Fireworks and Fire-words

The term Yellow journalism was first coined by Erwin Wardman, the editor of the New York Press in the mid-1880s. In grade-school it is taught alongside the administration of President William Mckinley that as a type of journalism, yellow journalism has little or no legitimacy; using outlandish claims to make bold headlines.

The origin of yellow journalism began with sensationalist journalism used in a circulation war between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Historical usage often refers specifically to the period between 1895 and 1898. Both papers were accused by critics of sensationalizing the news in order to drive up circulation.

Joseph Pulitzer purchased the New York World in 1883 after his success with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Pulitzer strove to make the New York World an entertaining read and filled his paper with crime stories and contests to draw in new readers. Just two years after Pulitzer took it over, the World became the highest circulation newspaper in New York. William Randolph Hearst acquired the New York Journal in 1895 after his success with the San Francisco Examiner. He strove to replicate Joseph’s approach of sensationalized headlines and high crime reporting. Yellow journalism reached it’s peak intensity in 1898 when the U.S. battleship Maine sunk in Havana harbor. Hearst and Pulitzer, who had for several years been selling papers by fanning anti-Spanish public opinion in the United States, published rumors of plots to sink the ship. When a U.S. naval investigation later stated that the explosion had come from a mine in the harbor, the proponents of yellow journalism seized upon it and called for war marking the beginning the Spanish-American War.

In recent days there has been much discussion of the ways in which we receive the news. The election has provided a raw look at how the sharing of information influences our society, politics, and views. During the election, posts online spread wildly biased and inaccurate information and Wikileaks dumped emails from DNC accounts later found out to be the work of hackers in Russia. Facebook, which has been lauded as a new way to connect and share with others worldwide, faces an identity crisis after faux news stories were shared and commented on millions of times.

Can new outlets or publishers like Facebook and Google attempt to regulate the truth within their own medium? Any attempt to do so would seem to cut across such a wide variety of legal issues as to seem impossible to pinpoint. Libel laws, individual privacy, and the First Amendment all stand in a way of any such endeavor. President-elect Trump had vowed during the election to “open up” libel laws to persecute news and media outlets. Parts of these discussions have come up repeatedly in recent days; what with the impact of the internet on our elections being felt in new unique ways. 

According to the Legal Information Institute, Libel is defined as a method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession. News outlets hold themselves to a standard not through any law but through a standard of ethics and morals. How should the media react to misleading news stories and speech on it’s medium has always been a sensitive subject. This election has called into question many of the ways in which news is circulated online. Will there be an increase in scrutiny set for the media under Trump? With his bombastic personality and rather thin skin when it comes to criticism it seems there will be a renewed interest in media reporting on the presidency and federal government in the days to come.