Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Yellow journalism

Yellow journalism

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Yellow journalism'
Start a new discussion about 'Yellow journalism'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia

Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism
Journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

 that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism
Sensationalism
Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers...

. By extension "Yellow journalism" is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.

defines yellow press newspapers as having daily multi-column front-page headlines covering a variety of topics, such as sports and scandal, using bold layouts (with large illustrations and perhaps color), heavy reliance on unnamed sources, and unabashed self-promotion. The term was extensively used to describe certain major New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 newspapers about 1900 as they battled for circulation.

Frank Luther Mott
Frank Luther Mott
Frank Luther Mott was an American historian and journalist of Quaker descent.Mott was born in Rose Hill, Iowa...

 (1941) defines yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:
  1. scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
  2. lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
  3. use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
  4. emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)
  5. dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system.

Origins: Pulitzer vs. Hearst


The term originated during the American Gilded Age
Gilded Age
In United States history, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded...

 of the late nineteenth century with the circulation battles between Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer April 10, 1847 – October 29, 1911), born Politzer József, was a Hungarian-American newspaper publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World. Pulitzer introduced the techniques of "new journalism" to the newspapers he acquired in the 1880s and became a leading...

's New York World
New York World
The New York World was a newspaper published in New York City from 1860 until 1931. The paper played a major role in the history of American newspapers...

and William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst was an American business magnate and leading newspaper publisher. Hearst entered the publishing business in 1887, after taking control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father...

's New York Journal. The battle peaked from 1895 to about 1898, and historical usage often refers specifically to this period. Both papers were accused by critics of sensationalizing the news in order to drive up circulation, although the newspapers did serious reporting as well.

The term was coined by Erwin Wardman, the editor of the New York Press
New York Press (historical)
The New York Press was a New York City newspaper that began publication in December, 1887 and continued publication until July 2, 1916, then being merged with Frank Munsey's New York Herald...

. Wardman was the first to publish the term but there is evidence that expressions such as "yellow journalism" and "school of yellow kid journalism" were already used by newsmen of that time. Wardman never defined the term exactly. Possibly it was a mutation from earlier slander where Wardman twisted "new journalism" into "nude journalism". Wardman had also used the expression "yellow kid journalism
The Yellow Kid
The Yellow Kid emerged as the lead character in Hogan's Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, which became one of the first Sunday supplement comic strips in an American newspaper, although its graphical layout had already been thoroughly established in political and other, purely-for-entertainment...

" referring to the then-popular comic strip which was published by both Pulitzer and Hearst during a circulation war. In 1898 the paper simply elaborated: "We called them Yellow because they are Yellow."

Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer April 10, 1847 – October 29, 1911), born Politzer József, was a Hungarian-American newspaper publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World. Pulitzer introduced the techniques of "new journalism" to the newspapers he acquired in the 1880s and became a leading...

 purchased the New York World in 1883 after making the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the major city-wide newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri. Although written to serve Greater St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch is one of the largest newspapers in the Midwestern United States, and is available and read as far west as Kansas City, Missouri, as far south as...

the dominant daily in that city. Pulitzer strove to make the New York World
New York World
The New York World was a newspaper published in New York City from 1860 until 1931. The paper played a major role in the history of American newspapers...

an entertaining read, and filled his paper with pictures, games and contests that drew in new readers. Crime stories filled many of the pages, with headlines like "Was He a Suicide?" and "Screaming for Mercy." In addition, Pulitzer only charged readers two cents per issue but gave readers eight and sometimes 12 pages of information (the only other two cent paper in the city never exceeded four pages).

While there were many sensational stories in the New York World, they were by no means the only pieces, or even the dominant ones. Pulitzer believed that newspapers were public institutions with a duty to improve society, and he put the World in the service of social reform.

Just two years after Pulitzer took it over, the World became the highest circulation newspaper in New York, aided in part by its strong ties to the Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

. Older publishers, envious of Pulitzer's success, began criticizing the World, harping on its crime stories and stunts while ignoring its more serious reporting — trends which influenced the popular perception of yellow journalism. Charles Dana
Charles Anderson Dana
Charles Anderson Dana was an American journalist, author, and government official, best known for his association with Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War and his aggressive political advocacy after the war....

