and female victims (see Table 5). Strikingly, in
both tabloid and highbrow programs portrayed approximately 94% of female victims
were victimized by males. The crosstabulations of the criminal's and victim's
gender for both tabloid and highbrow shows produced significant (p < .001)
Crosstabulations for the age of tabloid and highbrow criminals and
victims produced significant results and indicate that two news genres followed
the same pattern in presenting youth as victims of young adults, young adults as
victims of adults, and adults as victims of adult criminals. These
crosstabulations produced significant chi-square results for both tabloid (p <
.001) and highbrow (p < .006) portrayals (see Table 5).
The Demography of Crime
Tabloid and highbrow portrayals of the victim's and criminal's
demographic profile in terms of crime types produced significant results that
pertained mostly to the social class of victims and criminals.
From Table 6 it is clear that highbrow programs presented youth as
violent criminals more often than tabloid (p < .05). Tabloid shows presented
young adults more often than highbrow shows as the perpetrators of sex crimes:
On tabloid shows, 21.7% of young adult criminals committed sex crimes, whereas
on highbrow shows, only 7% of young adult criminals committed this type of
crime. The chi-square value associated with this difference is significant (p <
Tabloid programs presented Latino (p < .05), middle-class (p < .02),
and youth (p < .05) criminals as committing property crimes more often than
highbrow shows. On the other hand, highbrow shows emphasized African Americans
(p < .05), adults (p < .05), and working-class criminals (p < .05) as committing
Crosstabulations of tabloid and highbrow percentages and the
criminal's demographic profile related to financial crimes produced two
significant results (see Tables 33). Highbrow shows presented Latino (p < .001)
and adult (p < .05) criminals committing financial crimes more often than
tabloid shows. Highbrow shows also placed more focus than tabloid shows on the
youth (p < .01) as using weapons in crime (see Table 6).
Table 6 about here
There were a few significant differences associated with tabloid and
highbrow portrayals of who is the victim of what types of crime. Highbrow
programs were more likely than tabloid programs to portray the middle-class as
victims of sex crimes (p < .05). Although the difference is only approaching
significance, it appears that tabloid shows (21.6% of victims) were more likely
than highbrow shows (12.5% of victims) to present the working-class as victims
of sex crimes (see Table 6).
As far as the victims of property and financial crimes were
concerned, it is clear from Table 6 that highbrow shows emphasized African
Americans (p < .05) in these roles, while tabloid shows placed emphasis on youth
(p < .05). Highbrow shows also placed more focus than tabloid shows on African
Americans (p < .05) as the victims of crimes committed with a weapon (see Table
Separate crosstabulations of tabloid and highbrow portrayals of
motivations for crime with the demographic variables related to the criminal
motivation to commit crime were subjected to chi-square analyses (see Table 7).
Four significant results were associated with these crosstabulations. Highbrow
shows emphasized African Americans (p < .02) and adults (p < .05) in the role of
the greedy criminal. Tabloid programs significantly more often (p < .05) than
highbrow programs portrayed the middle-class as committing crimes because they
were greedy. The only other significant chi-square values involved age and
romantic or domestic revenge. From Table 7 it is clear that tabloid shows
placed more emphasis (p < .05) than highbrow shows on the portrayal of adults
(rather than youth or young adults) as committing crimes motivated by the desire
to take domestic or romantic related revenge.
Table 7 about here
The Aftermath Of the Crime
Tabloid shows were more ambivalent (p < .001) than highbrow shows
about criminal justice findings concerning the guilt or innocence of suspects.
Only 15.1% of suspects who appeared on tabloid shows were shown to be found
guilty by the criminal justice system. By contrast, 30.6% of criminals on
highbrow shows were coded as having been found guilty by the criminal justice
system. In addition, the guilty or innocent status of 73.7% of criminals
presented on tabloid shows was unknown; 50.6% was unknown for highbrow
criminals. From Table 8 it is clear that both these differences were
significant (p < .05). Yet, there were no significant differences between
tabloid and highbrow shows regarding the frequency with which the "crime doesn't
pay" myth was presented. Both communicated without ambivalence that crime does
not pay (73% of crime stories).
Table 8 about here
Highbrow shows were more skeptical than tabloid shows of the justice
system's role in the struggle between good and evil. Where tabloid shows
clearly presented law enforcement officers as the good force (82.3%) in this
struggle, highbrow shows presented them as such in 57.3% of cases. From Table 9
it is clear that there was a significant (p < .05) difference.
Table 9 about here
Table 10 shows that highbrow news was more likely than tabloid to
present the law enforcement system as inadequate. Eleven percent of tabloid
crime stories suggested that the law enforcement system was inadequate, whereas
31% of highbrow cases indicated this. A significant (p < .01) chi-square value
was associated with this difference.
