|Yellow journalism, in short, is biased opinion masquerading as objective fact. Moreover, the practice of yellow journalism involved sensationalism, distorted stories, and misleading images for the sole purpose of boosting newspaper sales and exciting public opinion. It was particularly indicative of two papers founded and popularized in the late 19th century- The New York World, run by Joseph Pulitzer and The New York Journal, run by William Randolph Hearst.
It all started, some historians believe, with the onset of the rapid industrialization that was happening all around the world. The Industrial Revolution eventually affected the newspaper industry, allowing newspapers access to machines that could easily print thousands of papers in a single night. This is believed to have brought into play one of the most important characteristics of yellow journalism – the endless drive for circulation. And unfortunately, the publisher’s greed was very often put before ethics.
Although the actual practice of what would later become known as yellow journalism came into being during a more extended time period (between 1880-1890), the term was first coined based on a series of occurrences in and following the year of 1895. This was the year in which Hearst purchased the New York Journal, quickly becoming a key rival of Pulitzer’s. The term was derived, through a series of peculiar circumstances, from a cartoon by the famous 19th century cartoonist, Robert Outcault called “The Yellow Kid” (see second from top). The cartoon was first published in The World, until Hearst hired him away to produce the strip in his newspaper. Pulitzer then hired another artist to produce the same strip in his newspaper. This comic strip happened to use a new special, non-smear yellow ink, and because of the significance of the comic strip, the term “yellow journalism” was coined by critics.
Sadly though, this period of sensationalist news delivery (where the so-called yellow press routinely outsold the more honest, truthful, unbiased newspapers) does stand out as a particularly dark era in journalistic history. The demand of the United States people for absolutely free press allowed such aforementioned newspapers, which often appealed to the shorter attention spans and interests of the lower class, to print whatever they so desired. This means that they could easily steal a headline and story directly from another paper, or simply fabricate a story to fit their particular agenda.
One of the more disturbing features involved with the former practice of yellow journalism, and the period in which it was most active in is that there is no definite line between this period of yellow journalism and the period afterwards. There only exists evidence that such practices were frowned upon by the general public – by 1910, circulation had dropped off very rapidly for such papers. But regardless, does this mean that yellow journalism simply faded away, never to return? Or did it absorb itself into the very heart of our newspapers, where it will remain forever? One thing is for certain – after the late 1800s, newspapers changed drastically, and still show no sign of changing back. The modernly present newspaper appearances of catchy headlines, humorous comic strips, special interest sections, intrusive investigative reporting, et cetera serve as a constant reminder that one must always stay skeptical when examining our news sources.
What is the remedy to yellow journalism? Simply double- and triple-checking one’s sources and reading between the lines. If one disregards the obvious marketing that is used to hook readers, newspapers may actually prove to be reliable sources of information.
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