Weekly Feature

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Meeting the Press

January 28, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff

The press is continually being shaped by related media: film and television. Technologies change, realms shift, and boundaries blur, but we have more than the Internet to thank for that.

Two Wars in One

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During the Spanish-American War, two newspaper-industry giants, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, battled at home for the largest circulation. Publishers encouraged journalists on the scene and at home to indulge themselves. Using “melodrama, romance, and hyperbole,” the World and the Journal duked it out, copying each other’s ideas and even stealing the other’s staff, in the case of Hearst, who offered higher pay to some of Pulitzer’s reporters.

Not only did the media report a war—they helped produce it by blaming Spain for the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor, and promoting war as the most logical option. In fact, the term “yellow journalism” and “yellow kids” originated from the name of a Pulitzer paper’s cartoon character called “the yellow kid.”

For the Record

YellowJournalism.net, an accompaniment to the book Yellow Journalism by W. Joseph Campbell, claims that the genre has gotten a bad rap, and attempts to set the record straight—or, at least, straighter—with articles, historical snapshots, photos, and links to the author’s books.

The Yellow Kids: Foreign Correspondents in the Heyday of Yellow Journalism
is a second and more recent book that takes a new slant on the concept of yellow journalism. The book is discussed in this New York Times review. Hearst’s famous quote, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war,” suggests a money-hungry executive looking for bigger circulation. But the book’s author, Joyce Milton, claims that it’s inaccurate to see Hearst as a “power-drunk millionaire capitalist sitting in the safety of his New York office and browbeating reluctant staffers to promote a policy they did not believe in.” Contemporaries in journalism, some of believed the content, however fabricated, to be instrumental in giving the “conscience of the nation” an “official voice.”

The voice of those words was James Creelman, a yellow journalist discussed in this online essay, and a focal point of Milton’s case. In 1901, Creelman wrote On the Great Highway, a definitive account of life as one of the first roving reporters, visiting such political hotspots as China and Cuba. Read this online version of On the Great Highway, which is full of exciting anecdotes about the important events and people of the late 19th century.

Today’s Flying Colors

If the nation acquired a “voice” at the turn of the last century, perhaps it acquired another one a hundred years later. In the late ’90s, in the midst of the Lewinsky-Clinton debacle, Clinton Krauss, in the Times, reminds us that bad journalism is “nothing new,” citing as proof the old days of yellow journalism. Recently, Slate opened the doors to another breed of journalism,in addition to theh modern and popular tabloid kind,  called “green journalism.” According to Jack Shafer, it’s a recent development, sprung from the environmental movement, that “places a political agenda in front of the quest for journalistic truth, and in its most demagogic forms tolerates no criticism, branding all who question it as enemies of the people.”

Some green efforts are sound, but others are, to use a buzz term, examples of “greenwashing,” defined by Sourcewatch here. Greenwashing extends to corporations, advertisements, and even political candidates. Green journalism, at its most ineffective, creates all-or-nothing conditions for going green when, as Shafer suggests, some of the science behind environmental solutions is too new to warrant sweeping statements.

Green has, in common with yellow, the potential for building the public’s collective “vision.” In this case, that vision is probably more determined and more convinced than the modern tabloid audience. Green journalists are just as convinced of the necessity of green as Hearst and Pulitzer’s readers were of the need to go to war with Spain more than a century ago.
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