Topics in the News
During the nineteenth century, most book publishers in America believed theirs was an ivory-tower profession, bearing the cultural and social responsibility of providing Americans with works of literary distinction or political and philosophical distinction, whether such volumes returned a profit or not; but in the decade 1900 to 1909, shocked by the collapse of two of the nation's oldest and most formidable houses, Harper and Appleton, publishers grew progressively less genteel and more aggressively profit-oriented and business-minded. In the very first year of the decade, the venerable institutions of Harper's and Appleton did not disappear from the American publishing scene, but only because they were rescued from bankruptcy by Wall Street financiers. In the process, Wall Street found the publishers' idealism quaint and their mismanagement maddening; and in the following years a much more fiscally minded generation of managers moved into the industry to work alongside the high-minded editors and proprietors. As a result, although many major houses, like Scribner's, Putnam's, and Dutton, continued to be owned by the families whose names they bore, they began rapidly trans-forming their business and marketing methods and dramatically expanding into large-scale businesses of the twentieth century.
Growth and Expansion. In this dynamic and...
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City Life and the Two Journalisms
An Urban Nation.
In 1790 less than 5 percent of the U.S. population lived in cities of more than twenty-five hundred people. By 1920 more than 50 percent lived in cities. As the nation became increasingly urban and mo-bile, people knew fewer of their neighbors personally, and the daily newspaper's importance as the main source of community information and identity grew. Two distinct kinds of journalism evolved to meet the needs of city dwellers. The first, epitomized by the "Old Gray Lady," The New York Times, adhered to a policy of strict factuality. The New York Times aspired to strict objectivity and took a tone of scrupulous dispassion. Its readers were largely upper-middle-class people who needed accurate information for their businesses and who preferred the paper's cultivated tone. The second style, known variously
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The Galveston Flood
On 7 September 1900 hurricane-force winds and rain whipped the states on the western end of the Gulf of Mexico. A storm surge smashed into the city of Galveston, Texas, on the north end of Galveston Island. The four bridges connecting it to the mainland were swept away; most of the city's buildings were destroyed; and five thousand of its forty thousand residents died. Survivors waited through the night on rooftops. The rest of the world waited days for news of Galveston's fate, so cut off was the city and the region by severed telegraph lines, flooded roads, and impassable railroad tracks. Militiamen with bayonets patrolled the streets to keep scavengers and newspaper reporters away.
Annie Laurie to the Rescue.
Winifred Black, a reporter for the Denver Post and special contributor to the Hearst papers who wrote under the name Annie Laurie, was the first reporter to arrive on the scene. Dressed as a boy, she sneaked onto the boat that met the relief trains coming from Houston. After twenty-four hours she filed stories for the Hearst syndicate describing the terrible stench of decaying bodies and the need for disinfectant. "In pity's name, in America's name, do not delay one single instant. Send this help quickly or it will be too late!" She related the story of a man who floated all night on a piece of his roof with his...
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The Heyday of the Foreign Language Press
A Nation of Immigrants.
In 1900, 46 percent of the nation's population was composed of first- or second-generation immigrants. Beginning in 1896 immigrants from southeastern European countries outnumbered those from northwestern European countries, bringing with them a diversity of languages and cultures that America had never before experienced. Many of these new Americans could not read at all, and most of them could not read English but were eager to learn. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, most foreign-language papers were run by intellectuals or clergy on the European model of dedication to one religion or ideology. In the first decade of the twentieth century all this changed. More than one thousand foreign-language papers operated, the number peaking at thirteen hundred in 1914. More than 140 of these were dailies, and 40 percent were in German. German-, Polish-, and Yiddish-language papers claimed circulations of one million readers in each language; the Italian papers reached about seven hundred thousand; and the Swedish, five hundred thousand. The single largest daily was the German New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, with a quarter of a million readers.
Learning to Assimilate.
Innovators such as Abraham Cahan of the Yiddish Jewish Daily Forward and Charles Barsotti of the Italian Il Progresso brought...
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"Let Munsey Kill It!": The Birth of the Newspaper Chain
A Businessman's Vision.
