Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/347

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329
Sensationalism

ried to extremes. The example was set by Joseph Pulitzer, a brilliant journalist of Hungarian birth who in 1878 bought the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, put his methods into effect with marked success, and in 1883 carried his idea to New York, where he bought the moribund World from Jay Gould and in a few years made it the most profitable and the most widely imitated news paper in the country. In the hands of Pulitzer the new journalism was much more than merely sensational. His purpose was to make his paper an organ for the expression of popular opinion, in order to achieve social and political reforms through giving expression to the democratic will. The programme he laid down in 1883 and followed vigorously was to advocate a tax on incomes, inheritances, luxuries, monopolies, and privileges, to reform the civil service, punish corruption, and otherwise equalize the distribution of opportunities and advantages. To that end he produced one of the most brilliant and forcible editorial pages in the country.

Journalistic practice was less influenced by the example of the editorial page of the World, however, than by the sensational selection and treatment of news. The tone of the paper was brisk and vivacious, the subject matter appealed to the emotions and interests of the largest number of people in the middle and lower classes. Wrongs of all sorts from which the people suffered were to be corrected by the exposure of startling examples. Naturally, having found the way to make a startling appeal through the recital of evil and misfortune, it was discovered that a similar appeal to any emotions produced much the same result, and yellow journalism was the inevitable sequel. The many papers which followed the example of Pulitzer lacked the fine purpose and the genius of their model, and therefore imitated only the blatancy, the vulgarity, the lack of restraint and of scruple which became an invariable part of the method.

The greatest of all the followers of Pulitzer was William Randolph Hearst, who, beginning with the San Franciso Examiner in the middle eighties, by the use of methods much the same as those of Pulitzer soon surpassed the elder sensationalist because he was untrammelled by other journalistic purposes than the most profitable news-vending. Hearst's task, as has been said, was to cheapen the newspaper until it sold at the coin of the gutter and the streets. So he rejected news which