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Yellow Journalism


Yellow journalism refers to the type of journalism that exaggerates facts and news to provoke reactions and sensations from readers. This type of journalism is often referred to as sensationalism and its main purpose is to popularize a newspaper. Other definitions of yellow journalism refer to misleading or exaggerated newspaper headlines, news from unreliable or fake sources, and faked or staged interviews. Yellow journalism has also been used to refer to the colors, pictures, drawings and comical strips used in newspapers to attract readers. The term was first published in the 1890s following a stiff competition in New York’s newspaper market.

The Origin of Yellow Journalism

The term ‘yellow journalism’ originated from the competition for markets between two newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The term was derived from a cartoon character named Yellow Kid by Richard Outcault. The cartoon character featured in a comical strip about the life in New York slums and was first published in color by Pulitzer in his newspaper, New York World. The Yellow Kid boosted New York World’s sales tremendously. Hearst poached Outcault from Pulitzer when he realized the effect that the comical strip had on newspaper sales. The two publishers engaged in a fierce war for the cartoonist and continued to publish sensationalized stories to attract readers.

Hearst won the war for Outcault but Pulitzer introduced a similar comical strip with a different cartoonist to maintain his sales level. Competition between the two publishers led to more sensationalized news and headlines. More cartoons and pictures were introduced in each release to attract readers. Both Hearst and Pulitzer used their version of the Yellow Kid to influence public opinion on certain issues. The term yellow journalism became more popular as the battle for supremacy in the newspaper market intensified.

The role of yellow journalism in the Spanish-American war

Many historians and political analysts believe that Hearst and Pulitzer played a significant role in the Spanish-American war. The two publishers had been reporting about the suffering in Cuba, which was a Spanish colony. Hearst saw an opportunity to boost his newspaper sales in Cuba. He was first in establishing a station with a team of reporters in Cuba to cover the events. Hearst used exaggerated pictures and dramatized stories to influence the public opinion on America’s involvement in the Spanish war. The influence of yellow journalism in the conflict intensified when America’s naval ship in Cuba, Maine sunk. Hearst and Pulitzer reported that there were plots to sink the ship. Despite differing reports from the Cuban and American government, the two publishers continued to publish their version of the story. This swayed the public opinion on America’s relations with Spain. The Spanish-American war began with the public support that yellow journalism created.