In 1890 New York had fifteen English-language daily newspapers. By 1932 it had half that number. The twentieth-century trend toward newspaper consolidation began in earnest during the century's first decade. Frank A. Munsey did as much as any other person to bring this about. His own rags-to-riches tale began when he started a children's magazine, the Golden Argosy, and proceeded to build a publishing empire with Munsey's, an illustrated general-interest weekly that had a circulation of 650,000 in 1900. A shrewd businessman with no sentimentality toward the traditions of newspaper publishing, Munsey saw chaos and disorder in an industry that he believed had 60 percent too many products. He dreamed of a chain of five hundred newspapers. In addition to creating vast economies of scale, this enterprise would employ the greatest minds in every field, dispensing wisdom from a central facility, with local coverage left up to each outlet. "The combined genius of the men in control would be the most uplifting force the world has ever known," he exclaimed.
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The New York Journal and the Assassination of William Mckinley
Hatred of the Trusts.
The most volatile political issue at the turn of the century was the growing power of enormous corporations. Prominent publishers, including Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, used their papers to campaign against the trusts as the enemy of their readers, the common people. The reelection in 1900 of Republican president William McKinley meant that little would be accomplished to curb the centralization of economic power that came, the trusts' opponents argued, at the expense of the industrial worker and the farmer.
The Journal Cartoonists Get Rough.
Hearst's New York Journal had an outstanding staff of political cartoonists, an art form just then coming into its own. Homer Davenport began in 1900 to draw President Mc-Kinley as the stooge of the millionaire industrialist Mark Hanna, drawn wearing a suit of dollar signs. McKinley and his longtime patron were portrayed as the bullying, criminal, scornful agents of the trusts. Davenport's new colleague, Frederick Burr Opper, started a series called "Willie and his Papa," with McKinley depicted as a small son to the trusts, attended by a nursemaid resembling Hanna. McKinley's vice-presidential nominee, Theodore Roosevelt, was shown as a show-off playmate stealing Willie's limelight and making him cry. Respected Journal editor Arthur...
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The Poison Trust.
The 1900 census reported that eighty million Americans spent a total of $59 million each year on patent medicines. More of that money went to pay the cost of advertising in newspapers and magazines and on billboards than into either production costs or profit. These tonics, elixirs, and syrups contained up to 80 percent alcohol and often had morphine, cocaine, or the heart stimulant Digitalis as a basic ingredient. Naturally they sold well. Paine's Celery Compound, Burdock's Blood Bitters, Doctor Pierce's Favorite Prescription, and Colden's Liquid Beef Tonic promised to cure maladies ranging from a baby's fussiness to cancer. Many people trusted these nostrums as an inexpensive alternative to visiting doctors, and even church publications printed their advertisements.
In 1892 Edward Bok, editor of the influential Ladies' Home Journal, had decreed that his magazine would no longer accept ads for patent medicines. By 1904, when the industry's success showed no signs of flagging, he began to print the contents of some of the most popular cures. He ran incorrect information about Doctor Pierce's Favorite Prescription and was forced to print a retraction and pay damages, but he continued his editorials, calling upon all decent people to boycott the medicines. He appealed to the temperance...
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The Murder of Stanford White
The Murder of the Century.
On 25 June 1906 world-famous architect Stanford White, forty-seven, took in a show at the rooftop café of Madison Square Garden, a complex he had designed. Harry Thaw, heir to a Pittsburgh railroad fortune, killed him with three shots from a pistol. Thaw's beautiful young wife, the model and actress Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, had carried on an affair with White and had told her husband that the architect had raped her when she was a virgin of sixteen.
A Morality Tale.
The incident provided sensational fodder for New York's fifteen newspapers. William Randolph Hearst's Evening Journal pin pointed what the case seemed to reveal about the city's rich: "The flash of that pistol lighted up an abyss of moral turpitude, revealing powerful, reckless, openly flaunted wealth." The circulation of Joseph Pulitzer's World jumped one hundred thousand the first week after the murder. Photographs of Nesbit, a poor girl from Pittsburgh who had become a
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The Race to the North Pole
An Accident Brings Peary to the Times.
