Yellow journalism, or yellow press , refers to an unethical, irresponsible brand of journalism given to hoaxes, altered photographs, screaming headlines, scoops , frauds, and endless promotions of the newspapers themselves. This term was first used in the 1890 s to describe the competition between two rival New York City newspapers, the World, and the Journal.
In 1883, Joseph Pulitzer purchased the New York-based newspaper, the World. With its vivid, sensational reporting and excellent crusades against political corruption and social injustice, Pulitzer made the World, the largest newspaper circulation in the country. One of his most famous staff writers was Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cockrane).
Bly was best known for her stunt stories. An example of one of her stunts was when she pretended to be insane and committed herself to the New York Blackwell Island Asylum. When she was released after ten days, she wrote a story exposing the asylum s poor conditions. The story sparked reform from all around the country! Her most famous story, however, included her trip around the world. During that time period, Jules Verne wrote Around the World in Eighty Days ; Bly was inspired to do it in less time. Her mission was accomplished in 72 days! She captured readers attentions by writing daily about her adventures.In 1895, however, William Randolph Hearst, the son of a California mining tycoon, challenged Pulitzer s superiority, when he bought the Journal. Previous to his relocation to New York, Hearst owned the widely popular newspaper, Examiner, back in San Francisco. Hoping to duplicate the Examiner s success with the Journal, Hearst intended to surpass his competitors in sensationalism, crusades, and Sunday features. One of the Journal s more notable headlines, published in 1898, was when they provoked a quarrel between the U.S. and Spain.
In 1895, when Cuba began to seek independence from Spain, the World and the Journal whipped up a war climate in support of the Cuban nationalists and tried to lure the U.S. into the conflict. An example of this rivalry, between the newspapers, is of the story of a Journal reporter stationed in Cuba. He had cabled Hearst that there was no war and that he would be coming home. Hearst is said to have wired back: Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I ll furnish the war. (pg. 11, Ferguson, Patten)
When the battleship USS Maine blew up in the Havana harbor in 1898, the Journal published this:
Congress demanded that Spain leave the island, and when they refused, the Spanish-American War ensued.
Hearst was so determined to subdue his rivals, that he had the audacity to hire some of Pulitzer s staff away from the World, in addition to some of his San Francisco staff.
Hearst tried to entice the World s cartoonist, Richard F. Outcault, into drawing his immensely popular cartoon, The Yellow Kid , for the Sunday Journal, but when Outcault declined, Hearst hired George B. Luks instead. The two rival cartoons instigated so much attention that the competition between the two newspapers became to be known as yellow journalism .
As their competition became more renowned, the papers intrigued more people, thus increasing circulation. The yellow press was more concerned with selling newspapers, than the matter of the people s welfare.
Today, yellow journalism is still in publication, but more commonly known as tabloids. The Pulitzer name continues to live on through the Pulitzer Prize # and some distinguished newspapers. The Hearst chain of newspapers is much smaller now, than at its peak, with 42 dailies. Some Hearst publications include teenybopper# magazines such as Bop and BB (Big Bopper). Also, the Hearst Foundation was created for the sole purpose of journalism education, as ironic as that sounds. The foundation has made valuable contributions through its news writing and photography contests for journalism school undergraduates.
The end of yellow journalism ushered in a period when American newspapers developed a significant social consciousness. More people were reading it for information, than for entertainment purposes, like they originally did. Many papers crusaded for child labor laws, promoted hospitals and tuberculosis sanitariums, collected money for the needy and exposed public graft.
#1 A prestigious award given yearly in various categories, to credible journalists who exhibit outstanding writing.
#2 Magazines intended for teenagers and pre-adolescents containing articles and pictures of their favorite movie, music, and sports stars. They celebrities are usually peers of the consumer.
Boorstein, Daniel J., and Kelley, Brooks Mather. A History of the United States. Needham, Massachusetts: Prentice Hall, 1996.
Ferguson, Donald L., and Patten, Jim. Journalism Today!. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company, 1988.
Yellow Journalism . Encyclopedia Britannica. 15th Edition. 1996
Yellow journalism uses sensationalism and exaggeration to attract readers. It is usually not well-researched and often only tells one side of the story. It will sometimes have made-up interviews or imaginary drawings.
Yellow Journalism Examples
- Spanish American War - Yellow journalism helped to push Spain and the United States into war in 1898. The Maine, a US battleship, sunk from an explosion. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst published false articles about a plot to sink the ship, thereby increasing tensions.
- Samsung and Apple court case - A story claimed that Samsung paid a $1.2 billion settlement to Apple in nickels. The story originated as comedy, but an American journalist published it as true.
- Baby Snatched by Eagle - This headline grabbed attention but the accompanying video was shown to be a fake.
- World War I photo - The photo shows a man in front of a firing squad and the caption said the man was an enemy spy. The photo was a fake and the photographer was actually posing as the spy. It has since been used as a photo from WWII.
- Prime Minister called a traitor - ABC News reported that Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu called Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a traitor; but, the report was false.
- OJ Simpson - Live reporting of the chase and capture of Simpson sensationalized this tragic case after Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife.
- Tiger Woods - The news media had a heyday with the story of his affairs, including interviewing sex addicts.
- Heidi Fleiss - She was convicted of prostitution and tax evasion and became very well known due to the media coverage.
- Botox mom - This story of a mom giving her daughter Botox and waxings to keep her looking young was a hoax. The Sun, a British tabloid, paid her $200 to say she did it.
- Octamom - A former stripper gave birth to octuplets and became a media sensation.
- Crazed woman chases Brad Pitt - The headline is an eye catcher but she was really just running after him to take a picture.
Yellow Journalism in Tabloid Headlines
- Titanic Survivors Found Onboard
- Dick Cheney is a Robot - When he goes to the hospital, it’s to get his circuits rewired
- Severed Leg Hops to Hospital
- Hubby’s Bad Breath Kills His Wife
- Vampires Attack US Troops
- Half-Man Half-Dog Baffles Doctors
- Alien Bible Found, They Worship Oprah
- Man’s 174-mph Sneeze Blows Wife’s Hair Off
- Teen’s Hair Changes Color … With her Mood!
- Supreme Court Judges are Naked Under Robes!
- Chain-smoker Kicks 30-year Habit … Then Chokes to Death on Wad of Nicotine Gum!
- Dolphin Grows Human Arms
- Man Gives Birth to a Healthy Baby Boy
- Abraham Lincoln was a Woman
- Jesus Action Figure Heals the Sick
- Half of U.S. hookers are space aliens – and they don’t have sex organs!
- Man makes $60,000 a year as human lawn jockey
- Nazi UFOs to Attack U.S.
- Snake with Human Head Found in Arkansas
- News Reporter Eaten Alive by 80-Ft Dinosaur
- Man’s Head Explodes in Barber’s Chair
- Is Your Cat from Mars?
As you can see, yellow journalism attracts attention; but, it typically doesn't have much substance.