The Press shortened “yellow-kid journalism” to “yellow journalism,”94 and invoked the term relentlessly. It spread quickly. By April 1897, “yellow journalism” or close approximations of “yellow journalism” had appeared in a number of newspapers outside New York City. The diffusion of “yellow journalism” was secured when the Journal embraced the term during the Spanish-American War.95
To be sure, “yellow journalism” was more than just a smear or shorthand denunciation for the sensational treatment of news. As practiced by the Journal and World, yellow journalism was a distinctive genre, the characteristic features of which included: 96
- the frequent use of multicolumn headlines, some of which stretched across the front page.
- the placement of a variety of topics on the front page, including news of politics, war, international diplomacy, sporting events, and society.
- the generous and imaginative use of illustrations, including photographs and other graphic representations such as locator maps.
- the use of bold, even experimental layouts, including those in which one report and illustration would dominate the front page.97 Such layouts sometimes were enhanced by the use of color.
- a tendency to rely on anonymous sources, particularly in the dispatches of leading reporters.
- a keen taste for self-promotion in calling attention to the newspaper’s accomplishments. This tendency was especially evident in crusades against monopolies and municipal corruption.
Related to self-promotion was an inclination to exaggerate or “to sport with the facts,”98 which became fairly pronounced during the run-up to the Spanish-American War. The eagerness of the Journal and the World to suggest Spain’s complicity in the Maine’s destruction left an undeniable and indelible stain on the yellow press. “Nothing so disgraceful as the behavior of two of these newspapers this week has ever been known in the history of American journalism,” the conservative New York Evening Post said about the Journal and the World in the aftermath of the Maine’s destruction. The Evening Post, invoking more than a little exaggeration of its own, also said:
Gross misrepresentation of the facts, deliberate invention of tales calculated to excite the public, and wanton recklessness in the construction of headlines which outdid even these inventions have combined to make the issues of the most widely circulated newspapers firebrands scattered broadcast throughout the community. It speaks well for the good sense of the masses that so little effect has been produced by all this stuff. It is evident that a large proportion of the public refuses to take the sensational newspapers seriously and reads them only from motives of curiosity.99
Even today, such venomous characterizations are often invoked in describing the yellow press—characterizations that obscure the genre’s accomplishments and successes, of which there were many. It is seldom recalled that, for a time at least, the energy and enterprise of yellow journalism was quite inviting. Newspapers in several American cities—including Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and St. Louis—adopted many of the features of typography and content that were characteristic of yellow journalism. Moreover, a number of leading figures in American art and literature in the late 1890s worked for or contributed to the yellow press. They included Mark Twain and Julian Ralph, both of whom reported for the Journal on Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee in June 1897; Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, who covered the brief Greco-Turkish War in 1897 for the Journal and the Santiago campaign in 1898 for the World; the acerbic Ambrose Bierce, one of the late nineteenth century’s leading American literary figures who for years wrote incisive columns for Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, and Frederic Remington, the famed illustrator of the American West whom the Journal sent to Cuba in 1897 and 1898.
The newspapers and Hearst and Pulitzer at time offered exceptional reporting about the Cuban insurrection. Richard Harding Davis, for example, filed a memorable 2,500 word dispatch from Cuba about the execution by firing squad in early 1897 of a Cuban rebel named Adolfo Rodriguez. The dispatch was exceptional in its texture and detail. Davis described Rodriguez this way:
He was shockingly young for such a sacrifice, and looked more like a Neapolitan than a Cuban. You could imagine him sitting on a quay at Naples or Genoa, lolling in the sun and showing his white teeth when he laughed. He wore a new scapula around his neck, hanging outside his linen blouse. It seems a petty thing to have been pleased with at such a time, but I confess to have felt a thrill of satisfaction when I saw, as the Cuban passed me, that he held a cigarette between his lips, not arrogantly nor with bravado, but with the nonchalance of a man who meets his punishment fearlessly, and who will let his enemies see that they can kill but can not frighten him.100
Sylvester Scovel wrote perceptive analyses for the World about the Cuban insurrection and was quick to discern the long odds against Spain’s defeating the rebels.101 Scovel’s prodigious reporting from Havana in the immediate aftermath of the Maine disaster was unsurpassed.102 The World, moreover, scored the newsbeat of the Spanish-American War in reporting the details of Dewey’s stunning naval victory in Manila Bay in May 1898.
Historians have tended to overlook or dismiss such exploits. An important objective of this work, therefore, is to identify and direct attention to examples of high-quality journalism published in the yellow press before and during the Spanish-American War. To be sure, the missteps of the yellow press are not ignored; they are identified and discussed in this volume. In the end, a more balanced and insightful presentation of the accomplishments and failings of the yellow press will provide a keener understanding of the American journalism at the end of the nineteenth century.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10<Previous Next> 12
94. See “Victory for the Yellow Journalism,” New York Press ( 31 January 1897): 6.
95. “A Large Observer of a Large Thing,” New York Journal ( 13 May 1898): 10. The editorial described the use of “yellow journalism” as “the bitter groan of the defeated and envious, or the smirk of a mere prig. It is the cry of that mindless conservatism which is shocked by what is new, whatever is vigorous, whatever is not made safely respectable by familiarity.”
96. See Campbell, Yellow Journalism, 7–8.
97. See, among many other examples, “Remington and Davis Tell of Spanish Cruelty,” New York Journal ( 2 February 1897): 1. The front page was almost entirely devoted to a sketch by Frederic Remington to illustrate a dispatch by Richard Harding Davis.
98. Sydney Brooks, “The American Yellow Press,” Fortnightly Review 96 (December 1911): 1128.
99. Untitled editorial comment, New York Evening Post ( 19 February 1898): 4.
100. “Remington and Davis Tell of Spanish Cruelty,” New York Journal.
101. See Sylvester Scovel, “All Cuba Aflame, Scovel Says,” New York World ( 10 February 1897): 1–2.
102. Arthur Brisbane, “The Modern Newspaper in War Time,” Cosmopolitan 25 (September 1898): 556.