By 1908 an American explorer, Comdr. Robert E. Peary, had made several attempts to reach the North Pole. The New York Herald had subsidized his previous expeditions in return for the exclusive rights to his story. In 1908, seeking funding for another attempt, Peary discovered that his contacts, the financial officer William Reick and the city editor Charles M. Lincoln, now worked for The New York Times. Peary then asked to see the new city editor, who told him that the public was tired of Arctic adventures. Discouraged, Peary walked from downtown all the way to the new midtown headquarters of the Times, Times publisher Adolph Ochs and managing editor Carr Van Anda shared a boyish enthusiasm for the scientific exploration of remote places, and in short order the paper paid Peary $4,000 for the exclusive New York rights to his story. The Times would also distribute the story for him else-where at no cost. Peary departed New York harbor on 6 July 1908 and dispatched letters on his progress from Newfoundland and Labrador. Then he disappeared.
Cook Makes a Claim.
On 1 September 1909 the world was inspired to learn that Dr. Frederick A. Cook of Brooklyn, a surgeon on two previous Peary expeditions, had reached the North Pole on 21 April 1909. He claimed to have buried an...
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The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
490 City Blocks Ruined.
On 18 April 1906 a major earthquake shook the city by the bay, and by the following day a massive fire had consumed the remaining downtown structures. The entire business district was destroyed; an estimated 700 people had died, including 270 inmates of an insane asylum; and 300,000 were left homeless. Estimates of the property damage reached $500 million.
The Local Papers Do Not Miss a Day.
The buildings housing the city's newspapers, the Examiner, the Call, and the Chronicle, all burned. At the Chronicle twenty linotype machines crashed several stories through the flames to the basement. The three papers joined forces the first day after the disaster and printed a combined edition across the bay in Oakland called the California Chronicle-Examiner. Manufacturers speedily shipped new presses out. William Randolph Hearst, who owned the Examiner, commandeered a press just shipped to a Salt Lake City paper by doubling its price. He also added a dollar a week to the salary of every employee on the paper to help with their added expenses.
Creative National Coverage.
While some reporters rushed to the scene (Annie Laurie in Denver received a one-word telegram from Hearst: "GO."), others had to cover the story from a...
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Sunday Color Comics
Art, Commerce, and the Color Press.
Between 1895 and 1905 the comic strip coalesced as a new art form and newspaper feature. The gradual improvement of color presses throughout the 1890s led publishers, in their frantic circulation wars, to introduce color supplements to their Sunday papers. Only the doggedly serious New York Times refrained from adding comics. In order to meet the demand from readers, most papers reprinted art from humor magazines such as Puck and Life. Some political cartoonists began to draw weekly features, but most of the strip artists came to the new form directly.
Richard Felton Outcault began his career doing technical drawings for Thomas Edison. In 1896 Outcault began drawing a weekly feature for Pulitzer's Sunday World titled Hogans Alley. In choosing the subject of a poor urban neighborhood, Outcault followed the literary realists and progressive reformers of the day. His drawings were funny, but they also aimed to stir the reader's conscience. Hogans Alley was not a comic strip but a packed single frame. One character, a jug-eared toddler in a stained nightdress, captured the public's imagination.
The Yellow Kid.
The color yellow had given press operators a big headache because it took too...
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Theodore Roosevelt Sues Joseph Pulitzer for Libel
Questions over the Panama Canal.
On 4 November 1903 a small revolution established the state of Panama, formerly part of the nation of Colombia. Two United States warships, the Nashville and the Dixie, sailed offshore to deter interference by the Colombian military. The new state of Panama was far more receptive than Colombia had been to American plans to complete the long-stalled Panama Canal, a project begun by a French syndicate and now secretly backed by wealthy American investors. President Roosevelt privately expressed reservations over the way the project's future had been secured,
Image Pop-UpA political cartoon from the Cleveland Plain Dealer ridicules the feud between President Roosevelt and Joseph Pulitzer, whom the President had sued for libel.
Threat of Political Blackmail.
Shortly before the 1908 election, Panamanians disgruntled over their small share of the profits going to the...
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The Wireless Telegraph
Marconi Sends an S.
By the turn of the century, reporters had long made use of telegraph wires to transmit news to their papers. Innovations in the development of "wireless telegraphy," or radio, as it came to be known, proceeded rapidly in the first decade of the twentieth century. Wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi announced on 15 December 1901 that he had transmitted the letter S across two thousand miles from Cornwall in England to Newfoundland, Canada. While the press lionized Marconi as a heroic, humble, and tireless genius, his competitors pointed out that this feat was unverifiable. Only Marconi and his assistants had witnessed it.
