(Not) Kidding

Politics in Online Tabloids


Often reduced to the role of sensationalist gossipmongers, online tabloids are a vital source of political news for the public. This book offers a deep dive into Pudelek, Mail Online, and Gawker coverage of 2015-2016 political campaigns in Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, where votes led to major populist shifts. Thanks to a close study of news stories, anonymous comments under articles, and interviews with online-tabloid journalists, Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer exposes the emotional public sphere of comment sections, as well as the key tabloid “(not) kidding” frame: ambiguous, reactive to readers, and shielding online tabloids from accusations of deteriorating democracy.

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Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, Ph.D. (2014), Assistant Professor at Koźmiński University and LSE Visiting Fellow, is a sociologist specializing in everyday culture, democracy, and media, and the author of Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz: Marxism and Sociology (Brill, 2018) and Reshaping Poland's Community after Communism: Ordinary Celebrations (Palgrave, 2019).

List of Figures, Images and Tables

1How Did We Get Here? Tabloidization of News and the 2015–16 Elections in Poland, UK, and the US
 1 What Happened? The Unexpected Results of 2015 Elections in Poland, 2016 Brexit Referendum and 2016 Presidential Elections in the United States
 1.1 Introduction

 1.2 Explanations of Flawed Polls

 1.3 Explanations of Flawed Media Coverage

 1.4 Politics in Online Tabloids: A Lens for Underrepresented Voices?

 1.5 Tabloid Authority

 1.6 Popular Passions

 2 Country Settings: A Brief History of the Tabloidization of News in Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States
 2.1 Tabloid Influence on News in the UK, US and Poland: A Brief History

 2.2 United Kingdom

 2.3 United States

 2.4 Poland

 3 How Did We Get Here? Tabloidization of News-Making Today
 3.1 “Tabloidization,” or a Definition of Power

 3.2 Default Online Tabloid Style: Backstory

 3.3 Tabloid Influence: Political Scandal

 3.4 Tabloids on Political Scandals

 3.5 Political Scandal in the Public Sphere

 3.6 The Cultural Frame for Politics in Online Tabloids

 4 Short Note on Methods and the Following Chapters

2Politicians Are Crooks, Votes Are Rigged, and Other Visions of a (Un)just World
 1 Background on Gawker, Mail Online, and Pudelek: The Rise of Online News, and News Media Struggles for Profit
 1.1 Introduction

 1.2 Emergence and Rise of the Three Online Tabloids

 2 Politics of Online Tabloid Attention
 2.1 Game Frame, Scandal Frame, “Elite” Insult

 2.2 Entertaining Politicians

 2.3 The Commenters

 3 What’s Popular in Online Tabloid Political Coverage? A Close Look at Campaign News
 3.1 Numbers and Themes

 3.2 Poland 2015 Presidential Campaign

 3.3 United Kingdom 2016 EU Referendum Campaign

 3.4 United States 2016 Presidential Campaign

 4 A Brief Summary, and Moving on to the Next Chapter

3Backoffice, or How Online Tabloid Journalists Write on Politics
 1 Getting to Talk to Online Tabloid Writers. A Personal Methodological Note on Finding Sources in Different Journalistic Cultures

 2 Content and Comments
 2.1 Content 101: Newsworthy, Entertaining, Reactive

 2.2 Comments, Commenters, Language

 2.3 Journalists on Commenters

 2.4 Commenters on Journalists

 3 Newsroom Agendas
 3.1 Newsworthiness and Traffic

 3.2 Newsroom Routines

 3.3 Newsroom Changes

 3.4 Professionalism

 3.5 Politics, Principles, and Secrets

4Conclusion Online Tabloid Voices and Democracy
 1 Producing Knowledge and Inclusion in Journalistic Authority

 2 Voicing Popular Passions and Exposing (Im)morality

 3 The L(e)ast Credible Source and Democracy


The book will be of interest to media scholars, sociologists, political scientists, journalists – students and practitioners in these fields – and general readers who are curious about changes in online news and political journalism, as well as their influence on democracy and public debate.
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