The subset of cases in which the law enforcement system was portrayed
as inadequate was selected and tabloid and highbrow portrayals of the victim's
and criminal's demographic profiles were compared via a series of one-way
chi-square analyses. Table 10 present summaries of these results.
Tabloid shows were most likely (p < .01) to present the upper-class
criminal, while highbrow shows were most likely (p < .02) to present the
working-class criminal in stories in which the law enforcement system failed to
serve justice. In addition, highbrow shows presented the middle-class victim
more often (p < .01) than tabloid shows in stories where the law enforcement
system appeared inadequate.
Table 10 about here
Intensity of Portrayals
The intensity of tabloid and highbrow presentations of violence, the
motivations for crime and the psychological harm done to the victim were coded
on a 5-point scale (see Table 11). A T-test, comparing tabloid and highbrow
mean scores, was performed. Although tabloid portrayals of the criminal's
motivations for crime were, in all but one case, coded as more intense than
highbrow portrayals, only one item produced a significant difference: Tabloid
shows presented criminals as significantly (p < .02) more unstable than highbrow
shows. Finally T-test results indicated that there was no significant
difference between tabloid and highbrow presentations of the seriousness of the
victim's psychological injuries (see Table 11).
Table 11 about here
Crime is a more popular theme in tabloid than highbrow programs.
This tendency is true when one compares the percentages of tabloid and highbrow
program time devoted to crime. Almost half (49.2%) of the total tabloid program
duration was coded as crime stories, whereas only 26% of the highbrow program
duration was coded as such. These findings are consistent with Knight's
argument that the tabloid news genre is more concerned than highbrow news with
crime, scandal, and human tragedy. Yet, when tabloid and highbrow shows
covered crime, they featured these stories with approximately the same
prominence; 75.75% of tabloid and 62.70% of highbrow crime stories were lead
stories. Tabloid and highbrow crime stories followed remarkably similar
narrative patterns. Yet, there were noteworthy differences specifically
pertaining to presentations of the victim's and criminal's social class which
provide valuable insights into the potential social functions of these two news
Preliminary examinations of the tabloid and highbrow audiences
indicate that they are popular with different social classes. Lower-middle and
working-class people are more likely to watch tabloid news magazine programs,
while highbrow news shows are popular among middle and upper-class viewers.
Patterned portrayals of class distinctions provide support for the idea that
tabloid and highbrow genres cater to different classes, and in so doing
perpetuate class distinctions.
The portrayals of class separatism are prominent at the most basic
level (i.e., the demographic profile of the criminal). On tabloid shows the
upper-class criminal was most prominent, on highbrow shows the working-class
criminal prevailed. Therefore, on tabloid shows the wealthy were portrayed as
the bad criminals, while on highbrow shows the opposite was communicated:
Working-class people were society's dangerous criminals. Along the same lines,
highbrow shows were more likely than tabloid shows to present the criminal as an
unemployed criminal. These judgments of the working class and the unemployed
were less emphasized in tabloid programs. In fact, the tabloid criminal was
more likely than the highbrow criminal to be employed. It is not unreasonable
to argue that these images of the criminal's class and employment status have
the potential to provoke suspicion between social classes.
The difference in tabloid and highbrow class portrayals was also
evident from analyses of the criminal's social class and crime types. As far as
property crime is concerned, tabloid shows presented the middle-class, and
highbrow shows presented the working-class, as the most prominent perpetrator.
This means that tabloid shows were most likely to present the middle-class as
thieves to their mostly working-class viewers. On the other hand, the mostly
middle to upper-class highbrow audience was presented with an image of the
working-class as thieves. These contradictory portrayals are likely to reaffirm
the distrust between middle and upper-class employers and their working-class
employees and subordinates. The patterned portrayals of social class
distinctions were also evident in the finding that tabloid shows placed more
emphasis than highbrow shows on the middle-class criminal as motivated by greed.
Hostile portrayals of the working-class (on highbrow shows) and the
middle-class (on tabloid shows) become clearer when one considers the social
class associated with each news genre's audience in relation to the presentation
of who victimizes whom. The predominantly working-class tabloid audience was
most likely to see crime stories in which working-class victims were victimized
by criminals belonging to the working-class. On the other hand, the
predominantly middle-class audience of highbrow news magazine shows was most
likely to see crime stories in which middle-class victims were victimized by
working-class criminals. For example, it has already been established that
working-class criminals were most likely to commit sex crimes in both news
magazine genres. Interestingly, highbrow programs were more likely than tabloid
programs to portray the middle-class as victims of these sex crimes.