, editor of the New York Sun
New York Sun
The New York Sun was a weekday daily newspaper published in New York City from 2002 to 2008. When it debuted on April 16, 2002, adopting the name, motto, and masthead of an otherwise unrelated earlier New York paper, The Sun , it became the first general-interest broadsheet newspaper to be started...

, attacked The World and said Pulitzer was "deficient in judgment and in staying power."

Pulitzer's approach made an impression on William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst was an American business magnate and leading newspaper publisher. Hearst entered the publishing business in 1887, after taking control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father...

, a mining heir who acquired the San Francisco Examiner from his father in 1887. Hearst read the World while studying at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 and resolved to make the Examiner
Examiner
The Examiner was a weekly paper founded by Leigh and John Hunt in 1808. For the first fifty years it was a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles, but from 1865 it repeatedly changed hands and political allegiance, resulting in a rapid decline in readership and loss of...

as bright as Pulitzer's paper. Under his leadership, the Examiner devoted 24 percent of its space to crime, presenting the stories as morality play
Morality play
The morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment. In their own time, these plays were known as "interludes", a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral theme. Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of...

s, and sprinkled adultery and "nudity" (by 19th century standards) on the front page. A month after Hearst took over the paper, the Examiner ran this headline about a hotel fire:
HUNGRY, FRANTIC FLAMES. They Leap Madly Upon the Splendid Pleasure Palace by the Bay of Monterey, Encircling Del Monte in Their Ravenous Embrace From Pinnacle to Foundation. Leaping Higher, Higher, Higher, With Desperate Desire. Running Madly Riotous Through Cornice, Archway and Facade. Rushing in Upon the Trembling Guests with Savage Fury. Appalled and Panic-Striken the Breathless Fugitives Gaze Upon the Scene of Terror. The Magnificent Hotel and Its Rich Adornments Now a Smoldering heap of Ashes. The Examiner Sends a Special Train to Monterey to Gather Full Details of the Terrible Disaster. Arrival of the Unfortunate Victims on the Morning's Train — A History of Hotel del Monte — The Plans for Rebuilding the Celebrated Hostelry — Particulars and Supposed Origin of the Fire.


Hearst could be hyperbolic
Hyperbole
Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally....

 in his crime coverage; one of his early pieces, regarding a "band of murderers," attacked the police for forcing
Examiner reporters to do their work for them. But while indulging in these stunts, the Examiner also increased its space for international news, and sent reporters out to uncover municipal corruption and inefficiency. In one well remembered story, Examiner reporter Winifred Black
Winifred Bonfils
Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils was an American reporter and columnist for William Randolph Hearst's news syndicate writing as Winifred Black, and for the San Francisco Examiner as Annie Laurie...

 was admitted into a San Francisco hospital and discovered that indigent women were treated with "gross cruelty." The entire hospital staff was fired the morning the piece appeared.

New York


With the
Examiners success established by the early 1890s, Hearst began looking for a New York newspaper to purchase, and acquired the New York Journal in 1895, a penny paper which Pulitzer's brother Albert had sold to a Cincinnati publisher the year before.

Metropolitan newspapers
History of American newspapers
The history of American newspapers goes back to the 17th century with the publication of the first colonial newspapers.-Colonial period:-The New England Courant:...

 started going after department store advertising in the 1890s, and discovered the larger the circulation base, the better. This drove Hearst; following Pulitzer's earlier strategy, he kept the Journal's price at one cent (compared to The World's two cent price) while providing as much information as rival newspapers. The approach worked, and as the Journal's circulation jumped to 150,000, Pulitzer cut his price to a penny, hoping to drive his young competitor (who was subsidized by his family's fortune) into bankruptcy. In a counterattack, Hearst raided the staff of the World in 1896. While most sources say that Hearst simply offered more money, Pulitzer — who had grown increasingly abusive to his employees — had become an extremely difficult man to work for, and many World employees were willing to jump for the sake of getting away from him.

Although the competition between the World and the Journal was fierce, the papers were temperamentally alike. Both were Democratic, both were sympathetic to labor and immigrants (a sharp contrast to publishers like the New York Tribune
New York Tribune
The New York Tribune was an American newspaper, first established by Horace Greeley in 1841, which was long considered one of the leading newspapers in the United States...

