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American journalism and mass media were both profoundly influenced by a very
dominating figure. In the last decade of the 19th century up until the end of the first half of the 20th century, William Randolph Hearst was a mega-force to be reckoned with. Hearst was a famous American publisher who built up the nation’s largest chain of newspapers. He was also a political figure and one of the leading figures during the Spanish-American War period. In his newspapers, he introduced a sensational journalistic style of writing and spent millions of dollars to fascinate and
captivate readers. This kind of journalism was described by critics as “Yellow Journalism.” During his lifetime, even up until today, he has been respected, feared, loathed and envied by his friends and enemies alike. A man in his position was capable of being the greatest constructor or the most destructive evil of the Nation.
On 29th day of April 1863, in San Francisco, California, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, in great torment, gave birth to a boy in her bedroom. The boy was named William Randolph Hearst. William Randolph Hearst was the only child of George and Phoebe Hearst. His father, George Hearst ( 1820-1891 ), was not born into a rich and wealthy family. He did his share of the labor at a lead mine near his home. Mining had always fascinated him even from his childhood years. He later earned the nickname the “Boy-That-Earth-Talked-To” from the miners he was working with. With tremendous luck, hard working and blessings, he worked his way to become a multimillionaire miner and had also become a United States Senator from California ( 1886-1891 ). His mother,
Phoebe Apperson Hearst ( 1842-1919 ), was a philanthropist and a school teacher from Missouri. She had gained national fame for her gifts to needy students and educational institutions. While Hearst was a boy, his father traveled throughout the West, from Mexico to Alaska, becoming a partner in three of the largest mining discoveries ever recorded in American history: the Comstock ( silver ) Lode in Nevada, the Homestake ( gold ) Mine in South Dakota and the Anaconda (copper) Mine in Montana.
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George Hearst, in October of 1880, bought a small daily newspaper called the San Francisco Examiner. He saw that the ownership of this newspaper can be used as a political organ and would be beneficial to him. George took steps to improve the Examiner by hiring Emanuel Katz as the general manager and expanded the workforce. Despite the fact that he did make some efforts in the newspaper business, he had shown very little interest in the industry. At that time, he was very interested in politics and later became a United States Senator from California as it was mentioned above.
In the fall of 1882, William Randolph Hearst, aged nineteen, entered Harvard University. But Hearst did not stay in Harvard University for long before being expelled in 1885 because of practical jokes he played on the professors. Around the year 1884 - 1885, William wrote a letter to his father requesting that he be entitled to take over the San Francisco Examiner. One of the sentences from the letter he wrote to his father was “Now if you should make over to me the Examiner—with enough money to carry out my schemes—I’ll tell you what I would do!”
His father had hoped that William would inherit the management of his mining and ranching interests but William denied his father’s desire. So on the 7th of March 1887, William Randolph Hearst took control and became the proprietor of his father’s struggling newspaper, San Francisco Examiner. Hearst, aged 23 then, showed a lot of versatility and was ascertained to make this newspaper popular. Many believed that Hearst was simply an amateur. He quickly set about disproving that by dedicating long hours and much energy to the newspaper. As owner and also the editor of the newspaper, he accumulated the best equipment, improved its appearance and its relationship with the advertisers. Most importantly, he hired the most talented journalists possible. He nicknamed the paper “The Monarch of the Dailies.” In order to boost circulation, Hearst
published a lot of news articles regarding corruption and motivating stories filled with drama. That type of journalism became the trademark of the San Francisco Examiner and of Hearst’s journalism. Hearst, combining sensationalism with a civic reform campaign, made his newspaper prospered within a few years.
In 1895, Hearst moved to New York City and entered the New York City newspaper market by purchasing a second newspaper, the unsuccessful New York Morning Journal. One year later, he began the publication of the Evening Journal. His newspaper, the Morning Journal, entered into a series of fierce head-to-head circulation wars with his former mentor Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World. In order to defeat his competitors, Hearst hired such proficient writers as Stephen Crane and Julian Hawthorne and raided the New York World for some of Joseph Pulitzer’s best men, particularly Richard F. Outcault, the inventor of color comics. He also made some very intelligent and strategic moves as he tried to out-maneuver Pulitzer. Hearst simply hired Pulitzer’s
writers with more money. He recruited many very talented writers including Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Richard Harding Davis and the talented sketch artist Frederic Remington.
