Smruthi Krishnan
5 min readMay 31, 2021


Back to the Yellow Pages

By Smruthi Krishnan

As the Global Media Industry moves forward with the Digital Age, it regrettably turns back to the crinkled pages of Yellow Journalism. Brimming with biased, misinformed news and driven by sensationalism, the Yellow Press is an evocative term coined by Ervin Wardman used to characterize the 1890’s circulation war between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolf Hearst’s New York Journal.

W. Joseph Campbell defined the yellow press as ‘one having daily multi-column front-page headlines covering a varied range of topics from sports to scandal, using bold layouts, relying on unknown nameless sources, and shameless self-promotion’. Frank Luther Mott characterizes such press using five main attributes - scare headlines in large print; unnecessary use of pictures; citation of faked interviews; misleading headlines, pseudoscience and false learnings from ‘apparent’ experts and emphasis on full-colour Sunday supplements.

During the mid-1800s, Pulitzer and Hearst failed to verify sources, fabricated stories and statistics to gain traction, overdramatized disasters, resorted to scare tactics and focused on entertainment over truth. These trends influenced the popular perception of yellow reporting and set in motion increased distrust and hysteria amongst readers across the USA. Constant criticism and public opinion gradually led to a shift in paradigm as yellow journalism faded into oblivion. However, with the advent of 21st-century digital media, where revenue seems to be the driving force, fake news and sensationalism have returned to the journalistic status quo. Many positive features of the Yellow Press like comic strips and principal typographic elements are embedded in present-day journalism. Yet still, the corrupt spirit of unethical yellow reporting persists.

With the world on a hiatus, the pandemic enveloped millions of people in darkness and fear. The importance and implication of media in society during such strained times heighten. Instead of focusing on the deplorable condition of farmers, the lack of rehabilitation provided to thousands of stranded migrant labourers and the shortage of healthcare services, the Indian media resorted to the ruthless sensationalism of the sad demise of the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

Sushant’s death came as a shock to the entire country, nonetheless, it took less than twenty-four hours for the media channels to change the direction of discourse and fan callous fabrications going as far as the murder allegations on Rhea Chakraborty, the late actor’s partner. The cognition behind the discussion about the actor’s death by suicide instigated the necessary dialogue around depression and mental health. However, debates and discussions should have been within certain respected boundaries. Leaking sensitive details of his death - like the colour of the cloth around his neck, WhatsApp chats dated a few days before his death was beyond despicable. News Nation stooped to a new low displaying pictures of the late actor’s body. Journalists and reporters crowded outside Rajput’s home in Bihar violating the family’s privacy and mental space, exhibiting lack of humanity and journalistic ethics. Citizens were plagued by insensitive coverage;"Reel Life Dhoni's wicket gone in real life!", "Did Rhea drug Sushant?" and other similar headlines were plastered on front pages and prime time TV, creating a derogatory discourse around suicide.

By the time a forensic team at AIIMS submitted a detailed report confirming Rajput died by suicide, it was too late. Most Indians believed the false narrative created by the news channels and social media - the over-ambitious, gold-digging, drug peddling and murdering seductress Rhea who took advantage of her famous partner. There wasn’t a single phone, newspaper or TV where you couldn’t see Rhea’s face, leading to hate comments and rape threats to the actress on social media. The concurrent witch-hunt and trial by media was celebrated across the country as the media blatantly portrayed various Bollywood actresses including Rhea as drug-addicted, characterless women.

Cheap tactics, fearful headlines, and dedicating prime time hours on leaked WhatsApp chats, left a lasting mark on the consumers of media. Commenting on this disgraceful vilification, Leher Kala, columnist at The Indian Express, wrote- “When a moral crusade reaches mob level intensity, God help the outlier there. In an earlier time, unconfirmed gossip has got women stoned to death. Maybe Rhea should be grateful she was merely incarcerated”.

The sensationalism of an actor’s suicide followed by the inhumane trial by media spiralled many into the web of false accusations, mentally and emotionally affecting all those involved. Thus the Media turned an unfortunate death by suicide into a shallow narrative on Twitter wars and Bollywood’s drug consumption.

The Media disseminates information and ideas and shapes public perceptions and judgements concerning individual and national wellbeing. There will always be antagonism between ratings and good journalism, but reporters must show humanity and restraint lest they lose the confidence of the public. The current scenario of Indian media with an increased focus on paparazzi, over reportage of disasters and violence, depicts the debilitating standards of journalism. With the collapse of the bygone age of journalism, contemporary media communication is rushing towards its apocalypse. The roots of all democracies and civilizations in the world lie in the freedom of expression. Whether it’s The First Amendment in the USA, Edmund Burke’s reference of Journalists as the Fourth Estate of the Parliament, or the recent growth of Citizen Journalism, the notion of expression transcends global media platforms. In today's radically different age of digitalism, the media has the moral prerogative to provide consumers with unbiased, ethical information from trustworthy sources. It has the responsibility to dig deep into issues that affect citizens and raise questions on matters of concern.

If Journalism today turns yellow, it questions the grounds of freedom of speech and expression and brings at stake democracies all over the world. If the foundational base of Global Media falls prey to power politics and propaganda wars, becoming corrupted and frail, the institution is bound to collapse. The world today needs a new wave of journalism, with the true spirit of news gathering and informing lest it decays and drowns into the hues of yellow, losing impetus to survive.

Citations of References

Express Web Desk,’ Sushant Singh Rajput death case: What we know so far’’

( Wednesday May 19, 2020 ), The Indian Express Retrieved from -

Leher, Kala, ‘Maybe Rhea Chakraborty should be grateful she was merely incarcerated’ (Sunday, 18th October 2020 ), The Indian Express. Retrieved from

Mott, Frank Luther, ‘ American Journalism ‘( 1941, Page 539 )

Navya Singh, ‘Sensational Images, Deplorable Headlines: How News Channels Reported Sushant Singh Rajput's Death’ ( Monday, 15 June, 2020 ), The Logical Indian. Retrieved from - ttps://\

Office of the Historian ‘U.S. Diplomacy and Yellow Journalism, 1895–1898’ ’( Milestones in the History of US Foreign Relations 1866-1898 )

Shirley Biagi, Media Impact: ‘An Introduction to Mass Media’ (2011 Page 56 )

Silvio Waisbord ‘Truth is What Happens to News’ ( Published 06 Jul 2018 )

Smythe, Ted Curtis , ‘The Gilded Age Press, 1865–1900’ ( 2003 )

W. Joseph Campbell, Yellow Journalism - Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies;

( Hardcover Book Published in 2001 )



Smruthi Krishnan

Economics Major. Aspiring Journalist. I write poems, sometimes.