10/5/10 - pulitzer

In today's excerpt - Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), the son of Hungarian Jews, and his New York World newspaper brought in the age of mass communications. His circulation battle with his upstart competitor William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) is often credited with precipitating the Spanish-American War:

"[Even in his twilight years, as he traveled the globe, Joseph] Pulitzer never relaxed his grip on the World, his influential New York newspaper that had ushered in the modern era of mass communications. An almost unbroken stream of telegrams, all written in code, flowed from ports and distant destinations to New York, directing every part of the paper's operation. The messages even included such details as the typeface used in an advertisement and the vacation schedule of editors. Managers shipped back reams of financial data, editorial reports, and espionage-style accounts of one another's work. Although he had set foot in his skyscraper headquarters on Park Row only three times, whenever anyone talked about the newspaper it was always 'Pulitzer's World.'

"And it was talked about. Since Pulitzer took over the moribund newspaper in 1883 and introduced his brand of journalism to New York, the World had grown at meteoric speed, becoming, at one point, the largest circulating newspaper on the globe. Six acres of spruce trees were felled a day to keep up with its demand for paper, and almost every day enough lead was melted into type to set an entire Bible into print.

"Variously credited with having elected presidents, governors, and mayors; sending politicians to jail; and dictating the public agenda, the World was a potent instrument of change. As a young man in a hurry, Pulitzer had unabashedly used the paper as a handmaiden of reform, to raise social consciousness and promote a progressive—almost radical—political agenda. The changes he had called for, like the outlandish ideas of taxing inheritances, income, and corporations, had become widely accepted.

"'The World should be more powerful than the President,' Pulitzer once said. ...

"The [explosion of the USS Maine], coming at a time of rising tension between Spain and America, became incendiary kindling in the hands of battling newspaper editors in New York. William Randolph Hearst, a young upstart imitator from California armed with an immense family fortune, had done the unthinkable. In 1898 his paper, the New York Journal, was closing in on the World's dominance of Park Row. Fighting down to the last possible reader, each seeking to outdo the other in its eagerness to lead the nation into war, the two journalistic behemoths fueled an outburst of jingoistic fever. And when the war came, they continued their cutthroat competition by marshaling armies of reporters, illustrators, and photographers to cover every detail of its promised glory.

"The no-holds-barred attitude of the World and Journal put the newspapers into a spiraling descent of sensationalism, outright fabrications, and profligate spending. If left unchecked, it threatened to bankrupt both their credibility and their businesses. ... In the end, the two survived this short but intense circulation war. But their rivalry became almost as famous as the Spanish-American War itself. Pulitzer was indissolubly linked with Hearst as a purveyor of vile Yellow Journalism. In fact, some critics suspected that Pulitzer's current plans to endow a journalism school at Columbia University and create a national prize for journalists were thinly veiled attempts to cleanse his legacy before his approaching death."


James McGrath Morris


Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power




Copyright 2009 by James McGrath Morris


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment