Rise of Yellow Journalism Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In their competition to sell newspapers, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer engaged in yellow journalism—sensational or biased stories that often contained factual inaccuracies. The sensationalism of their newspapers influenced the outbreak of the Spanish-American War of 1898, as well as having a lasting influence on American journalism.

Summary of Event

Historians mark the era of yellow journalism as occuring roughly between 1895 and 1905, and its rise in 1895 is closely associated with journalistic practices in New York City in particular. The Industrial Revolution Industrial Revolution;and newspapers[Newspapers] allowed publishers to utilize machines that could print thousands of newspapers overnight, creating an endless battle to win and keep readers. The term “yellow journalism” refers to a style of reporting based on this competition to sell newspapers: Renowned publishers of the day used sensationalized stories of murders, accidents, and even international conflicts in order to capture attention and entertain readers. Yellow journalism Journalism;yellow press Pulitzer, Joseph New York City;newspapers [kw]Rise of Yellow Journalism (1880’s-1890’s) [kw]Yellow Journalism, Rise of (1880’s-1890’s) [kw]Journalism, Rise of Yellow (1880’s-1890’s) Yellow journalism Journalism;yellow press Pulitzer, Joseph New York City;newspapers [g]United States;1880’s-1890’s: Rise of Yellow Journalism[5095] [c]Journalism;1880’s-1890’s: Rise of Yellow Journalism[5095] [c]Communications;1880’s-1890’s: Rise of Yellow Journalism[5095] [c]Crime and scandals;1880’s-1890’s: Rise of Yellow Journalism[5095] Outcault, Richard Felton Remington, Frederic Davis, Richard Harding

These sensationalized newspaper stories often made use of colorful language and exaggerated or even inaccurate information. Newspapers often hastily and sloppily gathered information in order to publish stories before their competitors did, and biased opinions usually took the place of balanced, objective accounts. Trivial stories with human interest or sensationalistic elements sometimes dominated the front pages, and the number of drawings and cartoons carried by newspapers increased. The yellow press also lowered prices and expanded the number of pages in each newspaper. It enjoyed higher sales than did the more unbiased newspapers of the day.

Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal American, New York Journal American competing New York City newspapers during the late nineteenth century, are most closely associated with the rise of yellow journalism. When Hearst bought the New York Journal American in 1895, he began a competition with Pulitzer for the loyalty of New York readers. Both Pulitzer and Hearst sought to appeal to readers that other New York City newspapers had largely ignored, including women, laborers, Democrats, immigrants, and the poor. Hearst utilized tactics in his competition with Pulitzer that would later become associated with yellow journalism.

The Yellow journalism;origin of term term “yellow journalism” first appeared in 1895, the year Hearst purchased the New York Journal American. It originated with a comic strip called “The Yellow Kid,” which first appeared in Pulitzer’s New York World. The comic strip’s artist was well-known cartoonist Richard Felton Outcault Outcault, Richard Felton , and his color comic Comic strips, newspaper Journalism;comic strips was an innovation of its time, using special smear-proof yellow ink. Hearst lured Outcault, as well as the rest of Pulitzer’s Sunday edition staff, to his rival newspaper. Pulitzer then hired George B. Luks Luks, George B. to continue production of the comic without its original creator. Thus, “The Yellow Kid” "Yellow Kid, The"[Yellow Kid] appeared for a time in both newspapers. The competition for the comic strip, an early step in the battle to increase circulation, marked the beginning of yellow journalism’s heyday.

The most famous incident of yellow journalism occurred during the Spanish-American War Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and newspapers[Newspapers] of 1898. In the years prior to the war, Cuban revolutionaries had been battling for the island’s independence from Spain. American newspapers sent well-known foreign correspondents, called “traveling commissioners” at the time, to Cuba. These reporters and illustrators included Richard Harding Davis Davis, Richard Harding , Stephen Crane Crane, Stephen , Frederick Remington Remington, Frederic , George Rea Rea, George , and Sylvester Scovel Scovel, Sylvester . Many of the reporters entered Cuba illegally, disguised as rebels or spies, and some were arrested, thrown out of the country, or killed in battle. Hearst sided with the Cuban revolutionaries and did not hide his bias.

