Politics Journalism: A History of Americanisation and Sensationalism

The relationship between journalism and politics in Britain is a patchy, long and entirely co-dependant one.

 British Politics

As a democracy; Britain is a society of spectral politics mainly split between left and right wing parties that we elect into leadership. The three main parties are The Conservatives, Labour and The Liberal Democrats.

Political Spectrum in UK Politics

Left wing beliefs are usually progressive in nature, they look to the future, aim to support those who cannot support themselves, are idealist and believe in equality. People who are left wing believe in taxation to redistribute opportunity and wealth – things like a national health service, and job seeker’s allowance are fundamentally left wing ideas. They believe in equality over the freedom to fail.

In the UK: Labour and Green Party


Right wing beliefs value tradition, they are about equity, survival of the fittest, and they believe in economic freedom. They typically believe that business shouldn’t be regulated, and that we should all look after ourselves. Right wing people tend believe they shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s education or health service. They believe in freedom to succeed over equality.

In the UK: Conservatives, UKIP


The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) are another major party in the UK but people often argue about where they fall, politically. They have some traditionally left wing ideas and some right wing ones as well

However some believe this choice between parties and the ability to elect who we want is an illusion. Marxist theorists like Gramsci believe capitalist systems are designed to uphold only the interests of the elite.

Marxists regard the democratic system as manipulating mass public values to suit the bourgeoisie.


Fairclough describes this process as ‘normalisation’ (the construction of an idealized norm of conduct , refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal‘ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life.)

He believes it is the underpinning process describing how ideology works, for most of the time many remain unaware of it happening; he calls this ‘naturalisation’ (the discourse appears natural, its views are taken as common sense, acting like it is a belief held by all).

 In our society, we rely on the media to maintain the status quo of our society, bridging the gap between the political and public spheres

“We treat power as a metaphor, a property which some people in some contexts have more than others” (Cameron, 1992).

It cannot be divided and it relies on many different factors to upkeep it.

A tool of distrust

Following the era of the Press Barons, this power has become centralised, focusing on only a few key figures to uphold it and in doing so has opened a door for that power to be exploited.

lord beaverbrook.jpg
From Past Lord Beaverbrook to
Present Rupert Murdoch

It is believed, for example by Marxist theorists and those in society now looking upon the press as a unreliable information source; that the few individuals who control the majority of the British Press have used newspapers to spread messages that support their own needs

The table below, published by the Harris Research Centre (1995) shows figures of how the House of Commons rated the honesty of journalists. Though Labour was less critical than Conservative party members, the overall all score was that 77% rated a journalist’s objectivity as low.

journalism table

These figures capture the flawed relationship now existing between the government and the press and highlight the imbalance of our status quo providing ample reason as to why currently there is an overall distrust from the public in the press.


Reporting on Politics

Dijk believes the political allegiances of a journalist affect the way they write; his own analysis led to the conclusion that a right-wing journalist will focus on the problems minorities create. Whereas a liberal will focus on the problems a minority has.

left and right .jpg

This division of perspective alters the representation of reality being stated in different newspapers, making the public’s unfavourable opinion on the media appear well deserved.

However political journalism has not always been this way, over the decades it has proliferated to meet the evolving needs of our society.

It wasn’t until the sixties that critical journalism emerged as the new political writing style, prior to this; newspapers had been intent on identifying themselves as a voice of the people.

new journalism

The nineteenth century gave birth to a new literate working class that led circulations to rise and the newspaper industry to skyrocket.

After the sixties, a compromising discourse style evolved; it was a balance between informative political writing and sensationalist techniques. The aim was to ensure maximum audience engagement.

It represents the crux of just some of the responsibility resting on political journalists today; to make content not only informative but appealing and entertaining.


Americanisation of the Press

Many of the techniques used to create this hybrid of ‘infotainment’ were gleaned from the American Press.

It was the American penny dailies in the 1830’s that first attempted to write consistently and commercially. 


the great moon hoax
Richard Locke reported there were signs of life on the Moon, in The Great Moon Hoax, The Sun 1835.

William Hearst is one of the founding figures for the language of sensationalism. When he purchased ‘The New York Journal’ in 1895 he began editing his stories so they exaggerated the brasher elements of the news they were reporting on.


new york journal spanish civil war.jpg
Hearst’s sensationalism in the New York Journal during the Spanish Civil War


It was one of the first examples of ‘Yellow Journalism’ a style defined as using catchy, bold headlines and language to attract the reader’s attention instead of well-researched facts.

It has set the rules for the tabloids of this century, encouraging them to be ‘shriller, brasher and bolder with screaming headlines and often a reckless disregard for the truth’ Conboy, 2010.

By doing so newspapers created a new audience of potential readers that had previously been alienated and discouraged from purchasing newspapers due to the long paragraphs and heavy content of articles.

 It was a move that solidified the institution of the press as one that represented the ideals of the masses, but that also allowed the industry to make the necessary changes as a business that have enabled its sustainability.

The tools discovered in this era have gone on to have great effect; ‘The Sun’ renowned for being brasher than any of its competitors has certainly made use of these devices to wield their power.

No other case could illustrate this point more than their contribution to the 1992 General election.


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