Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Birth of Yellow Journalism

The Spanish–American War (April–August 1898) is considered to be both a turning point in the history of propaganda and the beginning of the practice of yellow journalism.

It was the first conflict in which military action was precipitated by media involvement. The war grew out of U.S. interest in a fight for revolution between the Spanish military and citizens of their Cuban colony. American newspapers fanned the flames of interest in the war by fabricating atrocities which justified intervention in a number of Spanish colonies worldwide.

Several forces within the United States were pushing for a war with Spain. Their tactics were wide-ranging and their goal was to engage the opinion of the American people in any way possible. Men such as William Hearst, the owner of The New York Journal was involved in a circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and saw the conflict as a way to sell papers. Many newspapers ran articles of a sensationalist nature and sent correspondents to Cuba to cover the war. Correspondents had to evade Spanish Authorities; usually they were unable to get reliable news and relied heavily on informants for their stories. Many stories were derived from second or third hand accounts and were either elaborated, misrepresented or completely fabricated by journalists to enhance their dramatic effect.

Both Hearst and Pulitzer published images of Spanish troops placing Cubans into concentration camps where they were suffered and died from disease and hunger. The term “Yellow Journalism,” which was derived from the name of "The Yellow Kid" comic strip in the Journal, was used to refer to this style of sensationalized newspaper articles. The American public purchased more newspapers because of this form of writing, and this strongly encouraged Hearst and Pulitzer’s newspapers to write more sensationalized stories.  Some of the most sensationalized articles concerned “Butcher Weyler” and his reconcentration policies, and the Cuban Insurrection. Circulation continued to soar as the Journal reported that an American civilian was imprisoned without a trial and stating that no American was safe in Cuba as long as Weyler was in charge. Another major  article that enraged the American public was written by one of Hearst's reporters,  Richard Harding Davis,  who came upon the story while on his way back from Cuba.  The reporter learned of the story of Senorita Clemencia Arango.  Arango was forced out of Cuba for helping the rebels, and was supposedly strip-searched by Spanish detectives.  This angered the Victorian ideals of the American public even though the story was found to be in error

Hearst played a huge part in arousing the public’s intention to go to war with Spain. This activity reached its zenith after several years of articles concerning the situation in Cuba, Hearst ran a series of articles blaming the Spanish for the sinking of the MAINE with a mine. Hearst’s powerful articles pushed many Americans towards war with Spain. Because of his leading role in inciting the war, Hearst was nicknamed the “Father of Yellow Journalism.”

Why do I give you the history of yellow journalism? It is now the mainstay of news reporting. News outlets chasing advertising dollar have almost forgot the meaning of fair and even reporting. Fair and even reporting does not sell advertising. Sensationalism does. News outlets fan the flames of controversy in an attempt to boost readership. Ad rates are based on readership rates. Readers read, dollars come in. They really don't care about the overall affect on society. They rationalize that in a free press era the reader will get a fair and even story by reading multiple accounts from multiple sources. Except that people don't do that. They are sound bite addicts. We spend very little time checking the facts.

All you have to do it read the comments section of any article and you see that many of the readers didn't even comprehend the article they just read, more or less research it further. The media says that's our problem not theirs.

Folks, yellow journalism is alive and well. Do not believe what you read. Do not react to sensationalism. Small niches of society have managed to make great gains by using the media to project themselves as main stream. We need to seek the truth before we react. We no longer can rely on the media to present anything even close to resembling the truth.

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