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Cahan, Abraham 1860-1951
EDITOR AND NOVELIST
An Exiled Russian Radical.
Born in Lithuania, Abraham Cahan immigrated to New York in 1882 to escape persecution for his socialist views. A fiery speaker, he helped to organize the first Jewish tailors' union on the Lower East Side in 1884. Cahan dominated the intellectual and public life of the rapidly expanding Jewish immigrant community on the Lower East Side of New York City from 1900 to 1920 as editor of the Jewish Daily Forward. He was brilliant, with a grim temperament, and could be quite spiteful. He both symbolized and shaped the power of the immigrant press at a time when 20 percent of the nation's population was foreign born.
The Yiddish-language daily the Jewish Daily Forward was founded on 22 April 1897 with Cahan as editor. He soon resigned over conflicts with its publishers about who wielded ultimate control of the paper. The publishers wanted the paper to be an outlet for socialism, while Cahan would have patterned it...
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Dix, Dorothy 1861-1951
"Mother Confessor to Millions."
Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer started her column "Dorothy Dix Talks" in New Orleans in 1896. It lasted until her death in 1951, making her probably the best-known woman writer of her era. William Randolph Hearst lured her from New Orleans to his New York Journal at the turn of the century, and with his syndication operations, her readership eventually reached some sixty million throughout the world.
Poor in the New South.
Elizabeth Meriwether grew up in a poor but cultivated Tennessee family after the Civil War. When she was twenty-one, she married her stepmother's brother, a charming but emotionally unstable man who could not hold a job. The marriage was unhappy, but they never divorced. Faced with the need to support her family, she began to work as a freelance writer. Eliza Nicholson, publisher of the New Orleans Picayune, recognized the thirty-three-year-old's abilities and hired her as a "Gal Friday" to the paper's sharp editor, Maj. Nathaniel Burbank. She graduated from the obituaries and drudge stories of the cub...
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Hearst, William Randolph 1863-1951
EDITOR, PUBLISHER, POLITICIAN, COLLECTOR
Born to a family fortune made in mining, William Randolph Hearst built one of the largest communications empires in U.S. history. His assets, estimated at between $200 million and $400 million, included sixteen daily newspapers with a combined circulation of more than five million, the International News Service, King Features, the American Weekly Sunday supplement, Cosmopolitan, Harpers Bazaar, and Good Housekeeping. He also amassed one of the finest private art and antique collections in the world.
A Rich Kid's Diversion Turns to Serious Business.
Young Hearst was thrown out of Harvard University in his junior year for a series of practical jokes. He distributed chamber pots to faculty members with their names inserted on the bottoms and tethered a jackass in the home of one professor, with a note that read, "Now there are two of you." He then went to work at Joseph Pulitzer's World. He admired both its sensationalism and its idealism. His father, who served as a U.S. senator from California, had purchased the San...
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Pulitzer, Joseph 1847-1911
NEWSPAPER EDITOR AND PUBLISHER
Born in Hungary in 1847, Joseph Pulitzer immigrated to Boston to serve in the Union army during the Civil War. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 1867, he worked for various German newspapers and became involved in Republican Party politics, campaigning for New York Tribune publisher Horace Greeley for president in 1872. But he soon became disenchanted with politics and the party. He began his newspaper empire with the St. Louis Staats-Zeitung and the Post and Dispatch in the 1870s, serving as publisher, editor, and business manager. In 1883 he bought the New York World from tycoon Jay Gould. The World became the strongest voice of the Democratic Party in the United States, crusading for the "people" against the powerful "interests," but Pulitzer did not always conform to party policies.
The Mastermind of the Modern Newspaper.
Pulitzer created the New Journalism that dominated his age, establishing the model for the big-city daily in the twentieth century. His papers covered crime, sponsored and publicized stunts by its own staff, ran sensational features and more pictures than any other paper, and carried on crusades against corruption in government and business. Pulitzer conceived of news as stories that entertained the ordinary person...
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Steffens, Lincoln 1866-1936
A Privileged Boyhood.
