Introduction: Joseph Pulitzer (02:13)
This episode of “American Masters” focuses on the publisher who shaped the modern newspaper as we know it. Nicholas Baker describes how he obtained rare copies of Pulitzer’s "New York World" from the British Library.
POTUS Cries Libel (02:17)
Pulitzer was a relentless journalist, known for making enemies. During his final years, when he was blind, he accused President Theodore Roosevelt of lying to the American people and dubbed the Panama Canal an act of colonial aggression.
Pulitzer 's Birth and Early Life (02:03)
Pulitzer was born in Hungary in 1847, on the eve of revolutions that spread across Europe. His uncles joined reformers who fought for a more representative government, better working conditions, and a free press. His father died when he was 11, leaving his family in debt.
Civil War (02:58)
Pulitzer immigrated to the U.S. and fought in the war. His first exposure to the American press was behind the front lines. After the war, he settled in St. Louis.
Pulitzer's Career (04:44)
The Westliche Post hired Pulitzer. He wrote stories that uncovered St. Louis corruption and he ran for the state legislature. He was involved with an armed scuffle with contractor Edward Augustine. He bought the St. Louis Dispatch and merged it with the Post.
Controversy and Resolution (04:41)
Pulitzer declared the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to be independent of party politics. Circulation and ad revenue soared as he took on local elites. The paper’s managing editor shot and killed a vocal critic. Pulitzer courted Kate Davis while reporting in Washington, DC.
"New York World" (07:13)
Pulitzer paid $400,000 for the struggling newspaper and greatly influenced the journalistic landscape. His circulation grew as he emphasized stories about everyday people. His brother, Albert, published the city’s "Morning Journal."
Brooklyn Bridge (04:40)
The bridge opened 10 days after Pulitzer purchased the "New York World." The newspaper railed against the penny toll for pedestrian crossings. Pulitzer later raised money for a Statue of Liberty pedestal.
Exposing Corruption and Exploitation (05:19)
In 1887, journalist Nellie Bly feigned insanity and was sent to Blackwell’s Island. She wrote an expose for the New York World. Pulitzer’s drive to investigate wrongdoing became his paper’s rallying cry.
Appealing to Lower Classes (06:12)
Pulitzer earned loyalty by exposing corruption, using accessible language, and printing stories that were practical and relevant to their lives. “The Yellow Kid” became especially popular with readers.
High Profile Rabble-Rouser (02:55)
Pulitzer was a difficult man in a society that considered him an outsider. He was lampooned for his appearance and given antisemitic nicknames. Elites resented his emphasis of the lower classes.
Pulitzer's Success (04:30)
The "New York World" had over 400,000 daily readers by 1893. Pulitzer was the first newspaper publisher to base ad rates on his publication’s circulation, and his two newspapers raked in millions. He built the world’s tallest skyscraper.
Pulitzer's Health (08:51)
Pulitzer went blind and his hearing became hypersensitive, causing him to be more recluse. The publisher suffered from depression as he mourned the death of his daughter, Lucille. He was perpetually disappointed in his sons, Herbert, Joseph and Ralph.
Competing Publishers (06:54)
William Randolph Hearst came to New York specifically to challenge Pulitzer. He bought the “Morning Journal” and made it more sensational. He poached stories and talent from Pulitzer, and their rivalry ushered in the era of “yellow journalism.”
War Coverage (03:29)
The Spanish-American War was a mixed blessing for Pulitzer and Hearst. Their circulations swelled as they printed multiple editions, but lost money to labor costs, telegram charges, and other expenses. The U.S. emerged as a colonial power.
Press Freedom (06:23)
Pulitzer’s brother, Albert, committed suicide. Pulitzer challenged the legitimacy of the Panama Canal. President Roosevelt sought to jail the publisher, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the "New York World."
Pulitzer's Last Days and Legacy (07:35)
Pulitzer fell ill aboard his yacht and died on Oct. 29, 1911. The "New York World" was never the same, and his sons sold the paper. Pulitzer family members continued the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but eventually sold out in 2005.
Credits: Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People (00:22)
Credits: Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People
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