Highbrow shows were also more likely than tabloid shows to present
working-class criminals as being involved in crimes where law enforcement was
portrayed as inadequate. It is not surprising that highbrow shows were also
more likely than tabloid shows to present the middle-class as the victims of
such crimes. On the other hand tabloid shows were more likely than highbrow
programs to emphasize the upper-class criminal in crimes where law enforcement
failed to serve justice. These portrayals of the justice system as failing a
certain class of people in favor of criminals from the opposing class could
hardly be described as likely to help overcome class distinctions. Even when
one considers the two news genres' portrayals of who victimized whom more
directly, differences become noticeable along class lines: Highbrow shows
emphasized the middle-class as most likely to be victimized by working-class
criminals. The reverse situation is true for tabloid portrayals, although
results only approached significance.
Differences between tabloid and highbrow portrayals of criminals,
victims, and crimes went beyond class distinctions. Highbrow programs were
generally more likely than tabloid programs to associate African Americans with
crime narratives. This means that African American criminals and victims were
generally more often featured in highbrow crime stories. Highbrow programs were
not only more likely than tabloid programs to feature African Americans as
victims of property and financial crimes, but also as criminals motivated by
greed and committing property crimes. It may be unfair to suggest that highbrow
shows were more guilty of racist portrayals than tabloid shows. However, it
cannot be ignored that these highbrow portrayals are consistent with Entman's
argument that traditional racism, which presupposes that African Americans are
inferior to Caucasians, has been replaced by contemporary mass mediated racism,
which typifies African Americans as a demanding and threatening group. It
is through these portrayals of African Americans that the system's exclusion and
diversification is maintained.
A final comment about the differences between tabloid and highbrow
portrayals of criminals, victims, and crimes concerns reports of the justice
system's adequacy. Both news genres were clear in delivering the lesson that
crime doesn't pay. Yet, it is fair to argue that tabloid shows were more
forthright than highbrow shows in suggesting that the law enforcement machine is
serving society's members. For example, tabloid programs were more likely than
highbrow programs to report that suspects were found guilty and were also more
explicit in their portrayals of law enforcement officers as the good force
fighting evil. On the other hand, highbrow shows appeared more cynical than
tabloid shows about the adequacy of the criminal justice system. It is not
surprising that the tabloid audience, as the underclass with most reason to
rebel against the social order, was more likely to be exposed to lessons
promoting faith in the mechanism that officially upholds law and order within
Finally, it is noteworthy that, according to coder ratings, tabloid
shows did not sensationalize or dramatize the levels of violence involved in the
criminal act or the psychological harm done to the victim. Only the reported
level of psychological instability of the criminal was coded as significantly
higher on tabloid programs.
This study presents insight into news magazine programs by
investigating the distinction between tabloid and highbrow news genres. Yet,
this distinction between tabloid and highbrow news may be problematic. Some
scholars may disagree with the idea that television news belongs in the highbrow
realm. In some circles prestigious news media include newspapers only and thus
the categorization of certain news magazine programs here as highbrow may be
debated. However, it is important to keep in mind that this study is an attempt
to examine the relative differences and similarities between programs such as
"60 Minutes" and "Hard Copy", and that the highbrow/tabloid distinction is
applied to them only with the television news program spectrum in mind. Thus,
the purpose is not to legitimize certain television news magazine programs as
part of the broader highbrow or prestige news media realm.
This study is certainly not an exhaustive examination of differences
between tabloid and highbrow news formats. It sought insights into the
distinction between the content of tabloid and highbrow crime reports. Yet,
beyond revealing the mass mediated rituals of distinguishing between class and
race groups through crime reports, this study reveals startling similarities
between tabloid and highbrow news. The distinction between tabloid and highbrow
television news appears alarmingly fragile despite the recent wave of outrage
against tabloid news in public.
