Following the era of yellow journalism was the era of jazz journalism. Enjoying a short but lively reign it sprang up in New York City (like everything else newspaper related) in 1920 when “Hearst and Pulitzer extended yellow journalism into tabloid journalism with an emphasis on sex, violence, murder, and celebrity affairs.” (History of Newspapers)
Papers employing this technique were tabloids printed on a page half the size of a normal newspaper and richly illustrated with photographs. It is important to note that this era began shortly after the end of World War I, and heightened in the “roaring twenties.” Such journalism covered Hollywood, the airplane, Prohibition, and Al Capone. “Papers such as the New York Daily News used screaming headlines, large photos, and short, punchy text to lure readers. It was a New York Daily News reporter that strapped a miniature camera to his leg and secretly took the notorious front-page picture of Ruth Snyder, as she was being electrocuted at Sing Sing prison in 1928.” (History of Newspapers)
Jazz journalism put a heavy emphasis on blood and gore. “However, when supermarket sales became a major outlet, this was replaced by more acceptable fare: "tearjerker" stories, celebrity gossip, psychic tales, religious anecdotes, and various bizarre accounts.” (History of Newspapers)
The Photograph Over the Printed Word
In the 1920’s more and more photographs were being used, some in place of text. Douglass Bicket argues, ”The pioneering Jazz Age papers, acting as early ‘multimedia screens’, used photographic elements to communicate information in novel ways, contributing to the undermining of the analytical power of the written word. Elite criticism of these papers evinces nothing more than a class-based contempt for popular cultural forms, while examination of the contemporary New York Times shows that, by the mid-1920s, that paper was already paralleling many of the visual and content-based choices selected by its jazz journalism counterparts.” (Sage Publications) In short Bicket is claiming that in the 1920s newspapers were the medium for photographs to conquer the printed word, and that today the Internet is causing multimedia expansion, making newspapers/magazines/print more and more a visual presentation instead of a textual read. Jay David Bolter, in his essay Ekphrasis, Virtual Reality, and the Future of Writing (1996), points out that in today's society, written textual elementals are rapidly being replaced by what he calls "perceptual elements," that is, graphical devices used in place of words to construct or communicate meaning (p. 254). It is also important to note that USA TODAY and the New York Times are prime examples of present day jazz journalism is the secondary form (not the tabloids), the photograph emphasis. Verbal text is not only marginalized on the Internet but is also becoming more marginalized in print. They "use more and more visual elementals and place their ever-shrinking print text quotient into bite-size modules on the page... visual elements (photos, graphics, infographics) are increasingly crowding out the text and changing the nature of what text remains in what is at present a transitional phase of print media. Bolter notes that newspapers have become more and more like multimedia screens, up to limits of print technology.” (Sage Publications) In conclusion it is apparent that newspapers have been evolving from prose to visual narrative and that newspapers will have to continue to evolve, embracing a form of jazz journalism, or lose to the competition – the Internet. I'd also like to take this a step further and boldy suggest that backpack journalism is the form of jazz journalism that will be the successful bolster.
Following the era of jazz journalism is the era of responsible journalism.
Jazz Journalism; the story of the tabloid newspapers, is a book by Simon Michael.