Yellow Journalism: The Battle for Control of New York

December 13th, 2011

During the last part of the nineteenth century a battle for the control of readership in New York began with the rising sensationalism being reported in the two prominent newspapers in New York. Joseph Pulitzer as head of the New York World and William R. Hearst head of the New York Journal began to go head to head to determine who had the best selling and widest circulation in the city.  The effect of this battle would end up haunting both men long after the fact. The battle would give rise to the term “yellow journalism” to describe the sensational news reporting while the real news went largely unnoticed.

Joseph Pulitzer purchased The New York World in 1883[1] and began charging two cents for a paper that ranged from eight to twelve pages and included pictures and comic strips along with crime stories that ran along side actual news items. By 1885 The New York World had become the highest circulating paper in the city of New York. In contrast William R. Hearst, backed by his family fortune, purchased The New York Journal in 1895[2] and began selling it for only one cent in order to gain a foothold in the city. Hearst admired Pulitzer and took his ideas for his paper with the advent of publishing crime stories[3], comic strips and photographs with more emphasis than actual news stories. Hearst’s choice to sell his paper for only one cent would spark the battle between himself and Pulitzer that would damage the reputation of both men and their papers for years to follow.

The first idea of the sensationalism that would give rise to the term yellow journalism would come from the escalating problems in Cuba. With the decision of President McKinley to invade Cuba and start the Spanish-American War, the sensationalism would soon begin.

The problems started in 1896, Hearst’s paper even with such a large audience continued to lose money at an extraordinary rate of approximately $100,000 a month[4]. With Hearst in trouble, Pulitzer waged an all out circulation war by cutting his price to one cent and trying to drive out the upstart Hearst.

There is confusion over where the term yellow journalism originated. The most popular theory came from a cartoon published in both papers titled “Hogan’s Alley” drawn by Richard Outcault first in Pulitzer’s paper around 1895 and later adopted by Hearst when Outcault left to join the Journal.[5] First the term was applied to the rising sensational content of the papers for the sole purpose of driving up circulation. Sociologist W. I. Thomas credits yellow journalism as “news of highly sensational character.”[6] The battle seems to refer not only to the war between Hearst and Pulitzer for circulation but for the rights to publish the comic strip “Hogan’s Alley” and it was suggested that the term yellow journalism came about while both papers continued to publish “Hogan’s Alley”. The height of the sensationalism came when both papers published what turned out to be a fake telegram between the captain of the USS MAINE and the secretary of the Navy on February 17, 1898 which alleged Charles Sigsbee, the captain of the MAINE as reporting the explosion was not an accident.[7]

After the publication of the “fake” telegram both papers suffered damage to there reputation as many other papers called both Hearst and Pulitzer’s tactics disgraceful; however circulation had increased by more than a million copies per day.[8] Even with their credibility in question by the end of the Spanish-American War both papers held wide circulation as it would seem the readers were interested in sensational stories more than the truth.

In conclusion, the battle for circulation rights between Pulitzer’s New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal embodied more than the cause of increased circulation and rising profits. There is no clear answer as to where the term yellow journalism first began; however the comic strip “Hogan’s Alley” with the character of the Yellow Kid is real and the creator did work for both Pulitzer and Hearst and there was a battle for publication of the strip between both papers lends some idea of reality as to a possible origin of the term.



Clark, Carroll D. “Yellow Journalism as a Mode of Urban Behavior.” Southwestern Social Science Quarterly 14 (Dec. 1933): 238-245.

Herringshaw, Thomas W. ed. Herringshaw’s National Library of American Biographies. Chicago: American Publishers Association, 1914.

Morris, James M. Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power. New York: Harper, 2010.

Porter, Ben H. William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years 1863-1910. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Whyte, Kenneth. The Uncrowned King: The Sensationalism of William Randolph Hearst. Toronto: Random House, 2008.

[1] James M. Morris, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power (New York: Harper, 2010), 206-207.

[2] Kenneth Whyte, The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst (Toronto: Random House, 2008), 83.

[3] Ben H. Proctor, William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years 1863-1910 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 83.

[4] Ben H. Proctor, William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years 1863-1910 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 97.

[5] Thomas W. Herringshaw, Herringshaw’s National Library of American Biographies (Chicago: American Publishers Association, 1914), 352.