Ericson views the condemnation of tabloid as low culture as typical
of the historical trend to dismiss the most pervasive and active forms of
culture of the time as trivial. The ongoing discourse about the dangers and
distastefulness of tabloid reporting provides the opportunity to publicly
articulate where groups or prominent individuals stand in terms of taste and
moral sensibilities. Instead of viewing tabloid news as diluting cultural
distinctions between demographic groups via massification, this study suggests
that we should consider it as maintaining cultural distinction and diversity by
catering to specific segments of the population. In this sense tabloid news,
and all of what is regarded as mass culture, is a rather benign artifactual form
which not only poses very little threat to higher cultural forms, but actually
reaffirms highbrow culture. This catering to audiences with different
socioeconomic status ultimately serves the social system in maintaining its
socioeconomic and class divisions. The highly publicized condemnation of mass
culture may actually be a device whereby social class divisions are publicly
Table 1. Summary of Similarities and Traditional Distinctions
Between Tabloid and Highbrow News
Characteristic Tabloid Highbrow
Approach Subjective Objective
Main Goal To Involve Viewers To Inform Viewers
Tone Sensational Distant
Audience Working-class Middle to Upper-class
Concern for Ratings High High
Emphasis on Local News Heavy Light
Production Staff Free-lance Crews Free-lance Crews
Studio Anchors Yes Yes
Field Reporters Yes Yes
Format 1/2 Hour Weekdays 1 Hour Weekly
Number of Segments Approximately 3 Approximately 4
Distribution Syndication Network
Table 2. Summary of Traditional Distinctions Between Mass and High
Mass Culture High Culture
Consumed by the Uneducated Consumed by the Educated Upper
Working-class Middle and Upper-class
Mass Produced Individually Crafted
Driven by Profit Seeking Driven by Artistic Expression
Dilutes Cultural Distinction Defines Cultural Distinction
Narcotic and Brutalizing Refining Effect on Audience
Effect on Audience
Fraudulent and Sensational Genuine and Understated
Table 3. Chi-square Analyses of the Comparative Prevalence of Crime
for Tabloid and Highbrow News Magazine Programs
Variable Total Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
Segments 2,783.0 2,071.00 712.00 17.60 0.001a
Crime Segments 1,066.0 888.00 178.00 472.80 0.001a
Crime Segments as a Percentage
of Segments 38.3 42.90 25.00 4.80 0.050b
Duration (in minutes) 16,322.0 7968.00 8354.00 0.06 n.s.a
Crime Duration (in minutes) 6,168.0 3,924.00 2,244.0 458.00 0.001a
Crime Duration as a Percentage
of Duration 37.8 49.20 26.90 6.50 0.020b
Position of first crime segment 7.24 n.sc
Lead 75.75 62.70
Second 14.81 15.06
Third 6.22 14.29
Fourth 2.80 7.95
Notes. Expected values assume equal distribution between tabloid and
highbrow news magazine programs.
aChi-square analyses were performed on frequencies for tabloid and
highbrow news magazine programs. Degrees of Freedom = 1.
bChi-square analyses were performed on percentages for tabloid and
highbrow news magazine programs. Degrees of Freedom = 1.
cDegrees of Freedom = 6.
Table 4. Significant (or approaching significance) Chi-square
Results of the Demographic Profile of the Criminal and Victim for Tabloid and
Highbrow News Magazine Programs
Variable Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
Upper 55.2 29.9 7.45 0.010
Middle 11.7 17.1 1.01 n.s.
Working 30.5 49.7 4.60 0.050
Poverty Level 0.4 0.6 0.04 n.s.
Unknown/Other 2.2 2.7 0.07 n.s.
Criminal's Employment Status
Legitimate 71.2 49.7 30.82 0.001
Illegitimate 4.7 8.1 0.90 n.s.
Unemployed 3.3 17.1 9.33 0.010
Homemaker 0.3 1.5 0.80 n.s.
Unknown/Other 20.5 23.7 0.23 n.s.
Upper 43.2 29.8 2.46 n.s.
Middle 22.5 35.8 3.03 n.s.
Working 29.6 24.2 0.54 n.s.
Poverty Level - 0.7 -
Unknown/Other 4.7 9.6 1.68 n.s.
Victim's Employment Status
Legitimate 35.3 43.4 0.85 n.s.
Illegitimate - 0.7 -
Unemployed 0.8 - -
Homemaker 34.7 20.2 3.83 n.s.
Unknown/Other 429.2 35.7 0.67 n.s.
Note. Chi-squares were calculated on percentages. Expected values
assume equal distribution between cells. Degrees of Freedom = 1.
Table 5. Chi-square Analyses of the Crosstabulations of the
Criminal's and Victim's Demographic Relationship for Tabloid and Highbrow News
Class Upper Middle Working
Upper 88.8 2.8 8.3
(Contributions to X2) (12.69) (4.88) (13.18)
Middle 67.5 18.1 14.4
(Contributions to X2) (0.57) (2.05) (3.62)
Working 8.3 17.1 74.7
(Contributions to X2) (24.54) (2.00) (36.47)
Upper 69.3 5.7 25.0
(Contributions to X2) (35.50) (6.09) (12.89)
Middle 27.2 22.3 50.5
(Contributions to X2) (1.88) (3.92) (0.01)
Working 2.8 16.7 80.6
(Contributions to X2) (24.34) (0.01) (15.36)
Gender Male Female
Male 74.6 25.4
(Contributions to X2) (7.86) (49.12)
Female 94.9 5.1
(Contributions to X2) (5.94) (37.08)
Male 77.3 22.7
(Contributions to X2) (7.25) (45.58)
Female 94.5 5.5
(Contributions to X2) (6.41) (40.76)
Age Youth Young Adult Adult
Youth 3.8 64.7 31.5
(Contributions to X2) (1.77) (53.07) (20.96)
Young Adult 0.6 18.8 80.3
(Contributions to X2) (3.11) (3.96) (2.19)
Adult 3.4 12.9 83.7
(Contributions to X2) (0.89) (10.77) (3.28)
Table 5. (continued)
Youth 9.8 45.9 44.3
(Contributions to X2) (29.44) (22.09) (19.61)
Young Adult 1.1 25.3 73.7
(Contributions to X2) (15.00) (2.88) (4.20)
Adult 3.1 24.7 72.2
(Contributions to X2) (0.32) (4.23) (2.23)
Note. Chi-squares were calculated on percentages according to rows.