Many factors had contributed to the success of the New York Journal. Factors such as price reduction of one cent; expanding it to sixteen pages; increasing the use of many illustrations, adding color magazine sections and glaring headlines; including sensational articles on crime, pseudoscientific and foreign affair topics. Although Hearst suffered great financial loss from taking those actions to improve the newspaper in the beginning; however, within months, the combined daily circulation of the Morning Journal and the Evening Journal had reached the unprecedented figure of 1.5 million sales.
Hearst played a vital role in provoking the American public’s anger by publishing
exaggerated news on what the Spanish did in Cuba. In order to surpass Pulitzer, Hearst ran a series of articles in his newspapers blaming the Spanish for the sinking of the USS Maine with a mine. He also wrote many stories on Cuba that were greatly exaggerated to make them more sensational. That was when the term “Yellow Journalism” came in. Hearst also wrote other stories with exaggerations to capture the American public. More and more Americans, entranced by the outrageous stories, started buying his newspapers. That had encouraged Hearst to write even more of those stories. The news articles on Cuba not only brought interest but also anger to the American public. The last straw was when one of Hearst’s reporters, Richard Harding Davis, reported the story on how Clemencia Arango was being kicked and stripped searched by Spanish detectives. That greatly angered the American public, even when the story was corrected to say that Arango was searched by another woman, not the detectives. Hearst, with his newspapers, had secured the public on his side and the government had no choice but to declare war on Spain. Because of his leading role in arousing the war, he was given the nickname, the “Father of Yellow Journalism.”
On the 28th day of April 1903, the day before Hearst’s fortieth birthday, William Randolph Hearst married Millicent Wilson in New York City. For their honeymoon, they drove across the European continent. That trip inspired Hearst to launch his first magazine, Motor. That had helped form what is now an international operation known as Hearst Magazines. He later produced other magazines such as the Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country, House Beautiful and Good Housekeeping.
Hearst continued his interests in communications and his company was the first print-media company to enter the radio broadcasting business in the 1920s. He was a major producer of movie newsreels and started the legendary newsreel production company, Hearst Metrotone News in 1929. Then in the 1940s, he entered the television business. At the peak of his fortune in 1935, he owned twenty-eight major newspapers, eighteen magazines, several radio stations, movie production companies and news services.
Meanwhile, Hearst, like his father, had political ambitions. He was elected twice as a Democrat into the United States House of Representatives to represent New York from 1903 to 1907. In 1904, he strived for the Democratic nomination for President but failed to win. He ran for the mayor of New York City in 1905 but fell three thousand votes short for the win. His request to become governor of New York in 1906 failed. He lost to Charles Evans Hughes. Once again, Hearst ran for the mayor of New York City in 1909 and suffered a huge defeat. He could not attain the offices he sought including the nomination for senator from New York in 1922.
In 1927, he gave up on New York and moved to his enormous estate to California. This 240,000-acre estate, in San Simeon, was considered one of the most lavish private dwellings in the United States. Built in the 1920s, the estate fronted by fifty miles of ocean water, four majestic castles, containing a vast and priceless collection of antiques and art objects that he had brought in from Europe and all over the world. But the Great Depression of the 1930s seriously weakened his financial status. He had to sell faltering newspapers and magazines. By 1937, he was forced to begin selling off some of his priceless art collection. After 1940, he had lost personal control of his
vast communications empire that he had built. He lived the last few years of his life in isolation. Hearst died at about 9:50 on the morning of August 14, 1951, in Beverly Hills, California. He lived to be 88 years old. All five of his sons followed their father into the media business. After Hearst’s death, there was a big question about the castle. In Hearst’s will, he wished that the castle, along with all the items within it including the priceless works of art, might go to the University of California as a memorial to his mother. The University refused with thanks. They could not afford to maintain such a magnificent mansion. Likewise, the Hearst family and the Hearst Corporation directors were unenthusiastic about spending money on Hearst’s dream. A $30,000,000 castle that could neither be sold nor given away. Finally in 1957, the State of California accepted the castle as a gift.
ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SUBJECT
William Randolph Hearst was, at his time, a very powerful and brilliant young man. Being so wealthy and in such a status, he could have done anything he wished to do.
Hearst had almost singled-handedly mastered and overshadowed the mass communications industry. At one point, he had dominated the mass media business by monopolizing the publication of newspapers and magazines. He also owned several radio stations and participated in film broadcasting by owning a movie production company. In fact, he was a major producer of a movie newsreel then. In my opinion, his involvement in the communications business was almost second to none during his time.
His introduction of the sensational journalistic style ( Yellow Journalism ) in the newspapers had fascinated and captivated many readers. People started to call him the “Father of Yellow Journalism.” He had influenced the Nation’s media with that kind of writing. He was brave enough to start revealing the corruption amongst the private and government entities. All the people involved in corruption lived in fear of Hearst because they were worried that Hearst might put them in the front page. Some, because of Hearst, had stopped the act of corruption.
In view of his extensive association and control over the Nation’s communications network, Hearst was considered one of the most influential persons during the period before the Spanish-American War. He was so persuasive that he was believed to be one of the people responsible for triggering the War. The Nation might not have gone into war with Spain if Hearst’s articles and radio talks had not been persistently persuasive on how the United States was being humiliated by Spain. A person like Hearst, in my opinion, could dominate the nation. Phoebe Hearst would never
have realized that she had given birth to a man who had the power to provoke a war. Although he failed in his political endeavors of being elected as a senator nor a mayor, he did play a significant role in effectuating a decision made by the politicians of the United States in declaring the Spanish-American War.
Hearst was considered very successful in his life, in terms of his accomplishments and achievements in the mass media and journalism world of communications. If it were not Hearst’s ambitions and different strategies to pioneer his great journalism empire with diversified publications, inspirational, sensational and extensive color coverages, the newspaper today could be just a piece of paper with news printed in black and white. There would not have been a twist to the articles.
In conclusion, William Randolph Hearst, the founder of the Hearst Corporation, was a person that could dominate the nation by the stroke of his pen. He started with a struggling newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, and turned it into a prosperous publication within a few years. He also turned the unsuccessful newspaper, New York Journal, into the largest newspaper chain in the United States through a series of strategies. Not only did he had the largest chain of newspaper, he was also one of the largest owners of magazines. He had established a trademark of “Hearst’s journalism” and was nicknamed the founder of the “Yellow Journalism” during the Spanish-American War.
Despite his uneventful foray into politics, he remained throughout the decades as a very dominating figure, a great motivating publisher and an opinion maker. Not only did he just dominate the newspaper industry by owning 28 major publications, diversify his interests into owning 28 magazines, several radio stations, movie production companies and news services. He had succeeded in conquering the mass communications industry through excellent strategic moves.
He was believed to be one of the persons who had provoked the declaration of the Spanish-American War. His persistent coverage on the Cuba events as well as his day-today articles on the USS Maine’s sinking persuaded the Americans to go into war with Spain. His articles and exaggerated stories had proved to be extremely influential to such an extent that the Government had no alternative but to make the war declaration. With all the enormously exaggerated news articles and stores published during that period, he was given the nickname of “Father of Yellow Journalism.”
He was a man full of innovative ideas and was definitely a very successful business man for decades, but because of the Great Depression, he was forced to sell his companies and later his art collections he brought from all over the world.
After his death, San Simeon, Hearst’s 240,000 acre castle, was donated to the State of California as a State park.
1. “Citizen Hearst” by W.A. Swanberg. Scribner (1961); Collier Books (1986).
2. “William Randolph Hearst, American” by Mrs. Fremont Older. D. Appleton-Century
3. “William Randolph Hearst, A New Appraisal” by John K. Winkler. Hastings House