's
Whitelaw Reid
Whitelaw Reid
Whitelaw Reid was a U.S. politician and newspaper editor, as well as the author of a popular history of Ohio in the Civil War.-Early life:...

, who blamed their poverty on moral defects), and both invested enormous resources in their Sunday publications, which functioned like weekly magazines, going beyond the normal scope of daily journalism.

Their Sunday entertainment features included the first color comic strip
Comic strip
A comic strip is a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons and captions....

 pages, and some theorize that the term yellow journalism originated there, while as noted above, the New York Press left the term it invented undefined. Hogan's Alley
The Yellow Kid
The Yellow Kid emerged as the lead character in Hogan's Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, which became one of the first Sunday supplement comic strips in an American newspaper, although its graphical layout had already been thoroughly established in political and other, purely-for-entertainment...

,
a comic strip revolving around a bald child in a yellow nightshirt (nicknamed The Yellow Kid
The Yellow Kid
The Yellow Kid emerged as the lead character in Hogan's Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, which became one of the first Sunday supplement comic strips in an American newspaper, although its graphical layout had already been thoroughly established in political and other, purely-for-entertainment...

), became exceptionally popular when cartoonist Richard F. Outcault
Richard F. Outcault
Richard Felton Outcault was an American comic strip writer-artist. He was the creator of the series The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown, and he is considered the inventor of the modern comic strip.-Early life:...

 began drawing it in the World in early 1896. When Hearst predictably hired Outcault away, Pulitzer asked artist George Luks
George Luks
George Benjamin Luks, was an American realist artist and illustrator. His vigorously painted genre paintings of urban subjects are examples of the Ashcan school in American art.-Early life:...

 to continue the strip with his characters, giving the city two Yellow Kids. The use of "yellow journalism" as a synonym for over-the-top sensationalism in the U.S. apparently started with more serious newspapers commenting on the excesses of "the Yellow Kid papers."

In 1890, Samuel Warren
Samuel D. Warren (US attorney)
Samuel Dennis Warren was a Boston attorney.Warren graduated from Harvard College in 1875 and graduated second in his class at Harvard Law School in 1877. The first-place student was his friend Louis Brandeis, later a justice of the United States Supreme Court...

 and Louis Brandeis
Louis Brandeis
Louis Dembitz Brandeis ; November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939.He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish immigrant parents who raised him in a secular mode...

 published "The Right to Privacy," considered the most influential law review article of all time, as a critical response to sensational forms of journalism, which they saw as an unprecedented threat to individual privacy. The article is widely considered to have led to the recognition of new common law privacy rights of action.

Spanish-American War





Pulitzer and Hearst are often adduced as the cause of the United States' entry into the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

 due to sensationalist stories or exaggerations of the terrible conditions in Cuba. However, the vast majority of Americans did not live in New York City, and the decision-makers who did live there probably relied more on staid newspapers like the Times, The Sun, or the Post. The most famous example of a claim is the apocryphal story that artist Frederic Remington
Frederic Remington
Frederic Sackrider Remington was an American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer who specialized in depictions of the Old American West, specifically concentrating on the last quarter of the 19th century American West and images of cowboys, American Indians, and the U. S...

 telegrammed Hearst to tell him all was quiet in Cuba and "There will be no war." Hearst responded "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Historians now believe that no such telegrams ever were sent.

But Hearst became a war hawk
War Hawk
War Hawk is a term originally used to describe members of the Twelfth Congress of the United States who advocated waging war against the British in the War of 1812...

 after a rebellion broke out in Cuba in 1895. Stories of Cuban virtue and Spanish brutality soon dominated his front page. While the accounts were of dubious accuracy, the newspaper readers of the 19th century did not expect, or necessarily want, his stories to be pure nonfiction. Historian Michael Robertson has said that "Newspaper reporters and readers of the 1890s were much less concerned with distinguishing among fact-based reporting, opinion and literature."

Pulitzer, though lacking Hearst's resources, kept the story on his front page. The yellow press covered the revolution extensively and often inaccurately, but conditions on Cuba were horrific enough. The island was in a terrible economic depression, and Spanish general Valeriano Weyler
Valeriano Weyler
Don Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, 1st Duke of Rubí and 1st Marquis of Tenerife Don Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, 1st Duke of Rubí and 1st Marquis of Tenerife Don Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, 1st Duke of Rubí and 1st Marquis of Tenerife (Seed in Ambos Camarines.-Philippines:In 1888, he was sent out as...