Expected values assume equal distribution between class variables. Cell
contributions to significant chi-square values are presented as percentages.
Degrees of freedom = 4.
aX2 = 641.50, df = 4, p < 0.001.
bX2 = 86.51, df = 4, p < 0.001.
cX2 = 100.48, df = 1, p < 0.001.
dX2 = 17.05, df = 1, p < 0.001.
eX2 = 275.26, df = 4, p < 0.001.
fX2 = 29.04, df = 4, p < 0.006.
Table 6. Significant Chi-square Results of the Criminal's and
Victim's Demographic Profile and Types of Crime for Tabloid and Highbrow News
Criminal/Victim Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
Youth 74.1 100.0 3.86 0.050
Young Adults 21.7 7.0 7.52 0.010
African Americans 2.8 11.2 5.04 0.050
Latino's 17.1 7.1 4.14 0.050
Youth 48.1 30.0 4.2 0.050
Adults 6.7 16.2 3.94 0.050
Middle-class 24.8 10.3 6.0 0.020
Working-class 16.6 30.2 3.96 0.050
Latino 2.9 21.4 14.08 0.001
Adults 2.9 10.2 4.07 0.050
Youth 51.9 88.9 9.72 0.010
Middle-class 9.8 21.4 4.32 0.050
Working-class 21.6 12.5 2.42 n.s.
African Americans 9.1 20.0 4.08 0.050
Youth 9.7 2.4 4.4 0.050
African Americans 4.5 13.3 4.36 0.050
African Americans 38.6 60.0 4.64 0.050
Note. Chi-square analyses were performed on tabloid and highbrow
percentages. Expected values assume equal distribution between tabloid and
highbrow news. Degrees of Freedom = 1.
Table 7. Significant Chi-square Results of Motivations for Crime and
the Criminal's Demographic Profile for Tabloid and Highbrow News Magazine
Motivation/Criminal Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
African American 5.2 17.2 6.42 0.020
Adult 11.2 25.1 5.32 0.050
Middle-class 46.8 28.2 4.62 0.050
Working-class 27.4 41.9 3.04 n.s.
Romantic or Domestic Revenge
Adult 72.3 47.3 5.22 0.050
Note. Chi-square analyses were performed on tabloid and highbrow
percentages. Expected values assume equal distribution between tabloid and
highbrow news. Degrees of Freedom = 1.
Table 8. Chi-square Analyses of Variables Related to the "Crime
Doesn't Pay" Myth for Tabloid and Highbrow News Magazine Programs
Variable Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
Yes 87.6 81.7 0.21 n.s.
No 112.0 16.6 0.74 n.s.
Unknown/Other 0.4 1.7 0.80 n.s.
Criminal Found Guilty?
Yes 15.1 30.6 5.26 0.050
No 11.2 18.8 1.93 n.s.
Unknown/Other 73.7 50.6 4.29 0.050
Yes 12.8 21.8 2.34 n.s.
No 96.8 10.9 0.95 n.s.
Unknown/Other 180.4 67.3 1.16 n.s.
Implied That the Criminal is Guilty?
Yes 96.0 94.8 0.01 n.s.
No 2.4 4.8 0.8 n.s.
Unknown/Other 1.6 0.4 0.72 n.s.
Implied That the Criminal is Innocent?
Yes 5.9 12.7 2.49 n.s.
No 93.6 87.3 0.22 n.s.
Suggested That Crime Doesn't Pay?
Yes 73.7 73.4 0.00 n.s.
No 5.2 13.5 3.68 n.s.
Unknown 21.1 13.1 1.87 n.s.
Suggested That Crime Pays?
Yes 16.7 20.5 0.39 n.s.
No 50.8 59.8 0.73 n.s.
Unknown 32.5 19.7 3.14 n.s.
Notes. Chi-square were calculated on percentages. Expected values
assume equal distribution between tabloid and highbrow news. Degrees of Freedom
Table 9. Chi-square Analyses of the Role of the Criminal, Victim,
and Law Enforcement in the Struggle Between Good and Evil for Tabloid and
Highbrow News Magazine Programs
Portrayed Roles Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
Good Force 1.5 1.7 0.01 n.s.
