UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Online tabloid politics: Predicting votes and values with celebrity and scandal

10 December 2021, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

 A person reading news on a tablet

A FRINGE Centre event with Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer (Kozminski University)

This event is free.

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What do online tabloids tell us about where news consumers put their attention? How do online tabloids uncover and shape popular values? I have been studying the political coverage of three major online tabloids, Gawker in the United States, Mail Online in the United Kingdom, and Pudelek in Poland, during three campaigns – 2015 presidential campaign in Poland, 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK and presidential campaign in the US – which led to significant right-wing, populist shifts in these three countries. Most political surveys and expert analyses circulated during these campaigns turned out to be wrong. In contrast, the three outlets – known for mixing celebrity and politics – provided scandalising, entertaining, and emotional news accompanied by readers’ comments, that turned out to be more aligned with the vote results.

It is no small paradox that in the reality of “hard” news media struggling for profit and of ever more attention-grabbing fake news often spread using social media, online tabloids remain successful in bringing the bare minimum of professional journalism for readers not interested in following political news. This is why for this study, which will be published by Brill in 2022, I analysed over 2000 articles and their most upvoted comments. In addition, I conducted over two dozen interviews with political journalists working for Pudelek, Mail Online, and Gawker.

While Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States have very different democratic traditions, my findings point at a number of recurring patterns visible in online tabloids’ political coverage. These are informed both by particular media environments, as well as by a shared style of making news “tabloid”. At the same time, online tabloids serve as extreme examples of how news media shape attention, importance, and values in an increasingly tabloidised media reality.

Disclaimer: This event will take place online.

Image credit: Kaboompics .com on Pexels