Readers, Writers, Texts

Journalese: the language of newspaper writing

The Fourth Estate is a documentary series released in 2018 about The New York Times in the Trump era that explores critical issues facing the ‘newspaper of record’ and journalism today. Embedded here is the first of four episodes: First 100 Days.

You have seen how the selection of stories can be influenced by the institutions of production and newsworthiness criteria. Now it is time to examine how conventional uses of journalistic language affects the presentation of news stories. The most important concepts in this section are emotive languageeuphemism and vague language and you will also learn about the distinctions between broadsheet and tabloid journalism. Read the following pieces to clarify what these terms all mean and learn how to both recognise them and to consider their effects:

Class Activity: sleaze and sensationalism

In the world of print journalism, the two most widely seen formats for newspapers are broadsheet and tabloid. Broadsheet newspapers appeared in Britain in the 18th century when the government taxed newspapers based on their number of pages. By increasing the size of the pages, newspapers could reduce the number of sheets in each edition – an ingenious way to lessen the amount of tax they had to pay!  

One of the first tabloids in the U.S. was The New York Sun, started in 1833. It cost only a penny and was easy to carry – the idea of making a newspaper smaller and more convenient appealed to the working class who had to carry the newspaper to work. Early tabloids were more irreverent in their writing style than their broadsheet brethren, and crime reporting combined with lurid illustrations were a hit with readers. This trend continues today: a broadsheet will refer to a police officer, while a tabloid might use the term cop. And while a broadsheet might use up precious column inches on serious news, a tabloid likes to target sensational stories or celebrity gossip, with a penchant for sleaze, sordid sex, and tales of immorality, perversion and crime.

Learning the differences between broadsheets and tabloids is the basis of this sequence of lessons, which will help you understand how newspaper writers and editors can use language in particular ways to achieve different effects – and even alter the meaning of an identical story or event printed in the news.

Learner Portfolio

Write a tabloid news article that reports (in a biased and sensational way) on an event from one of your literary texts. Include:

  • A headline (bonus points for slammers, alliterating or punning headlines);
  • An image that presents your subject in either a favourable or unfavourable light, depending on the angle of your story;
  • Embedded interviews and comments from various sources;
  • Sensational and dramatic language, emptying the techniques you have learned in this section of the course.

Before you write, you might like to read this example produced by a student and based on the events unfolding in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: tabloid and broadsheet newspaper reports

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below are articles that expose the role of bias in news stories, whether tabloid or broadsheet. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of Newspaper Reports and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

Body of Work: …


Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

IB Language and Literature Guide


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