, sent to crush the rebellion, herded Cuban peasants into concentration camps, leading hundreds of Cubans to their deaths. Having clamored for a fight for two years, Hearst took credit for the conflict when it came: A week after the United States declared war on Spain, he ran "How do you like the Journal's war?" on his front page. In fact, President William McKinley
William McKinley
William McKinley, Jr. was the 25th President of the United States . He is best known for winning fiercely fought elections, while supporting the gold standard and high tariffs; he succeeded in forging a Republican coalition that for the most part dominated national politics until the 1930s...

 never read the Journal, nor newspapers like the Tribune and the New York Evening Post. Moreover, journalism historians have noted that yellow journalism was largely confined to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, and that newspapers in the rest of the country did not follow their lead. The Journal and the World were not among the top ten sources of news in regional papers, and the stories simply did not make a splash outside New York City. Rather, war came because public opinion was sickened by the bloodshed, and because leaders like McKinley realized that Spain had lost control of Cuba. These factors weighed more on the president's mind than the melodramas in the New York Journal.

When the invasion began, Hearst sailed directly to Cuba as a war correspondent, providing sober and accurate accounts of the fighting. Creelman later praised the work of the reporters for exposing the horrors of Spanish misrule, arguing, "no true history of the war . . . can be written without an acknowledgment that whatever of justice and freedom and progress was accomplished by the Spanish-American war was due to the enterprise and tenacity of yellow journalists, many of whom lie in unremembered graves."

After the war


Hearst was a leading Democrat who promoted William Jennings Bryan
William Jennings Bryan
William Jennings Bryan was an American politician in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. He was a dominant force in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as its candidate for President of the United States...

 for president in 1896 and 1900. He later ran for mayor and governor and even sought the presidential nomination, but lost much of his personal prestige when outrage exploded in 1901 after columnist Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist...

 and editor Arthur Brisbane
Arthur Brisbane
Arthur Brisbane was one of the best known American newspaper editors of the 20th century.-Biography:...

 published separate columns months apart that suggested the assassination of William McKinley. When McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901, critics accused Hearst's Yellow Journalism of driving Leon Czolgosz
Leon Czolgosz
Leon Czolgosz was the assassin of U.S. President William McKinley.In the last few years of his life, he claimed to have been heavily influenced by anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.- Early life :...

 to the deed. Hearst did not know of Bierce's column, and claimed to have pulled Brisbane's after it ran in a first edition, but the incident would haunt him for the rest of his life, and all but destroyed his presidential ambitions.

Pulitzer, haunted by his "yellow sins," returned the World to its crusading roots as the new century dawned. By the time of his death in 1911, the World was a widely respected publication, and would remain a leading progressive paper until its demise in 1931. Its name lived on in the Scripps-Howard New York World-Telegram
New York World-Telegram
The New York World-Telegram, later known as the New York World-Telegram and Sun, was a New York City newspaper from 1931 to 1966.-History:...

, and then later the New York World-Telegram and Sun in 1950, and finally was last used by the New York World-Journal-Tribune from September 1966 to May 1967. At that point, only one broadsheet newspaper was left in New York City.

See also


  • James Creelman
    James Creelman
    James Creelman , was a reporter during the height of yellow journalism. He was born in Montreal, Province of Canada, the son of a boiler inspector, Matthew Creelman, and homemaker, Martha Dunwoodie....

    , a reporter during the height of yellow journalism
  • Media bias in the United States
    Media bias in the United States
    Media bias in the United States occurs when the media in the United States systematically presents a particular point of view. Claims of media bias in the United States include claims of liberal bias, conservative bias, mainstream bias, and corporate bias...

  • Supermarket tabloid
  • Tabloid journalism
    Tabloid journalism
    Tabloid journalism tends to emphasize topics such as sensational crime stories, astrology, gossip columns about the personal lives of celebrities and sports stars, and junk food news...

  • The Yellow Journal
    The Yellow Journal
    The Yellow Journal is a student-run humor publication at The University of Virginia. Similar to Harvard's Harvard Lampoon, The Yellow Journal is the longest-running, though not continuously published, humor and satire publication at Jefferson's university...