“In America the President reigns for four years, and journalism governs for ever and ever.” Oscar Wilde never spoke truer words. The aforementioned ability to govern “for ever and ever” comes from journalistic sensationalism, a craft perfected by newspaper owners and journalists Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst at the dawn of the twentieth century. Sensationalism counts for only one of the numerous ties between the career rivals who, in an effort to distinguish themselves from each other, ironically knotted themselves together in journalism history.
Joseph Pulitzer emigrated to the United States of America from Hungary at the age of seventeen and subsequently joined the Union army of the U.S. Civil War. After the war, Carl Schurz, Pulitzer’s cavalry regiment organizer, hired Pulitzer to work as a reporter a German-language newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri, known as the Westliche Post. Pulitzer’s position changed to correspondent upon his election into the lower House of Missouri (“Joseph,” Business), where he would continue to write for the politically inclined Westliche Post (Therkelsen 2).
Pulitzer served for a single term in the Missouri House of Representatives and then began his entrepreneurship of newspapers, buying them, making them respectable, and reselling them for profit. Pulitzer bought The St. Louis Post and The St. Louis Dispatch and merged them into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the course of six years. The next big move for Pulitzer came five years later, while in New York on his way to Europe, Pulitzer purchased the New York World and more than resurrected the dying newspaper in fifteen years using the same innovative, industry-altering techniques he had used in Missouri (“Joseph,” Business).
While studying under Pulitzer with The Harvard Lampoon, William Randolph Hearst took over the San Francisco Examiner—formerly owned by Hearst’s father—by demand (Ryan). Helped in large part by owning an established newspaper fresh out of college, Hearst worked his way up the small portion of proverbial ladder Hearst had yet to climb in the journalism world by purchasing The New York Morning Journal. Coincidentally, Hearst purchased The New York Morning Journal from Pulitzer’s soon-to-be-estranged brother Albert (Therkelsen 7) and renamed the paper The Journal (“William,” Sidelights).
Hearst’s first took his first notorious step with his pilfering of all of Pulitzer’s editorial staff at the New York World, followed by Pulitzer’s rehiring, and Hearst’s second theft of the same journalists (Contemporary, “Joseph”). Pulitzer, as the originator of the colorful comics section in newspapers, made sure to keep “The Yellow Kid” comic strip in the New York World newspaper despite losing the original designer in Pulitzer’s continuing battle with Hearst (Squires). The fact that the battle went deep enough into the newspapers to affect the comics section helped historians coin the term “yellow journalism” as an idiom for...