Evil Force 3.1 4.4 0.23 n.s.
Helpless Victim of Evil 91.9 88.6 0.06 n.s.
Unknown/Other 3.5 5.3 0.37 n.s.
Law Enforcement System
Good Force 82.3 57.3 4.48 0.050
Evil Force 0.7 3.9 2.23 n.s.
Helpless Victim of Evil - 0.4 -
Unknown/Other 6.0 7.4 0.15 n.s.
Inadequate 11.0 31.0 9.52 0.010
Good Force 0.8 1.3 0.12 n.s.
Evil Force 94.6 88.2 0.22 n.s.
Helpless Victim of Evil 4.3 8.7 0.74 n.s.
Unknown/Other 0.3 1.8 1.07 n.s.
Note. Chi-square analyses were performed on tabloid and highbrow
percentages but with consideration of cells which produced frequency counts less
than 5. In such instances cells were excluded from the chi-square analysis.
Expected values assume equal distribution between cells. Cell contributions to
significant chi-square values are presented as percentages. Degrees of
Freedom = 1.
Table 10. Chi-square Analyses of Criminals and Victims When Law
Enforcement is Presented as Inadequate for Tabloid and Highbrow News Magazine
Demographic % %
Characteristics of Criminal Tabloid Highbrow X2 p <
Upper-class 39.8 16.4 9.74 0.010
Middle-class 21.4 20.9 0.00 n.s.
Working-class 38.8 62.7 5.62 0.020
Upper-class 29.9 18.2 2.84 n.s.
Middle-class 32.7 58.2 7.16 0.010
Working-class 37.4 23.6 2.12 n.s.
Note. Chi-square analyses were performed on percentages. Expected
values assume equal distribution between tabloid and highbrow percentages.
Degrees of Freedom = 1.
Table 11. T-tests Regarding the Criminal, Victim, and Crime for
Tabloid and Highbrow News Magazine Programs
Variable N Mean Tabloid Mean Highbrow Mean p <
How Violent Was the Crime? 1,143 4.05 4.06 4.04 n.s.
How Greedy Was the Criminal? 217 3.63 3.52 3.74 n.s.
How Desperate Was the Criminal
For Material Sustenance?a 14 3.54 4.08 3.00
How Psychologically Unstable
Was the Criminal? 1,174 3.74 3.90 3.58 0.026
How Severe Was the Criminal's
Drug/Alcohol Abuse? 167 3.81 3.84 3.77 n.s.
Seriousness of Psychological
Harm to the Victim 386 3.34 3.30 3.37 n.s.
Severity of Punishment Beyond
the Criminal Justice System? 419 2.94 2.99 2.90 n.s.
Note. All measures are on a 5-point scale.
aDue to low incidence of highbrow portrayals involving this
variable, a t-test could not be performed.
 . See Edwin Diamond, The Tin Kazoo (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1975),
114-122 for a discussion of the history of tabloid television and Elizabeth S.
Bird, For Inquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids (Knoxville:
The University of Tennessee Press, 1992) for a discussion of the history of
 . Larry Reibstein, "Cheap Thrills; Where Less is More," Newsweek
(April 11, 1994), 62-64.
 . Carl Bernstein, "The Idiot Culture: Reflections of
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 . Simon Bessie, Jazz Journalism: The Story of the Tabloid
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 . Bessie, Jazz Journalism, 213.
 . Bessie, Jazz Journalism; Elizabeth S. Bird, "Storytelling on
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 . Dwight Dewerth-Pallmeyer and Paul Hirsch "TV News Magazines
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Law and Justice," The British Journal of Criminology 31 (1991): 219-249.
 . Stevens, "Social Utility of Sensational News."
 . Ruel, "Body Bag Journalism".
 . Dewerth-Pallmeyer and Hirsch, "TV News Magazines Vs. the New
Tabloids"; Fiske, "Popularity and the Politics of Information"; J.D. Halloran,
Mass Media and Society: The Challenge of Research (Leicester: Leicester
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(1981): 1-25; Klaus B. Jensen, Making Sense of the News: Toward A Theory and
Empirical Model For the Study of Mass Communication (Arhus, Denmark: Arhus
University Press, 1986); Denise Kervin, "Reality According To Television News:
Pictures From El Salvador," Wide Angle 7 (1985): 61-70; Ruel, "Body Bag
 . Bird, "Storytelling on the Far Side"; Bird, For Inquiring
Minds"; Bird and Dardenne, "Myth, Chronicle, and Story"; Steve Chibnall, "The
Production of Knowledge By Crime Reporters," in the Manufacture of News, Eds. S.
