Yellow Journalism

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William Randolph Hearst

Yellow Journalism is journalism that is based upon sensationalism and a crude exaggeration of news stories that entices the reader and informs them of what’s going on by phrasing and telling the story in a ludicrous manner (U.S. Diplomacy and Yellow Journalism 1895–1898, n.d). In the 1890s, two famous newspaper owners, William Randolph Hearst, and Joseph Pulitzer, coined a term, and helped create an entirely new newspaper section and theme of journalism, this was known as Yellow Journalism (Yellow Journalism, n.d). This new type of journalism allowed the writer to get the reader’s attention by exaggerating stories written in the articles while also making money by people buying these papers. The two creators of this new type of journalism would eventually become involved in what would be called a circulation battle as well. These two newspaper owners were rivals because at that time both businesses were in the same area. Both wanted to make money by writing articles in Yellow Journalism (Mahony, 2009). Another fascinating aspect about this theme of journalism is that the headline usually grabs the attention of the person who is reading the newspaper.

In 1883, Pulitzer purchased The New York World newspaper company. For approximately 12 years Pulitzer did not have to worry about a competing newspaper company in New York. In fact, Pulitzer’s newspaper was thriving. However, in 1895 he would meet his rival and match when Hearst bought The New York Journal (Mahony, 2009 Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016 Mahony, 2009). 1895 was when their rivalry would take off. They were rivals because people now had two different newspaper companies to read from, thus causing competition amongst the two of them (Mahony, 2009 Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016 U.S. Diplomacy and Yellow Journalism, 1895–1898. n.d.).

The term “Yellow Journalism,” itself originally came from Pulitzer’s New York World. In Pulitzer’s newspaper, artist R.F. Outcault came up with “the yellow kid.”  This cartoon character came from a comic sketch known as “Hogan’s Alley.” In this comic it had a yellow-dressed character dubbed the “the yellow kid.” Eventually, this Yellow Kid would add fire to this two-owner’s newspaper rivalry. They would both use the yellow kid to sensationalize and exaggerate the news through the yellow kid’s popularity in both newspapers.  Since these two owners were in a very competitive rivalry to compete New York Journal owner William Randolph Hearst copied Pulitzer’s sensationalist style and even hired “Hogan’s Alley” artist R.F. Outcault. In response, Pulitzer commissioned another cartoonist to create a second yellow kid. Soon, the sensationalist presses of the 1890s became a competition between the “yellow kids,” and the journalistic style was coined “yellow journalism”(Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).

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Cartoon depicting the battle between Hearst and Pulitzer

The term “circulation battle,” comes from a military term called “Battlefield Circulation.” This term means that the leader goes where he can best influence the battle, where his moral and physical presence can be felt, and where his will to achieve victory can best be expressed, understood, and acted upon. (Magness, 1970). For this term, these two newspaper owners both used yellow journalism to make money, gain popularity, and push America to declare war on Spain in 1898 (Yellow Journalism, n.d.). For this term, it is referring to the fact that both owners realized a good way to gain popularity and money was by sensationalizing events that had transpired with the USS Maine getting destroyed of the coast of Cuba by what people still beielve could have been Spain’s doing. Thus, the two owners newspaper companies coined another phrase known as “remember the Maine.”


Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016, August 11). Yellow journalism. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

Mahony, D. O. (2009, September 16). The circulation battle of Pulitzer and Hearst | Comm455/History of Journalism. Retrieved December 06, 2017, from

Magness, T. (1970, January 01). Leader Business. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

Mott, K. (2013, February 13). Yellow Journalism – Present and Past. Retrieved December 06, 2017, from

U.S. Diplomacy and Yellow Journalism, 1895–1898. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from

Yellow Journalism. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from

Image Attribution: The images used in this post are in the Public Domain

Written by Louie Galdos, 2017