The Gold Rush in the 1840s- 1850s transformed Western America, with thousands heading West hoping to get their share of gold. The discovery of gold in California coincided with European immigration. Millions of people left Europe to flee to the US, influenced by factors such as the Irish famine of the 1840s.
Many Americans justified the expansion in the West as ’Manifest Destiny,’ the right to expand. Many Indian tribes were wiped out during this period.
Frontier thesis: During the time when the West was incorporated into America, it was seen as a blank canvas to be transformed. However, this encouraged violence and individualistic behaviour, cementing what it meant to be American. Behaviours of this time were embedded into the American psyche, especially the idea that the further West one went, the more American one was. California was seen to be the beating heart of the United States.
Father of William Randolph Hearst, George Hearst was born September 3rd 1820. He was one of the thousands of people who travelled to California in 1850 on the promise of gold. He travelled over a thousand miles, allegedly all on foot, with a team of sixteen other men. Hearst was not particularly successful in gold mining and soon turned his attention to running a general store as well as being a miner.
George Hearst was also keen on forming a political career and it is rumoured that in 1880 he won the San Francisco Examiner in a poker game, although the more official story is that he brought it believing it could become a profitable enterprise.
Early American newspapers, also know as the ‘Penny Papers,’ were of two types; political and commercial. Political papers were predominantly seen as propaganda.
In 1846 New York newspapers organised the Associated Press- they needed to be objective because they supplied content for a variety of papers with widely different political allegiance.
William Randolph Hearst
In 1887 William Randolph Hearst, son of George Hearst, took over the San Francisco Examiner and transformed it. The front page of The Examiner was previously filled with dozens of stories, making it look like a wall of text. Hearst, being a collector of fine European art, had an understanding of aesthetics and applied it to the newspaper.
Hearst became obsessed with the front page of his newspaper, he reduced the stories, doubled the size of the headlines and eliminated advertisements. Above the masthead he put endorsements and circulation figures.
Hearst also included illustrations, believing they ‘attract the eye and stimulate the imagination of the lower classes and materially aid comprehension.’
The writing in the papers itself was also improved to become more focussed and urgent, with the Examiner printing eye catching headlines such as; ‘BUTCHERED AS THEY RAN.’ Hearst knew what people wanted to read.
New York was a fast developing city and this growth was fuelled by a number of factors:
1. Cheap labour
2. Urban concentration
3. Very low commodity prices, especially food
4. Capital accumulation
5. Vast infrastructure investment, e.g: railways
Cheap labour was probably the most important contributing factor to New York’s rapid growth, as so many people were willing to work for very little pay.
The Yellow Kid
In 1896 Hearst brought the New York Morning Journal and poached the Yellow Kid from Joseph Pulitzer, owner and publisher of the New York World. Pulitzer tried to stay in the game and hired another cartoonist to produce the Yellow Kid for his paper, so for a time there were two New York newspapers with the same cartoon. As copyright laws were weak at this time, there was no legal battle over the ownership of the Yellow Kid and the papers soon became known as the yellow papers.
It was a popular cartoon with the working class due to the language used and the lack of empathy with the upper class. The Yellow Kid character and his friends were all clearly immigrants, spanning from Ireland, China, Europe and Africa.
The yellow press is equivalent to today’s red top papers like The Sun and The Mirror.
The New York Morning Journal and the New York World were constantly going head to head and even battled to solve crime. In one case, a body washed ashore on New York’s East River. The Journal offered a $1,000 reward for any clues to the identity of the body and the cause of death. The Journal were successful in gathering information and an arrest was made. The Journal’s headline read; ‘MURDER MYSTERY SOLVED BY THE JOURNAL.’
Crime captivated the interest of readers and gained a higher circulation for papers.
Spanish War- Boom Time!
The Spanish-American War began in 1898 and was a conflict between Spain and America predominantly concerning the liberation of Cuba. Cuba was dominated by Spain and Hearst became a champion for their cause. Both Hearst and Pulitzer saw the potential for headlines and both sent reporters to cover the ongoing feud.
Harding Davis, the reporter for the Journal, complained in a letter to Hearst that he had ‘not heard a shot fired or seen an insurgent.’ Frederic Remington, illustrator for the Journal also complained he was bored and he was adamant there would be no war. Hearst was keen for Remington to stay and said to him; ‘You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.’ Hearst later denied saying this.
Always on the look out for a big story Hearst helped to rescue the daughter of a Cuban leader. She had supposedly been imprisoned for refusing to sleep with the Captain of a rebel army. Hearst created a petition for her release, getting all the top women in America to sign, including the wife of the president. The Spanish ignored the petition, so Hearst sent a reporter to bribe the prison guards where Cisneros was held captive. Cisneros was successfully brought to America where Hearst housed her in the Waldorf Hotel, creating another winning story for his newspaper.
On February 15th 1898, the main cause of the war finally erupted when USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbour. Hearst published headlines openly blaming the Spanish, the day after USS Maine sunk the Journal broke the one million circulation mark.
‘HOW DO YOU LIKE THE JOURNAL’S WAR?’
Hearst brought twenty correspondents, twelve yachts, giant hot air balloons, a printing press, the first ever motion picture camera and two girls dressed in sailor suits. This was all funded off the success of his newspaper stories. The war was a huge success for the yellow papers.
William Randolph Hearst created the models for modern and popular tabloid journalism. The style of the yellow papers was later copied in the UK by Northcliffe, Rothermere (Daily Mail and Daily Mirror) and ultimately by Rupert Murdoch (The Sun). It is undeniable that Hearst has directly influenced today’s journalism.