Cohen and J. Young (London: Constable, 1981), 75-97; Dan Schiller, Objectivity:
The Public and the Rise of Commercial Journalism (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1981); Michael Schudson, Discovering News: A Social History
of American Newspapers (New York: Basic Books, 1978); Michael Schudson, "The
Politics of Narrative Form: The Emergence of News Conventions in Print and
Television." Daedalus 111 (1982): 97-112; Gaye Tuchman, Making News: A Study in
the Construction of Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978).
 . Efron, E. The News Twisters (LA: Nash Publishing, 1971).
 . Chibnall, Steve, "The Production of Knowledge By Crime
Reporters," in The Manufacture of News, Eds. S. Cohen and J. Young (London:
Constable, 1981), 75-97.
 . Bird, "Storytelling on the Far Side"; Bird, For Inquiring
Minds; Bird and Dardenne, "Myth, Chronicle, and Story."
 . Doris Graber, Processing the News: How People Tame the
Information Tide (New York: Longman, 1984); Stuart Hall, "The Narrative
Construction of Reality: An Interview With Stuart Hall," Southern Review 17
(1984): 3-17; S.J. Labaschin, "The Ritual of Newswatching: Why More News Is Not
Better," Etc. 43 (1986): 27-32; A.B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge, Ma:
Harvard University Press, 1971).
 . Knight, "Reality Effects," 106.
 . Graber, Processing News.
 . Bird and Dardenne, "Myth, Chronicle, and Story."
 . Graber, Processing News; J.R. Rayfield, "What Is A Story?"
American Anthropologist 74 (1972): 1085-1106; Stern in Diamond, The Tin Kazoo.
 . Stern in Diamond, The Tin Kazoo.
 . L. Donahew, "Newswriting Styles: What Arouses the Reader?"
Newspaper Research Journal 3 (1983): 3-6.
 . Labaschin, "The Ritual of Newswatching"; See Also Paul
Ricoeur, "The Narrative Function," in Paul Ricoeur: Hermaneutics and the Human
Sciences, Ed. J.B. Thompson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981),
274-296 ; R.J. Roshier, "Selection of Crime News By the Press," in The
Manufacture of News Eds. S. Cohen and J. Young (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1973),
28-39; R. Scholes, Semiotics and Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University
 . Cremedas, "The Influence of Tabloid" concludes that tabloid
style reporting does not significantly influence the recall of story content,
nor does it have significant impact on viewer interest and the perception of
 . Bird and Dardenne, "Myth, Chronicle, and Story."
 . Bird and Dardenne, "Myth, Chronicle, and Story"; Bird,
"Storytelling on The Far Side"; Bird, For Inquiring Minds."
 . Graham Knight and T. Dean, "Myth and the Structure of News,"
Journal of Communication 32 (1982): 144-161; Knight, "Reality Effects."
 . Interestingly, according to Simon Barber, "The Boss Don't
Like Swindle Make It Robbery," Washington Journalism Review (July-August, 1982),
46-50 the "National Inquirer" has one of the largest research departments and
has been commended by "Editor and Publisher" as the most accurate paper in the
 . Herbert J. Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture: An
Analysis and Evaluation of Taste (New York: Basic Books, 1974) traces the
historical development of the terms mass, low, and popular culture. Low culture
provides the mirror concept of high culture. Mass culture originally referred
to the culture of the nonaristrocratic and uneducated. However, as Gans,
Popular Culture and High Culture argues, the word mass refers to an
undifferentiated collectivity, therefore denying the existence of individual
members of that group. The term popular culture can be seen as a less offensive
term. However, there are high culture elitists who argue that high culture can
also be popular and that the term mass culture best describes the phenomenon of
an artifact which exists solely for the purpose of mass consumption. For the
purposes of this study the three terms, mass, popular, and low culture will be
 . See Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the
Judgment of Taste (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984) for
an in depth investigation of the relationship between class and taste. He
argues that through the consumption of specific artifacts, social classes
achieve distinction from each other.
 . Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture, 10.
 . Bird, "Storytelling on the Far Side."
 . Simmons, Market Research Bureau. "Studies of Media and
Markets." New York: Simmons Market Research Bureau, 1980 - 1992; Bird,
"Storytelling on the Far Side."
 . Bird, For Inquiring Minds.
 . Bird, For inquiring minds; Knight, "Reality Effects."
 . Bird, For inquiring minds; Knight, "Reality Effects."
 . Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty,
Rethinking Art (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992).
 . Ruel, "Body Bag Journalism", 9.
 . Ruel, "Body Bag Journalism"; see also Ernest Van den Haag,
"Of Happiness and of Despair We Have No Measure," in Mass Culture: The Popular
Arts in America, Eds. Bernard Rosenberg and David M. White (Glencoe, Il: The
Free Press, 1957), 531-534.
 . Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics, 187.
