What is a Tabloid?

Mary McMahon

In the newspaper industry, the term “tabloid” refers both to a specific type of newspaper, and to a specific paper size. Most laypeople think of a particular kind of publication when they hear the word “tabloid,” not realizing that the term was originally used in reference to paper size, and that the two concepts are actually very closely linked.

Tabloid is a term that can mean both a specific paper size and a cheap, sensationalist paper.
Tabloid is a term that can mean both a specific paper size and a cheap, sensationalist paper.

In terms of paper size, a tabloid is about the size of a large magazine, with a depth of around 14 inches (36 centimeters) and a width of around 10 inches (25 centimeters). The tabloid is essentially half the size of the larger broadsheet format, making it much more compact and easy to handle. The precise paper size can very slightly, depending on the nation and the newspaper involved.

Tabloid magazines are usually a hotbed for celebrity gossip.
Tabloid magazines are usually a hotbed for celebrity gossip.

The term originates in the marketing for medications in the 1800s. When medicine first began to be marketed in capsules rather than cumbersome bottles of loose powder and liquids, the capsules were known as “tabloids.” The tabloid or tablet was supposed to be easier to take, since it was compact in size, and it became immensely popular.

Newspapers picked up the term when they started halving the broadsheet size. News tabloids originally presented highly compressed and compacted news, as opposed to the more detailed and lengthy news in broadsheets. Over time, tabloids came to be associated with lots of pictures, lurid imagery, and simplistic stories, an association which endures to this day.

The tabloid size has some distinct advantages from the point of view of publishers. It is cheaper to produce, requiring less paper and obviating the need for a large press which is capable of handling broadsheets. Customers like the tabloid size because it is easier to handle; wrestling with a big broadsheet can be a real pain. The tradition of presenting condensed news in a tabloid is also appealing to some readers, as some people just want the basics, without in-depth discussion.

People often use the term “tabloid” to refer to a cheap, sensationalist paper, often in the sense of a paper which is distributed for free. Many weekly and alternative papers use the tabloid format regardless as to their journalistic quality because it is cheaper and easier to produce. Alternative papers are often free, supported entirely be advertising revenue. The tendency to associate tabloids with sensationalist journalism and broadsides with reputable journalism is not always accurate, as some broadside-format papers are just as lurid as the most trashy magazines, and many tabloid-sized papers are entirely respectable.

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Discussion Comments


@Sneakers41 - That makes sense. I just wanted to add that with tabloids journalism you never know what information is true or not. Sometimes they print information that you later find out was true.

So I would not discount these papers altogether. The only thing that bothers me when I am shopping in a grocery store with my kids is when they have these headlines with of a heavy sexual nature that my young children can see. I think that supermarkets should cover these magazines. I have seen some supermarkets put these plastic shields that cover the headlines but let you see the name of the magazine so that children don’t see it but not all supermarkets do this.


@Oasis11 - I also know that some celebrities have threatened to sue the tabloids. I know that Carol Burnett sued and won when one of the tabloid papers that said that she was drunk in a restaurant and it wasn’t true.

She was especially sensitive to this because both her parents were alcoholics so she was sensitive to drinking alcohol in general. I think that the reason why most celebrities don’t sue involves the fact that they don’t want to draw more attention to the tabloid newspaper.

They also have to prove that the information is completely false and it was printed with malicious intent. On top of that most libel cases result in small judgments that often take care of the legal expense only. So it is a lot of trouble to go through but sometimes on principle it might be worth it.

I think this is why some of the tabloids go a little far with their stories because they are banking on the fact that they won’t get sued.


@Cupcake15- I agree with you. I think that the fascination comes from the fact that the general public assumes that celebrities because of their fame and wealth live perfect lives and when these papers depict their lives with the same problems that most people have it makes the public realize that the celebrities life is really not that different than their own.

I actually think that fame can be a double edged sword because it can bring you a lot of lucrative work, but at the price of your privacy. It seems that everything that a celebrity does is fair game and when they go through a rocky time in their life the feeling is magnified because now the public is also aware of their problem. I might be in the minority but I would never want to be famous.


I think that whenever I hear the term tabloid journalism it always has a negative tone in my mind. I always think about those tabloid papers and how celebrities hate them because they really have a way of demonstrating the worst aspects of a celebrity’s life and a lot of times the information is not even true.

I wonder what the fascination with these papers is and why people are drawn to buy them. I usually only look at the headlines, but I never buy any of those papers. I really think that is cruel when they draw attention to a celebrity that has an obvious weight problem or that might be in the late stages of a terminal disease.

While I understand how tabloid news like this does sell papers it is so cruel in my opinion that it actually turns me off because these should be private moments regardless of your celebrity status.

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