When they had a son the year after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Lincoln Steffens's parents named their child in honor of the fallen leader. Steffens grew up in Sacramento with all the privileges of wealth. He loved horse-back riding, literature, and writing and attended the University of California, Berkeley. Afterward he went to Germany to study philosophy and then to Paris to study psychology. When he arrived home with a new wife, he found that his father expected him to make his own living immediately. He secured a job covering Wall Street for the New York Evening Post.
Business and Politics Mix.
Covering the financial community, Steffens observed the strong and corrupt connections between powerful business interests and government at every level. He admired the men who, having been drawn into a corrupt system, used their knowledge to help clean it up. His greatest scorn was reserved for alleged reformers who lacked both the information and the character to follow through on their promises. Covering police headquarters, he got a first-hand education in the workings of the Democratic Tammany Hall political machine and the close ties that bound Tammany, the police, and criminal syndicates. At police headquarters he also met the legendary reporter Jacob Riis...
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Tarbell, Ida 1857-1944
Born in an Oil Boom.
Ida Tar-bell was raised in northwest Penn-sylvania at a time when the discovery of oil was transforming the region into an industrial hub. While many people made for-tunes, including her father (who invented a storage system for oil), Ida remembered the terrible accidents, explosions, and fires that claimed many lives and the environmental devastation drilling caused. With her family's new wealth came access to books and magazines, and Ida grew up reading the popular magazines of the day. The only woman in her class at Allegheny College, she trained for a teaching career but soon grew bored with it. In 1882 she took a job with a monthly magazine The Chautauquan.
From Social Issues to Biography.
She wrote on the great reform movements of the 1880s and 1890s: temperance, antimonopoly crusades, housing reform, the eight-hour workday, and other labor issues connected with the Knights of Labor. Her interest in women's roles in social change led her to research a biography of Madame Ro-land...
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Wells-Barnett, Ida B. 1862-1931
JOURNALIST FOR RACIAL JUSTICE
When a yellow fever epidemic claimed the lives of sixteen-year-old Ida Wells's parents, she determined to keep her brothers and sisters together. She taught in a one-room school near Holly Springs, Mississippi. She soon moved the family to Memphis, in order to take a teacher's examination and find a better job. Riding the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to her job, she refused to sit in the smoky, dingy car reserved for African Americans and filed suit against the railroad for not providing "separate but equal" accommodations. Wells won her case and $500 in damages, but in 1887 the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the decision. As a teacher, she began to write for the black church weekly Living Way under the pseudonym "Iola" and soon realized that she loved journalism.
A Crusader for Equality.
Encouraged by the eminent Frederick Douglass, in 1889 Wells accepted the editorship of a small Memphis paper that she renamed Free Speech. She attacked the inferior condition of black schools, and in 1892 her articles about the lynching of three grocery-store operators who had been kidnapped from the city jail brought trouble from Memphis whites. While she was on a lecture tour in the East, a mob destroyed the Free Speech offices.
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White, William Allen 1868-1944
EDITOR AND PROPRIETOR, EMPORIA GAZETTE
What's the Matter with Kansas?
As a young reporter, William Allen White saw both sides of the radical populism that swept his home state of Kansas. He understood the plight of the poor farmer and workingman but disdained the abilities and the motivations of the movement's leaders. In 1895 at the age of twenty-five, after working as a reporter in larger cities, he bought his hometown paper, the Emporia Gazette. He used it to promote the town's fortunes, attract business, and herald the reform wing of the Republican Party. In 1896 he published a scathing editorial against the populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan titled "What's the Matter with Kansas?" This editorial brought him national attention and invitations to write for the Saturday Evening Post and McClure's. It also was credited with helping to secure victory for William McKinley over Bryan.
Common Sense and Respectability.
The circulation of the Gazette never exceeded eight thousand, but White's talent brought him international recognition. He was a lifelong...
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People in the News
Robert S. Abbott, the child of former slaves, founded the Chicago Defender on a shoestring budget in 1905. Its masthead carried the motto "American race prejudice must be destroyed!"
In his Chicago Record column "Stories of the Streets and of the Town," distinctively midwestern humorist and fablist George Ade immortalized the vernacular in such pieces as "The Fable of the Good Fairy of the Eighth Ward and the Dollar Excursion of the Steam Fitters."