 . See Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (New York: Collier
Books, 1961); Jose Ortega Gasset, Revolt of the Masses (New York: W.W. Norton,
1957); Norman Jacobs, Culture For the Millions (Boston: Beacon, 1959); Dwight
Macdonald, "A Theory of Mass Culture," in Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in
America, Eds. B. Rosenberg and D. White (New York: The Free Press, 1957), 59-73;
Herbert Read, To Hell With Culture (New York: Schocken Books, 1966); Shusterman,
 . Gasset, Revolt of the Masses. 18.
 . William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society (Glencoe,
Il: Free Press, 1959).
 . Serge R. Denisoff, "Massification and Popular Music," Journal
of Popular Culture 9 (1976): 886-894; Herbert J. Gans, "Popular Culture in
America: Social Problem in A Mass Society Or Social Asset in A Pluralist
Society?" in Social Problems: A Modern Approach, Ed. Howard Becker S. (New York:
John Wiley, 1967), 549-620; Norval Glenn "Massification Versus Differentiation:
Some Trend Data From National Surveys," Social Forces 46 (1967): 172-180; Paul
Hirsch, A Progress Report on An Explanatory Study of Youth Culture and the
Popular Music Industry, Ann Arbor, MI: Survey Research Center, Institute For
Social Research, University of Michigan, 1971; George H. Lewis, "Cultural
Socialization and the Development of Taste Cultures and Culture Classes in
American Popular Music: Existing Evidence and Proposed Research Directions,"
Popular Music and Society 4 (1975): 226-241; George H. Lewis, "Taste Cultures
and Culture Classes in Mass Society," International Review of the Aesthetics and
Sociology of Music 8 (1977): 39-47; George H. Lewis, "Mapping the Fault Lines:
The Core Values Trap in Country Music." Popular Music and Society 11 (1985):
7-16; Seymor, M. Lipset, "A Changing American Character," in Culture and Social
Character, Eds. Seymor Lipset M. and Leo Lowenthal (New York: Free Press, 1961),
136-174; T. Parsons and W. White. "The Mass Media and the Structure of American
Society," Journal of Social Issues 16 (1960): 67-77; Richard, A. Peterson, "The
Production of Cultural Change: The Case of Contemporary Country Music," Social
Research 45 (1978): 292-314; Richard A. Peterson, "Class Unconsciousness In
Country Music," in You Wrote My Life: Lyrical Themes in Country Music, Eds.
Melton Mclaurin A. and Richard Peterson (Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach, 1992),
35-62 ; Richard A. Peterson and Paul Dimaggio, "From Region To Class, the
Changing Locus of Country Music: A Test of The Massification Hypothesis," Social
Forces 53 (1975): 497-506; John S. Reed, The Enduring South: Subcultural
Persistence in Mass Society (Lexington, MA: Heath, 1972); Michael J. Schneider,
"An Empirical Investigation of Media Program Preferences and Tastes," Annual
Meeting of the Broadcast Education Association, 1984; James, K. Skipper,
"Musical Tastes of Canadian and American College Students: An Examination of the
Massification and Americanization Theses," Canadian Journal of Sociology 1
(1975): 49-59; Harold L. Wilensky, "Mass Society and Mass Culture:
Interdependence Or Independence?" American Sociological Review 29 (1964):
173-197; Louis Wirth, "Consensus and Mass Communication," American Sociological
Review 13 (1948): 1-15 and See Paul Lazarsfeldand Robert Merton "Mass
Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action," in Mass Culture: The
Popular Arts in America, Eds. Bernard Rosenberg and David White M (Glencoe, Il:
The Free Press, 1948), 457-473 for a discussion of the massification
 . See Bourdieu, Distinction.
 . The three shows which epitomizes tabloid news ("A Current
Affair", "Inside Edition" and "Hard Copy") are all on the top 15 syndication
list and each reaches approximately 20 million homes in America.
 . Dewerth-Pallmeyer and Hirsch, "TV News Magazines Vs. the New
 . The six month period under investigation started before the
beginning of the O.J. Simpson trial.
 . Klaus Krippendorf, Content Analysis: An Introduction (Beverly
Hills, CA: Sage, 1980).
 . L. Ott, An Introduction To Statistical Methods and Data
Analysis (Boston: PWS-Kent Publishing Company, 1988).
 . Knight, "Reality Effects."
 . Entman, Robert, "Blacks in the News: Television, Modern
Racism, and Cultural Change", Journalism Quarterly 69 (1992): 341-361. See also
Kerner, O. Report to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (New
York: Bantam Books, 1969) for the finding that African Americans are represented
in news primarily in the context of disorder, rather than in ordinary and normal
 . See Halloran, Mass Media and Society.
 . Ericson, "Mass Media, Crime, Law and Justice."