I doubt it was meant as such but I take an allusion to my writing being in the “alarming tabloid tradition” as a compliment. Although the morality of their methods may well be in doubt the writing skills of tabloid journalists are to be admired, and emulated by preachers. They get to the bones of a story and present it in an understandable and memorable manner.
We shouldn’t be snobbish about the tabloids. Who is generally acknowledged by his peers as probably the most influential political journalist of recent years? Trevor Kavanagh, and he works for, yes you’ve got it, the The Sun. First as political editor and now as associate editor he has not only scooped the broadsheets, the Hutton inquiry and announcing the date of the 2001 general election, he has written intelligent, perceptive and influential articles.
As an inveterate reader of broadsheets I make the plea that we don’t look down our noses at the tabloids. Sure they publish rubbish, but how many readers actually believed there was a WWII bomber on the moon or that Elvis was alive and working in a chip shop in Peterborough or wherever? Ordinary working class folk may have poor education, that doesn’t mean they are fools, and they like to laugh as much as readers of the The Guardian or The Times. They aren’t taken in by stories like these. And remember, it wasn’t a tabloid that was taken in by the Hitler Diaries but the editors of that oh so serious broadsheet The Times.
Tabloids sensationalise. They certainly do, they want to catch their reader’s attention so they plant the hook and dig it in deep. Everyone remembers The Sun headline about the sinking of the Belgrano on 2nd May 1982 – “Gotcha.” You may not agree with the sinking or the way it was reported but you remember the event through the The Sun headline and you are in no doubt even today about the stance the The Sun took.
It was written nearly thirty years ago but we still remember that single word headline. Ask any preacher how many of his congregation he thinks remember the crux of his Sunday sermon on the following Wednesday. No, better not, you don’t want to embarrass him.
Tabloids simplify. They certainly do, they know their readers and know how to get the main points across. They manage to do this without the verbiage of the broadsheets. They put down the main facts and then they repeat them in a more colourful way. How often have you listened to a sermon and had difficulty in getting just what the preacher was trying to convey? Have you ever left a church impressed by the preacher’s intellectual ability but unsure of what he was on about?
Tabloids use colourful language. They certainly do, they know how the human mind works. People prefer exciting stories to lectures, why do you think the Bible has so much story in it? Unfortunately most preachers did their theological training in universities in the context of academic lectures and carry that background with them into their pulpits. People want their imaginations to be captured and their emotions stirred, that is why the tabloids are more successful than the vast majority of preachers.
Tabloids are written for the masses and consequently are simple. They certainly are, they know their audience. How often have you heard preachers use language their congregations don’t understand? This Christmas if I were to refer to the incarnation my congregation would wonder why I was talking about condensed milk. Tabloids are effective because they know how to make contact with their audience.
There has to be a reason why The Sun is Britain’s highest circulation and most influential newspaper. You probably remember the headline from the The Sun following the surprise Conservative win in the 1992 general election, “It’s The Sun Wot won It.” It may have been hyperbolic but there was more than a grain of truth in it. In political terms The Sun is more influential than The Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph combined.
One of the reasons that the average church goer is staid and middle class is because their preachers read broadsheets rather than tabloids. If you want to learn how to communicate the gospel to ordinary folk look to the proven experts at communicating with the mass of the population, and learn.