Title: A Jaunty and Popular Journalism: How Tabloid Newspapers Delight…

Author: Muhammad Rabiu

Publisher:  Stirlin-Horden Publishers, Ibadan

Year: 2012

Pages: 162

Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro

Every bird sings and flies, but that doesn’t make every bird a pelican. Every newspaper carries news, but, just as we have many crooning, winged birds that aren’t pelicans, so is the classification of newspapers between tabloids and broadsheets.

In 2005, a research conducted by MediaReach OMD, declared The Sun Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper, followed by The Punch, which tilted towards tabloid journalism, too. Then, there must be something about the tabloid that easily captures the imagination of readers.

Muhammad Rabiu’s book, Jaunty and Popular Journalism: How Tabloid Newspapers Delight and Draw Readers, therefore, leads us into the charm of the tabloid brand of journalism by localising his excerpts from highflying Nigerian models.

A book in two parts, the author, a senior lecturer at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, emphasises on the propensity and peculiarity of tabloid journalism, while shading light on the principles behind the news. In the “Preliminaries”, the terms –jaunty, journalism and tabloid –are explicated.

Using references, he introduces us to tabloid news values and formula. An article he wrote, “In Search of more Readers and Higher Profits: The Trend towards Tabloid Journalism”, which was first published in Nasarawa Journal of Humanities, Vol 2, No. 1, September, 2007, is culled in the first chapter.

This article brings us to the reality that newspaper publishing is a business for detecting a need and filling it, which informed the emergence of the pleasurable journalism known as tabloid –a response to reader’s needs.

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According to Rabiu: “In their grope for more readers and increased profits, tabloid newspapers serve compelling stories and un-put-down-able features. They use a style of writing that affects intensely by employing the imaginative technique of specific details to paint pictures and evoke emotions so that the meaning is heartfelt” (p.9).

He goes on to define tabloid journalism as a newspaper of human voices, capturing the unpredictable and unexpected rhythms of life and existence in lucid and crisp prose. All over the world, the tabloids, he says, are closer to the people than the broadsheets.

Making an overview of journalism, the author explains journalistic writing and its major techniques, including leads, the body of a story, and the inverted pyramid. Using examples from the Lagos-based The Sun from 2009 and 2011, he highlights the complete narrative technique used by reporters in a typical tabloid, a technique that conceals the outcome until the final sentence.

Similarly, he uses copious excerpts from The Sun tabloid to buttress the importance of the question lead in journalism. The question lead is addressed to arouse the curiosity of the reader. An example is drawn from Sunday Sun of October 24, 2010: “Who killed three-year-old Uche Duncan Praise Nwazuo?” Another example is culled from Sunday Sun of October 3, 2010: “How would one describe what has befallen Ogun State-born Mr Alao Ayorinde, a panel beater?”

Rabiu’s book doesn’t leave us in doubt how the direct address, the use of pronoun without an antecedent, and the playing-with-words leads work in a tabloid. Three kinds of graceful leads, he writes, constitute the playing-with-words leads. These include the literary allusion lead, the familiar saying lead and the parody lead.

What are so special about the three? Rabiu explains: “They are used in robust writing by the tabloid reporter to sustain attention. Their entertainment ingredient is unmistakable. They immensely benefit both the writer and the reader, making a difference that changes things forever inside both of them. The writing style is fresh and breezy, thereby having an immediate and direct appeal to the reader” (p.88).

Rabiu’s book demonstrates that juicy tabloid stories don’t come by accident. Before a reporter can tell readers anything, he must first get their attention and arouse their interest, he says. If this isn’t done, there is a possibility that the readers may wander to colourful adverts or turn the pages.

Though journalism and literature deploy different techniques to tell stories, Rabiu says sometimes reporters use literary techniques with good effect, especially in the entertaining tabloid brand of journalism.

Also, Jaunty and Popular Journalism… teaches the reader the elements of effective style. Citing Liftin (1992), he says an effective style requires more than grammar; it needs the reporter’s word choice to be appropriate to the audience and interesting. The author offers several examples to buttress this point. It is a valuable section on syntax and semantics.

The second part of the book contains fewer but important pages. After using many excerpts to explain the contents of tabloid journalism in the first section, the latter centres on concepts in journalism. What is ideology in media? What is media portrayal? These are some of the questions the author tackles in this section.

The author, however, should try to vary the font sizes of the excerpts and the subtopics in subsequent edition so that the reader won’t be groping to tell the difference. Undoubtedly, Rabiu’s Jaunty and Popular Journalism…. is a goldmine for students of journalism, practicing journalists and media administrators. It is also worth the while of the general reader, for journalism impacts all facets of life.