[6] Carroll D. Clark, “Yellow Journalism as a Mode of Urban Behavior,” Southwestern Social Science Quarterly 14 (Dec. 1933): 238-245.

[7] Ben H. Proctor, 116-117.

[8] Ben H. Proctor, 117.

Final Project

December 2nd, 2011

Trying to decide what to do for a final project seemed simple enough; however with a 485 paper due on the 5th and the presentation for the same due on the 9th it seemed to make things more difficult to choose.

I decided to expand on a point on the class timeline which I had posted on Yellow Journalism and the paper war between Hearst (New York Journal) and Pulitzer (New York World)  during the last part of the nineteenth century. The term is said to have originated from a comic strip published by both papers known as “The Yellow Kid” and became a symbol for the circulation war and what amounted to sensationalism to drive up sales of each newspaper.

The majority of what is know as yellow journalism erupted during the Spanish-American war as each paper tried to create bigger and better stories to increase circulation, after the war accusations of underhanded reporting would hurt the credibility of both newspapers and indeed both Pulitzer and Hearst throughout the remainder of their lives.

The history of How To movies

November 17th, 2011

With the age of YouTube it is easier than ever to find information on how to do almost anything. The how to guides started with the cookbook. With new technology allowing the housewife more time, the cookbooks became a how to for complicated and time consuming recipes. Soon many articles were being featured in magazines giving the reader step by step directions on performing complicated tasks.

With the evolution of the digital age, people can post how to movies to the web on sites such as YouTube. For our project we decided to do a study on the beginnings of how to books leading to the digital age of YouTube. We decided to have some fun and it was interesting how many how to movies were posted on so many varying topics.

Tupperware Advertisement Project

October 28th, 2011

Our group decided to create a print advertisement that focused on the social aspect of new groups being founded for women around tupperware parties. It was an interesting approach and a great idea to focus on the changes in the social status of women during the 1950s because of Tupperware parties. Not only did Tupperware allow women to become a financial aspect of home life it created an idea of the early coffee houses for women.

For the project I was able to take photographs of actual Tupperware supplied by a friend of mine who has well over a hundred pieces of unique and one of a kind items she has collected over the years as her mother did host several Tupperware parties. I also helped in creating the slogan for our advertisement. While researching the advertisements of the time period, catchy slogans were a large focus of the print. Overall the project while challenging was fun to work on.

Code Talkers

October 20th, 2011

Reflecting on the class discussion about the code talkers and the important aspects of their vital role during World War Two, it seems that there would be more interest to study that role within the world war and how it changed the dynamic of coded messages. To take members of a society (Native Americans) for which at that time little attention was given, and for the most part were considered almost less than human, and give them an important job is an interesting reversal of fortune. How many of those same people were turned away before the draft and during the draft only to be asked to help once the govenment found a “use” for them?

Also it would be interesting to study the breakdown of the economic issues between the code talkers and the amount of work in training people to use code machines, publish code material, and train people to work on the machines when all you needed to do for the code talkers was very little training other than develop words for things not in their language. Since few if any were officers, most enlisted men made less than $100. a month depending on several conditions, we said in class that there were 17 of the Comanche code talkers, on average that would be $1700 a month plus expenses to pay these code talkers, I would be willing to bet that the expenses for other methods would far exceed that amount.

Propaganda and Brainwashing

October 6th, 2011

Brainwashing can be a subversive form of propaganda. Both stem from the idea that you want a desired effect from an individual. With propaganda the effect is usually in the form of fear. For example during World War 2 the posters of the Germans/Japanese were made to cause fear by presenting the enemy in the form of sub-human, the repeated exposure to such posters would make people believe that the idea was true. With brainwashing, there is still the idea of a desired end effect, the person will believe in the ideas that they are subjected to. The constant repetition of propaganda could have a brainwashing effect that would produce the same desired effect as torture in actual brainwashing.

Advertising is both propaganda and a form of brainwashing. The advertisements are placed in specific areas and for specific groups of people in mind to create a desired effect. Today with the advantage of technology, most people pay little attention to TV commercials, however with global media such as it is one can never really escape advertisements. How often to we see a commercial/advertisement for something, even in passing, and later have a desire or want for a product?

Problems with Early Newspapers: Project for Part 1 & 2

September 27th, 2011

                Communication in the American colonies before the revolution was a hit or miss concept. It took days or weeks to get letters around and even then the news was lost to most people. Soon journals and newspapers would evolve into the form that most people would receive the news. In the early years of newsprint there were major problems that would arise with little to no viable way around them. In looking at early communication in the form of newspapers in early colonial America there are three distinct problems that have been identified. These three problems are: cost (with its own set of problems), availability and literacy rates of early colonists.

