What's the Difference Between Broadsheet and Tabloid Newspapers?

Man reading New York Times
A man reads an article by The New York Times (a broadsheet) on Donald Trump during a protest outside the new Trump International Hotel. Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

In the world of print journalism, there are two main formats for newspapers - broadsheets and tabloids. Strictly speaking, those terms refer to the size of such papers, but both formats also have colorful histories and associations.

So what's the difference between broadsheets and tabloids?

Broadsheets

Broadsheet refers to the most common newspaper format, which, if you're measuring the front page, is typically around 15 inches wide to 20 or more inches long in the U.S. (sizes can vary around the world.

Broadsheets are larger in some countries). Broadsheet papers are usually six columns across.

Historically, broadsheets developed in 18th century Britain after the government began to tax newspapers based on how many pages they had, making big papers with fewer pages cheaper to print.

But broadsheets also came to be associated with a high-minded approach to the dissemination of news, and with an upscale readership. Even today, broadsheet papers tend to employ a traditional approach to newsgathering that emphasizes in-depth coverage and a sober tone in articles and editorials. Broadsheet readers often tend to be fairly affluent and educated, with many of them living in the suburbs.

Many of the nation's most respected and influential newspapers - The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall St. Journal, and so on - are broadsheet papers.

However, in recent years many broadsheets have been reduced in size in order to cut printing costs.

For instance, The New York Times was narrowed by 1 1/2 inches in 2008. Other papers, including USA Today, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, have also been trimmed in size.

Tabloids

In the technical sense, tabloid refers to a type of newspaper that typically measures 11 X 17 inches and is five columns across, narrower than a broadsheet newspaper.

Since tabloids are smaller, their stories tend to be shorter than those found in broadsheets.

And while broadsheet readers tend to be upscale suburbanites, tabloid readers are often working-class residents of big cities. Indeed, many city dwellers prefer tabloids because they are easy to carry and read on the subway or bus.

One of the first tabloids in the U.S. was the New York Sun, started in 1833. It cost only a penny, was easy to carry and its crime reporting and illustrations proved popular with working-class readers.

Tabloids tend to be more irreverent and slangy in their writing style than their more serious broadsheet brothers. In a crime story, a broadsheet will refer to a police officer, while the tabloid will call him a cop. And while a broadsheet might spend dozens of column inches on "serious" news - say, a major bill being debated in Congress - a tabloid is more likely to zero in on a heinous sensational crime story or celebrity gossip.

In fact, the word tabloid has come to be associated with the kind of supermarket checkout aisle papers - such as the National Enquirer - that focus on splashy, lurid stories about celebrities.

But there's an important distinction to be made here.

True, there are the over-the-top tabloids like the Enquirer, but there are also the so-called respectable tabloids - such as the New York Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald and so on - that do serious, hard-hitting journalism. In fact, the New York Daily News, the largest tabloid in the U.S., has won 10 ​Pulitzer Prizes, print journalism's highest honor.

In Britain, tabloid papers - also known as the "red tops" for their front-page banners - tend to be much more racy and sensationalistic than their American counterparts. Indeed, the unscrupulous reporting methods employed by some tabs led to the so-called ​phone-hacking scandal and the closing of the News of the World, one of Britain's biggest tabs. The scandal has led to calls for greater regulation of the press in Britain.

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