THE ‘NEW JOURNALISM’
Given the extensive change, experimentation, and innovation in American journalism, it was scarcely surprising that some publishers began describing themselves in the mid- and late-1890s as practitioners of the “new journalism.” The term, though, was definitionally vague. It was coined in Britain in the 1880s, to characterize the rambunctious journalism of William T. Stead and his Pall Mall Gazette.82 By the mid-1890s, “new journalism” had crossed the Atlantic and was applied to the zealous, self-congratulatory, and typographically bold New York City newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer. They certainly looked different from their rivals, given their “free use of illustrations.”83 Another difference was the inclination of the practitioners of “new journalism” to spend money in gathering the news. As one contemporary editor noted, “Many journalists conceive great undertakings, but refrain from executing them on account of the expense involved. The ‘new journalist’ is not troubled with hesitation on that score.”84
However defined or practiced, new journalism was condemned as a menace by rival newspapers more conservative in appearance and philosophy. Two New York City newspapers, the Sun and the Press, lent their vigorous support to a campaign in early 1897 that sought to ruin the Journal and World by banning them from reading rooms, social clubs, and libraries across metropolitan New York. The Sun said the campaign against “leprous new journalism”85 was intended to stamp out “the licentiousness, the vulgarity, and the criminal spirit [that has been] exhibited by those shameless papers with an effrontery almost without example in the history of journalism.”86
For a time, the campaign against new journalism was a success. By May 1897, ninety clubs and organizations had banned the Journal and/or the World.87 Similar restrictions were reported in Connecticut88 and upstate New York. But by summer 1897, the boycott faltered. In their energetic and enterprising ways, the Journal and, to a lesser extent, the World effectively overwhelmed the protest: The yellow journals were just too bold and interesting to shun. The boycott may even have boosted sales of the Journal and World. Unable to find the newspapers at social clubs and libraries, readers began buying their own copies.89
The campaign did have one lasting effect—that of helping to spread the idiom “yellow journalism” as a substitute term for “new journalism.” Indeed, “yellow journalism” was a much more evocative and sneering way to assail the Journal and the World. “Yellow journalism” has since become a global term of scorn and derision that has long outlived its original targets.
The first known appearance of “yellow journalism” in print was in the New York Press in early 1897. The Press did not say what exactly it meant by “yellow journalism,” or exactly how it landed on that turn of phrase. “We called them Yellow because they are Yellow,” the Press said, unhelpfully, in 1898.90
What is clear is the Press was seeking in early 1897 a new way to denounce the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer. The Press experimented with at least one other derogatory term—“nude journalism”91—which clearly was a play on “new journalism” and meant to suggest that the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer were without shame or scruples. The Press then offered “yellow-kid journalism,”92 a phrase inspired at least indirectly by a popular cartoon character that had appeared in both the Journal and the World since October 1896. “Yellow” also was the most fashionable color in the fall 1896, owing its popularity in part to the presidential election campaign, the central issue of which was keeping the U.S. currency on the gold standard. The close of the campaign featured a parade in New York City in which more than 100,000 gold-standard supporters wore yellow—ribbons, badges, buttons, and sashes—as they marched sixteen abreast, in what has been called “one of the greatest spectacles in the city’s history.”93
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82. See Joel H. Weiner, “How New Was the New Journalism?” in Joel H. Weiner, ed., Papers for the Millions: The New Journalism in Britain, 1850s to 1914 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988): 47.
83. John H. Holmes, “The New Journalism and the Old,” Munsey’s Magazine (April 1897): 78.
84. Holmes, “The New Journalism and the Old,” 78.
85. “Leprous New Journalism,” New York Sun ( 27 February 1897): 7.
86. “The End is Approaching,” New York Sun ( 10 March 1897): 6. The Sun also said: “These publications are no more competitors of decent journals than dealers in pornographic literature are competitors with the regular, decent, and honorable book trade.”
87. Journalism Denounced Everywhere,” New York Press ( 3 May 1897): 5.
88. “’New Journalism’ at Yale,” New York Times ( 15 March 1897): 1.
89. “The Past Year: Crusade of the Clubs,” Fourth Estate ( 6 January 1898): 3.
90. “On the Tip of the Tongue: Where ‘Yellow Journalism’ Came From,” New York Press ( 1 March 1898): 6. The Press claimed on another occasion to have “enriched the language with the term Yellow Journalism.” See “Cowardice as a Philosophy,” New York Press ( 14 March 1898): 6.
91. Untitled editorial page comment, New York Press ( 21 January 1897): 6.
92. Untitled editorial page comment, New York Press ( 23 January 1897): 4.
93. Brooks McNamara, Day of Jubilee: The Great Age of Public Celebrations in New York, 1788–1909 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 123–124.