Known as the "dean of American magazine editors," Henry Mills Alden reigned at Harper's from 1869 to 1919. He gave special attention to American writers and to burgeoning social problems, and Harper's became the most widely circulated periodical in the country.
One of the most famous muckrakers, Ray Stannard Baker wrote about industry and labor for McClure's, where he was associate editor from 1899 to 1905. His groundbreaking article "The Right to Work" appeared in its January 1903 issue.
In 1901 Charles Walker Barron bought the Dow-Jones Company from founder Charles Dow and thus became the publisher of the Wall Street Journal. He revolutionized economic reporting by moving beyond simple figures and making it accessible to the general reader. He campaigned against irresponsible speculation and for...
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Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 70, editor of various national magazines, including the Atlantic, who introduced literary realism to adolescent fiction, 19 March 1907.
Henry Brown Blackwell, 84, editor, with his wife Lucy Swope, of the national woman's suffrage paper, the Woman's Journal, 7 September 1909.
Henry Chadwick, 83, the first baseball writer for The New York Times and the Brooklyn Eagle, 20 April 1908.
Francis Pharcellus Church, 66, editor of the Galaxy (1870-1895), a New York answer to the Atlantic. He also wrote editorials for the New York Sun, including one with the immortal line, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," 11 April 1906.
Peter Collier, 59, founder in 1888 of the weekly that bore his name. In 1895 he changed its emphasis from fiction to public affairs, 1909.
Stephen Crane, 28, war correspondent, novelist and poet, 5 June 1900.
Jane Cunningham Croly (Jennie June), 72, the first woman to write a daily newspaper feature and the first to syndicate one; the wife of newspaperman David Croly and mother of New Republic editor Herbert Croly, 23 December 1901.
Amos J. Cummings, 60, managing editor of the New York Sun who served...
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George W. Alger, "The Literature of Exposure," Atlantic Monthly, 96 (August 1905): 210-213;
Alger, "Sensational Journalism and the Law," Atlantic Monthly, 91 (February 1903): 145-151;
Edith Baker Brown, "A Plea for Literary Journalism," Harpers Weekly, 46 (25 October 1902): 1558;
O. F. Byxbee, Establishing a Newspaper (Chicago: Inland Printers, 1901);
F. M. Colby, "Attacking the Newspapers," Bookman, 15 (August 1902): 534-536;
Lydia Kingsmill Commander, "The Significance of Yellow Journalism," Arena, 34 (August 1905): 151;
Charles B. Connolly, "Ethics of Modern Journalism," Catholic World, 75 (July 1902): 453-462;
Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (New York: Macmillan, 1909);
Finley Peter Dunne, "Mr. Dooley on an Editor's Duties," Harpers Weekly, 45 (3 August 1901): 770;
Dunne, "Mr. Dooley on the Magazines," American Magazine, 68 (October 1909): 539-542 ;
Dunne, "Mr. Dooley on the Power of the Press," American Magazine, 62 (October 1906): 607;
A. E. Fletcher, "The Ideal Newspaper," Independent, 52 (29 March 1900): 771-774;
Charles E. Grinnell,...
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Important Events in the Media, 1900–1909
- Lincoln Steffens joins McClure's as managing editor.
- Arthur Brisbane, editor, launches William Randolph Hearst's Chicago American newspaper.
- Herbert Croly founds the Architectural Record.
- Frank Munsey changes title of Puritan Magazine to Junior Munsey.
- The first volume of Who's Who in America is published.
- McClure Phillips, book publisher, is founded.
- C. M. Clark, the only turn-of-the-century Boston publishing house owned by a woman, is launched.
- The Supreme Court of Illinois rules that the Associated Press wire service is a public utility and must not discriminate among subscribers. The AP declares bankruptcy in Illinois and reincorporates in New York.
- In November, Walter Hines Page founds the public-affairs monthly World's Work to promote business and good labor relations.
- House and Garden is founded.
- Appeal to Reason, a socialist paper, is founded by J. A. Wayland in Girard, Kansas.
- Irvin S. Cobb becomes editor of the Paducah (Ky.) News-Democrat.
- Upton Sinclair founds Sinclair...
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