Degree Granting Department
Robert Dardenne, Ph.D.
Gary Mormino, Ph.D
Mike Killenberg, Ph.D.
Gossip, Media, Ethics, Newspapers, Competition
In the digital age where newspapers compete with the Internet, cable TV and other publications for an audience, USA Today strives to stay relevant in the media with a daily dose of celebrity news. Newspapers continue to lose circulation during a time when the fascination with celebrities shows no signs of dwindling. This study explores how much celebrity news coverage USA Today gives readers, how much competition from other outlets plays a factor and whether the nation's largest newspaper is making a sacrifice of traditional forms of newspaper content in favor of celebrity coverage. The methodology for this qualitative case study is a two-fold approach. In-depth interviews with sixteen managers, editors and staffers at USA Today were conducted, using questions that gather an overview of the newspaper's celebrity news approach. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed in the findings. The second part was a one-year analysis of USA Today's main front and Life section front pages, looking for patterns of celebrity news.
The study shows clear differences between USA Today and its non-newspaper competitors. USA Today's newsroom has a strong culture of journalism ethics and standards that limits the newspaper from going head to head with tabloids and celebrity magazines for the rumor and gossip stories. Among them is a strict sourcing policy that forbids blind or anonymous sources in celebrity coverage. Nearly all of the interviewees questioned about competition and gossip mentioned the ethical standards at the newspaper.
The analysis of news fronts shows that USA Today uses the skybox in the upper right-hand corner as a way to promote its celebrity news. The majority of days, a celebrity photo and teaser were in that space, something a high-ranking editor at the newspaper said is a conscious effort to showcase celebrities. The Life front pages were loaded with celebrity news, including stories one can argue are tabloid-like in nature.
Most of those interviewed at USA Today insisted they are not sacrificing other content for celebrity coverage. They say celebrity news is just part of a balance the newspaper gives readers every day. Covering celebrities heavily is a way USA Today keeps relevant in the ever-changing media landscape. USA Today can be used as a celebrity news model for other newspapers looking for techniques to keep circulation numbers from dropping.
Scholar Commons Citation
Boxleitner, Grant Edward, "Sexy Sensationalism Case Study: The Fascination with Celebrity News and Why USA Today Caters to the Obsession" (2007). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.