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Tabloid journalism, also known as rag newspaper, is a style of journalism that emphasizes sensational crime stories, gossip columns about celebrities and sports stars, extreme political views and opinions from one perspective, junk food news, and astrology. Although it is associated with tabloid-size newspapers, not all newspapers associated with tabloid journalism are tabloid size, and not all tabloid-size newspapers engage in tabloid journalism; in particular, since about 2000 many broadsheet newspapers converted to the more compact tabloid format. Tabloid journalism often concerns itself with rumors about the private lives of celebrities. In some cases, celebrities have successfully sued for libel, demonstrating that tabloid stories have defamed them.
Notable publications engaging in tabloid journalism include the National Enquirer, and Globe in North America; and the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, Daily Record, Sunday Mail, The Sun, and the former News of the World in the United Kingdom.
In the United States and Canada, "supermarket tabloids" are large, national versions of these tabloids, usually published weekly. They are named for their prominent placement along the checkout lines of supermarkets.
In the 1960s, the National Enquirer began selling magazines in supermarkets as an alternative to newsstands. To sweeten the deal with supermarkets, they offered to buy back unsold issues.
Supermarket tabloids are particularly notorious for the over-the-top sensationalizing of stories, the facts of which can often be called into question. These tabloids—such as The Globe and the National Enquirer—often use aggressive and usually mean-spirited tactics to sell their issues. Unlike regular tabloid-format newspapers, supermarket tabloids are distributed through the magazine distribution channel, similarly to other weekly magazines and mass-market paperback books. Leading examples include the National Enquirer, Star, Weekly World News (itself a parody of the style), and the Sun. Most major supermarket tabloids in the U.S. are published by American Media, Inc., including the National Enquirer, Star, The Globe, and National Examiner.
A major event in the history of U.S. supermarket tabloids was the successful libel lawsuit by Carol Burnett against the National Enquirer (Carol Burnett v. National Enquirer, Inc.), arising out of a false 1976 report in the National Enquirer, implying she was drunk and boisterous in a public encounter with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Though its impact is widely debated, it is generally seen as a significant turning point in the relations between celebrities and tabloid journalism, increasing the willingness of celebrities to sue for libel in the U.S., and somewhat dampening the recklessness of U.S. tabloids. Other celebrities have attempted to sue tabloid magazines for libel and slander including Richard Simmons in 2017 and Phil McGraw in 2016. Both McGraw and Simmons sued the National Enquirer, but only McGraw was successful, winning $250 million.
Tabloids may pay for stories. Besides scoops meant to be headline stories, this can be used to censor stories damaging to the paper's allies. Known as "catch and kill", tabloid newspapers may pay someone for the exclusive rights to a story, then choose not to run it. Publisher American Media has been accused of burying stories embarrassing to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, and Harvey Weinstein.
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Tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom, collectively called "the tabloid press", tend to be simply and sensationally written and to give more prominence than broadsheets to celebrities, sports, crime stories, and even hoaxes. They also take political positions on news stories: ridiculing politicians, demanding resignations, and predicting election results.
It is generally regarded as a derogatory term in the UK and is used as a by-word for “low quality” compared to broadsheet newspapers.
Given the associations with the word tabloid in Britain, it is often not applied to newspapers such as The Times or The Independent that have adopted the physical format of a tabloid, having previously been broadsheets.
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