Monday, February 26, 2007

Manic Monday – Yellow

I will warn you now, this is an uncharacteristic serious post for me. But I figured I can throw in a serious post once every few months to keep everyone on their toes, right?

Yellow journalism - a pejorative reference to journalism that features scandal-mongering, sensationalism, or other unethical or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or individual journalists.

I don’t know if everyone knows this about me, but I not only consider myself a writer because I have an incredibly entertaining blog. I also have a degree in journalism, and once upon a time I did a lot of technical and documentation writing before taking on the career of a stay-at-home mom.

Therefore, I have a soft spot for communication issues and media law in general, as well as the lengths to which “journalists” will go to get a story.

One of the most blatant instances of yellow journalism that has always stuck with me happened by USA Today in 1992.

In addition to being a journalist, I am also a huge fan of tennis. Arthur Ashe was one of America’s great heroes, proving not only to be an amazing tennis player, but also to be a practical and productive activist. He was a great man.

Mr. Ashe officially retired from tennis in 1980 after suffering a heart attack and undergoing a quadruple bypass. In 1983, he needed an additional bypass, after which he received a blood transfusion. Five years later, he discovered he had acquired the AIDS virus, almost definitely as a result of the blood transfusion, which had occurred two years before mandatory testing for the HIV virus was required in donated blood.

Believing a public announcement would infringe on his family's right to privacy, particularly that of his young daughter; Camera, he revealed his illness only to his closest friends. But in April 1992, Mr. Ashe discovered that USA Today was preparing to follow up rumors that he was HIV-positive. The newspaper's editors told Mr. Ashe that if he would not confirm the rumors, they would attempt to find someone who would.

"Match point had come, and I had lost it," Mr. Ashe explained. "All I could do now was try to control the announcement itself, to have it heard directly from me."

Mr. Ashe made a public announcement and told the world he was stricken with full-blown AIDS. The fact that he had been forced into going public with his private turmoil made people think about the rights of the press and the rights to privacy.

Mr. Ashe was angry that "this newspaper; any newspaper or any part of the media, could think it had a right to tell the world I had AIDS." Yet he seized this as a motivational tool for educating the public and combating AIDS. He created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, received the first Annual AIDS Leadership Award from the Harvard AIDS Institute, and addressed the United Nations on World AIDS Day.

It was Mr. Ashe’s inability to fight off pneumonia that finally took his life on February 6, 1993, leaving his wife and 6-year-old daughter.

More than 5,000 people filed by his casket in the Virginia Governor's Mansion, mourning the loss of a child from the segregated South who had become a gift to the world, a victim of years of illness who had fought to erase decades of injustice, a man who, says Roy S. Johnson, "had the frailest of bodies but moved mountains."

With my background in journalism, I am quite familiar with the importance of getting a scoop. But, I can also tell the difference between news and sensational yellow journalism, which is employed for no other reason than to sell newspapers.

I would like to think we live in a society where ethical journalism and the importance of people mean more than making money.

I have not picked up a USA Today since April 1992. And I don’t ever plan to again.


Crazy Working Mom said...

Wow, what a great post! I had no idea about this story. But, I bet this type of "yellow journalism" happens more often than we know here in the good ole' US!
Awesome Yellow post!
Thanks for sharing. Happy Monday.

Gattina said...

Indeed Scoops unfortunately are selling much better and the worse they are the better it is ! Only very few people are interested in buying serious newspapers or magazines.
I think people who buy this kind of "litterature" are bored and are hungry for sensations to make their lifes more exciting ! I pitty them !

Desert Songbird said...

Great post, Neila. And good on ya for sticking by standards.

Peanut said...

great post! definitely not your usual style. I don't like USA Today, anyway. They don't have the comics.....

Sanni said...

Hey Neila! A great take on yellow - and a great post.

I confess the "yellow journalism story" you´ve mentioned is new to me, but the yellow press in Germany acts in the same way.

So the newspaper I don´t buy is the "Bild Zeitung".

Jamie said...

Great column. The history of "yellow journalism" and the desire of some in the media to create news rather than report it has gotten us in to trouble both as individuals and as a country.

We are still undergoing the gossip mongering of the latest "dead blond" scandal on 24 hour cable.

It actually now seems mild almost quaint that Arthur Ashe thought that as a celebrity he had any privacy at all.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

oh my honey i SO agree with this!! i no longer read the ny times or the palm beach post either, for exactly the same reason. it felt good to cancel them too! and later today we are going in to the bank of america and taking out all our money to protest THEIR latest mess with the illegal aliens. it's all we've got to show our protest, but we do what we can...

smiles, bee

Stacey said...

Neila -

Love the serious post. Very interesting and informative. You should do this more often, to keep us on our toes.

lisa said...

timely post for today's theme

there is way too much yellow journalism these days.

Sadie said...

Very nice post. I didn't even know you were a journo! Do you think I'm crazy or smart for quitting?

debalious said...

Excellent post - I have has quite a bit of experience with this type of journalism as my father was a high-profile politician. It still amazes me when I read about him how much liberty is taken with facts.

Morgen said...

Excellent use of yellow!
I was hoping someone would pounce on Yellow Journalism!
Outing of people -- whether for their sexuality or this HIV status is just uncool with me. I think Perez Hilton should be shot.
The disclosure of someone's personal life is their own damn business.
That said, I'm an openly OUT and proud gay man, but that is because it is MY CHOICE.
Thanks for this classic example of Yellow Journalism!
Manic Mo
Manic Monday

crazymumma said...

I like your uncharactersitic serious post. Keep fighting the good fight Neila and bringing our attention to this kind of mongering.

What a remarkable person he was to step up to the plate like that. What a voice for AIDS activism.

SQT said...

I also got my degree in Journalism and worked in TV and newspaper before leaving the industry for a teaching job.

Yellow journalism is so pervasive isn't it? I can kind of get over some of the tabloid journalism since we expect the Enquirer or other rags to make the story up. But when main-stream newspapers and news channels begin to present gossip as "news," then we have a big problem.

The intrusion into Arthur Ashe's personal life was unconscionable and unfortunatley foreshadowed how "news" channels were going to handle themselves in future. I don't believe much of what I see or read in the news anymore. It's all about making money and ethics are pretty much out the window.

csmc said...

Where does the term yellow come from?

It sounds vaugely racist to me... but so is just about everything else in the US right? So I just thought I'd ask...

csmc said...

yellow journalism that is... not the actual color... :P

Neila said...

csmc, that is a great questions!

The term yellow journalism originated in the late 1800's when William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World were doing everything they could to outsell each other, including sensational journalism.

It is unclear exactly how the term was defined, but there are a few theories.

1. Critics termed both papers "yellow" as in cowardly.

2. Colored ink was used to catch readers' attention, thus selling more papers. Hence the term yellow because the ink used was actually yellow.

3. Both papers ran a comic strip called The Yellow Kid, revolving around a bad child in a yellow nightshirt.

So, there you have it - lots of theories. But wherever it came from, it's definitely a term that stuck!

Travis said...

Serious Neila may emerge at any time. This was an outstanding piece.

I rarely read news anymore and that distresses me. It's hard to find fact-based news that isn't laced with some opinion.

Thanks for this post.