                Taking on the first problem, cost. There are separate sub issues to deal with. Not only the cost of the paper, there was also the cost of manufacture, start-up, equipment and finding people to run and distribute the papers. In an era where many people were struggling to live, it was difficult to find the money to buy anything that was not life essential. Second, the cost of manufacture was prohibitive to the publication of widespread newspapers. Many of the early newspapers were only one to three pages and had only local distribution; it was not until the advent of the postal system that newspapers could be efficiently carried to remote locations and made available to the masses. Next, the start-up cost was a stumbling block to many. Equipment, type-set and paper did not come cheap, many early printers found themselves heavily in debt and out of business in short order. Finally, finding the trained people to run the equipment, use the type-set and page layout was a scarce commodity. It is difficult to find someone with experience in a new field since there were limited printers in the beginning.

                The second problem stems from availability. Going hand in hand with the first issue of cost, many early newspapers were not available outside of local towns. The high cost of paper made for select topics and short print runs for many of the early papers, keeping circulation low, the important news of the day might only reach a fraction of the population in the biggest towns and little to no one in the country, or at least not for days following the print.

                The final problem was literacy rates in early American colonies. The problem was not in the cities and larger towns where literacy rates, at least for males, could reach seventy percent. This is not what is usually thought of during the colonial times; however in the American colonies the average male could read and write. The problem came from the people living in the country. Most farmers could not read or write and as such had little use for newspapers unless they had somewhere to go and have the paper read to them.

                In conclusion, the problems and complications of early colonial American newspapers as a form of communication can be separated into three areas. Cost, availability and the amount of people who could read the newspaper all factored into the problems of communication from early newspapers; problems not solved until widespread literacy, the postal service and more efficient ways of publication.



Hudson, Frederic. Journalism in the United States from 1690-1872. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1873.

Marshall, Nicholas. “The Rural Newspaper and the Circulation of Information and Culture in New York         and the Antebellum North” New York History. Volume 58 Issue 2 (Spring 2007): 133-151.

Mott, Frank L. American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years, 1690-1940. New York: MacMillion, 1950.

Rutland, Robert A. Newsmongers: Journalism in the Life of the Nation 1690-1972. New York: Dial Press, 1973.

Sloan, William D. The Early American Press 1690-1783. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Patent battles

September 22nd, 2011

Maybe the battle between Bell and Grey for patent on the telephone could be considered unimportant and boring. Why is it important and who cares which one gets credit. It is always interesting to see how many people can be working on the same idea and it always seems to come down to a matter of hours or minutes as to who filed the patent. Like the telephone, the same battle with patent rights plagued Tesla.

Tesla and Marconi fought for the right to be called the inventor of radio, it was not until after the death of both men the government reversed its decision and granted Tesla the patent for wireless radio communication. Tesla was not concerned about patent rights, he could have been a rich man with the development of AC current, backed by Westinghouse AC became the predominant form of transmitting electric over long distances; however Tesla sold his rights and his large amount of stock to save Westinghouse from going bankrupt. Tesla died broke. By selling his rights Tesla allowed for the further development of wireless communication which developed competition.

Patents can be called both a blessing and a curse, yes they suppress competition and allow for price fixing; however they do not stop people from improving those inventions. Still I do not believe the patent system works the way it should.

Project Part 1 & 2

September 20th, 2011

The subject for my portion of the timeline is the rise of modern journalism. For the first project I thought it would be interesting to look into the problems and complications of early American newspapers to convey information. The problems are simple ones really. The lack of skilled printers and the technology during the early American experiment and the amount of people who could afford the papers versus those who could even read.

The earliest example of what could be called a newspaper was printed in Boston by Richard Price. On September 25, 1690 the “Publicl Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick” became the first example of a newspaper. Only consisting of three printed pages. Another early example would come about thirty years later when James Franklin (brother to Ben) would introduce “The New England Courent” in August of 1721.

Update on project

September 20th, 2011

For the first project I wanted to study the complications and processes of communication with early American newspapers. I posted to the blog on Thursday after class however I notice it never made it up. It will interesting to study the formation of and growth of America’s first newspapers.