How Tabloids Work

The Tabloid Story
Artist's rendition of what a bigfoot might look like. Bigfoot is a frequent subject of tabloid articles.
Artist's rendition of what a bigfoot might look like. Bigfoot is a frequent subject of tabloid articles.
2008 HowStuffWorks

The key to tabloid story writing is that something doesn't have to be true to print -- someone just has to have said that it was true. Writers can bring in sources and experts to confirm just about anything. They will use leading questions to get a "money quote" from a source, or offer up the quote themselves and use it as long as the source agrees with them. For example, a writer might interview a witness for a story about Bigfoot and ask, "Did the raging beast howl with fury, and did it sound like a demon from hell itself?" If the witness says yes, the story might quote the witness as saying, "Then the raging beast howled with fury. It sounded like a demon from hell itself!"

Writers may also quote "experts" for a story, even if that expert has no credentials or subscribes to fringe beliefs. The president of a local Bigfoot Society might be brought into the story like this: "Jim Smith, Bigfoot expert and noted wilderness guide, estimated that there may be as many as 500 of the unclassified creatures living in the forests of Oregon. He has seen several of them himself."

Good tabloid writers expand upon small news items that appear in the back pages of traditional newspapers. In fact, one of the notable differences between a tabloid newsroom and one at a serious newspaper is that tabloid writers don't do much work outside the office. Once a writer finds a story that can be expanded, he calls family members or authorities involved with the story to get quotes. Using those quotes, the writer can flesh out the story and make it more about the people involved than the events themselves. This is a hallmark of the tabloid writing style.

Tabloid stories are not based on hard facts but rather on what purported witnesses or experts say is true.
2008 HowStuffWorks

Celebrity news is a staple of the tabloids, and sources for this information are everywhere. Each tabloid writer maintains an army of sources, including security guards, hair stylists, personal drivers and even police officers who will call the writer whenever they have new information on a celebrity. These informants are paid various amounts for their information, depending on the quality of the news and which celebrity it involves. Information about a minor TV actor might be worth a few hundred dollars, while a major scoop about Madonna or Britney Spears could be worth thousands.

A large proportion of tabloid celebrity news comes from celebrities themselves, often by way of their publicists. Some stars build a working relationship with a tabloid, offering inside stories in exchange for the free publicity. At other times, the tabloid will accept inside stories while agreeing to avoid running harsh or negative stories about a certain star. The studios even leak information about upcoming movies or the scripts for the new season of a TV show to get publicity for the show.

Next, we'll see how tabloids get away with some of their more questionable content.

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