The Fathers of Yellow Journalism

Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst











I just love a good biased news article dont’ you?

It gives you something to disagree with and get indignant over.  Bias stimulates controversy and thus conversation and don’t forget it increases circulation.

Circulation figures for The World and The Journal shows that 19th century New Yorkers  definitely preferred a strong bias with plenty of salacious details. Pulitzer viewed biased reporting to be a duty.

“A newspaper should [do] more than . . . printing every day first-rate news and first-rate editorials. It should have hobbies, undertake reforms, lead crusades, and thereby establish a name for individuality and active public service.”

Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911)

But when does bias become fiction?

Yellow Journalism-What is it?

The general consensus is that it is bad.

To accuse a paper or news source  of yellow journalism is to imply they are playing fast and loose with the facts, to doubt the integrity of their news or to accuse them of being unprofessional and generally disreputable.

Yellow journalism’s rise to stardom happened in New York city in the 1890’s, when William Randolph Hearst bought over The Journal with the express intention of out selling Joseph Pulitzer’s The World, unlike Pulitzer he made no claims to public service, had no agenda to better society, champion the down trodden or bring the corrupt to justice. He wanted circulation and would do anything to get it.

The most important components to 19th century yellow journalism were eye catching head lines, the more shocking the better, and pictures usually artists renderings of supposed events.

Such as this example from the front page of The New York Journal, 1898, under the banner:

does our flag shield women?

By Remington (Image:~SPAIN3.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Remington (Image:~SPAIN3.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In response to this picture and headline The World countered with this headline:

the unclothed women searched by men

was an invention of a new york newspaper

Hearsts report was shown to be manifestly untrue, in reality Senorita Clemencia Arango, a young Cuban, had been searched by female officers in a private cabin, never by men and certainly not in the open as implied by this artists representation.

But you see in yellow journalism they don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.  And they barred no punches in accusing each other, latching on to and publicizing each others mistakes or intentional fabrications.

It certainly made for exciting reading!

Why Yellow?

By Richard Felton Outcault [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Richard Felton Outcault [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Journalism got its name from the Yellow Kid named for his yellow nightshirt. The yellow kid first appeared in  The World’s  immensely popular “Hogan Alley” cartoons in 1895.   In 1896 Richard Felton Outcault went over to Hearst taking the yellow kid with him now  starring in The Journal’s  cartoon “Mc Fadden’s Row of Flats”.

So many subscribers followed their favorite spunky cartoon character over to The Journal that Pulitzer commissioned artist George Luks to create the Yellow Kid’s equally spunky twin to be continued in “Hogan Alley”.

To make sure deserting customers didn’t over look this fact billboards advertised the return of the Yellow Kid. And thus was the birth of Yellow Journalism.

In the spirit of biased reporting I will say the 1890’s were a particularly exciting and debased decade for journalism, where Pulitzer anxious to maintain his circulation allowed Hearst to pull him down into the mud with the result they both came out dirty.

The difference between Pulitzer and Hearst was that Pulitzer regretted his decent into the purely sensational while Hearst was completely unapologetic. Truth and betterment of society was never Hearst intentions, his mission was pure and simple: get the most subscribers, increase circulation, make money, beat Pulitzer, no matter how much it cost.

To finish off here is a gem of a cartoon with both Pulitzer and Hearst featured as the yellow kid:

By William Barrit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By William Barrit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons