Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 16. William Randolph Hearst

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XX. Newspapers Since 1860

§ 16. William Randolph Hearst

The greatest of all the followers of Pulitzer was William Randolph Hearst, who, beginning with the San Franciso Examiner in the middle eighties, by the use of methods much the same as those of Pulitzer soon surpassed the elder sensationalist because he was untrammelled by other journalistic purposes than the most profitable news-vending. Hearst’s task, as has been said, was to cheapen the newspaper until it sold at the coin of the gutter and the streets. So he rejected news which “did not contain that thrill of sensation loved by the man on the street and the woman in the kitchen. He trained his men to look for the one sensational picturesque fact in every occurrence, and to twist that fact to the fore.” In 1895 he went to New York, where he bought the Journal, and contested with Pulitzer for the palm of “yellow” sensationalism. He won, for by the close of the century the World had begun to moderate its tone and methods, while Hearst had only fairly begun the career which has strung a series of his papers from coast to coast and tainted the whole of American journalism with cheap and flashy emotionalism.

The changes which the example of these leaders brought into the newspapers at large were various, and not all undesirable. The militant journalists exposed abuses and accomplished many reforms and undoubtedly made themselves feared by many wrongdoers. And in doing so they gained in boldness and independence, especially so far as politics was concerned. Not only have Pulitzer and Hearst attacked some of the oldest and worst abuses of intrenched privilege; they have been the example for many other journalists, who, in spite of extravagances and mistakes, have helped to cure many an evil by exposing it to the light. They reached an ever increasing proportion of the population, vastly added to the sum of general knowledge among the least literate elements of the population, and appealed to a greater variety of interests than had before been touched by the newspapers. More attention was given to amusements, to sports, to the special domains of women and children. The perfecting of mechanical engraving made the use of illustrations convenient and cheap, and the possibilities in this field were promptly exploited. There had been but a slight increase in the use of cartoons in the daily newspapers, even after the great battle of pictures in the campaign of 1872, until the World during the eighties developed that feature into a leading characteristic of popular daily journalism. Its popularity and its utility, both as a source of entertainment and as a ready and effective substitute for the editorial, have never decreased.