Hearst Cuba;and American newspapers[American newspapers] sent the well-known writer Richard Harding Davis and the renowned artist and illustrator Frederic Remington to Cuba in 1897 in order to cover the Cuban rebellion for the New York Journal American New York Journal American . In a famous and often repeated anecdote, Remington wired Hearst that a war appeared unlikely and requested permission for the two men to return to the United States. Hearst then allegedly sent a telegrammed reply stating that if Remington Remington, Frederic furnished the pictures, Hearst would provide the war. This remark was widely repeated as evidence of yellow journalism’s willingness to employ shady tactics and inaccurate reporting to get a story. Many historians, however, doubt the veracity of the anecdote regarding Hearst’s famous telegram, which came from a book of reminiscences by one of Hearst’s writers. Hearst himself denied its accuracy. Nevertheless, the anecdote led many historians to label the Spanish-American War Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and newspapers[Newspapers] “Mr. Hearst’s War” or “The Newspapers’ War.”

Hearst’s biased coverage of the growing rebellion remained one-sided in favor of the Cubans. Hearst would not print any news that came from Spanish sources, claiming they were untrustworthy. His articles included accounts of Spanish cruelty and brutality designed to outrage American readers and gain their support for the Cuban revolutionaries. When the American battleship Maine Maine, USS exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, killing two hundred and sixty crewmembers, Hearst found another story to use in his attempt to gain the American public’s support for U.S. entry into the conflict. While other city newspapers such as the New York Times New York Times , the New York Tribune, the New York Herald New York Herald;and Spanish-American War[Spanish American War] , and the New York Evening Post New York Evening Post cautioned readers to wait for a Navy Navy, U.S.;Spanish-American War[Spanish American War] board of inquiry to determine the explosion’s Explosives;and USS Maine[USS Maine] cause, Pulitzer’s New York World New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal American New York Journal American carried stories of a “suppressed cable” that stated that the Maine’s explosion was not an accident. The cable later proved to have been manufactured. Such sensational and unfounded reports helped gain the public’s support for U.S. action and put pressure on U.S. president William McKinley to declare war against Spain.

In another famous incident, Hearst was able to catch Pulitzer employing a common tactic of yellow journalism. Many newspapers routinely carried stories they had lifted directly from the pages of rival newspapers. In an attempt to catch Pulitzer in the act, Hearst ran an 1898 story about the death of a fictional Colonel Reflipe W. Thenuz "Thenuz, Colonel Reflipe W." , whose name was a corruption of the sentence “we pilfer the news.” Pulitzer then unknowingly ran the article, even adding in a dateline for more authenticity. While most historians view Hearst as the one most responsible for the creation of yellow journalism, Pulitzer became an integral part of the pheonemon as a result of his role in reporting the Cuban revolution against Spain, the explosion of the Maine Maine, USS , and the subsequent Spanish-American War Spanish-American War (1898)[Spanish American War (1898)];and newspapers[Newspapers] .


Many historians view the actions of Pulitzer and Hearst in reporting the Cuban revolution and the explosion of the Maine as key elements in the growing national pressure for American involvement that led to the Spanish-American War. The Remington Remington, Frederic telegram also became one of the best-known incidents in the history of the American news media. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer remained dominant names within the American media, and Pulitzer went on to create the famous literary and journalistic prizes that bear his name.

By the early twentieth century, circulation of the yellow press newspapers had dramatically declined, but individual tactics of yellow journalism have continued. The muckraking journalists of the early twentieth century Progressive movement wrote in the vein of yellow journalism in their scandalous exposés on such topics as worker safety, slum conditions, and food production. Legacies of yellow journalism also include the use of eye-catching headlines, comic strips Comic strips, newspaper Journalism;comic strips , human-interest stories, stories that target special interest groups, investigative reports, and accusations of bias, factual inaccuracies, and fabrications. The era of yellow journalism also continues to serve as a cautionary tale in the media’s efforts to remain unbiased and accurate in its reporting while still attracting a large audience.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Campbell, W. Joseph. Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Provides an overview of the yellow journalism era and separates myths from realities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Littlefield, Roy Everett. William Randolph Hearst: His Role in American Progressivism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980. Examines Hearst’s influence on the Progressive movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Milton, Joyce. The Yellow Kids: Foreign Correspondents in the Heyday of Yellow Journalism. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Highlights the coverage of the Spanish-American War from the perspective of the reporters who served as foreign correspondents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Biography covering Hearst’s life and career as a newspaper publisher, movie producer, and politician.

Birth of the Penny Press

Modern New York Times Is Founded

Hearst-Pulitzer Circulation War

Cuban War of Independence

Spanish-American War

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Stephen Crane; William McKinley; Joseph Pulitzer; Frederic Remington. Yellow journalism Journalism;yellow press Pulitzer, Joseph New York City;newspapers

Categories: History