Publication information
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Source: Inland Printer
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Yellow Journalism”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 28
Issue number: 1
Pagination: 88-89

“Yellow Journalism.” Inland Printer Oct. 1901 v28n1: pp. 88-89.
full text
yellow journalism; anarchism (causes).
Named persons
Cesare Borgia; Claude Duval; Isaiah; William McKinley; Minerva; Paul; Alexander Pope.


Yellow Journalism

“LET all things be done decently, and in order.” There is no occasion for alarm, worthy reader; the words of St. Paul may be used to “point a moral” as well as suggest heads for a sermon. Yellow journalism, in the modern form, did not exist when Paul was writing his letters to the faithful in Corinth, else the already heavy labors of the saint would have been sensibly increased, yet he had to deal with human passions and evil tendencies, which often enough burst into flames in the great furnace of depravity, though the latter was not provided with a hot-blast attachment in the form of an up-to-date, sensational, décolleté, American newspaper.
     There is a time, a place and a proper method for doing all things, as a still older biblical authority asserts. The fashions, follies, frailties and crimes of mankind must sometimes be held up to public view, but it should be done decently, carefully, prudently, that the results may be good rather than evil. The modern journalist wields a power more potent than that exercised by the prophets of old, and his caution and sense of propriety and responsibility should be correspondingly developed. He should have a present sense of the “eternal fitness of things,” should cultivate order and decency. Perhaps it is not going too far to say that he should possess a conscience.
     Yellow journalism did not, in feeble imitation of Minerva, spring, completely formed and fully grown, from the brain of the evil one; its production was a development. Before spoken words were given immortality, through the introduction of written forms, they had already begun to pander to the vague desire for entertainment, as opposed to a yearning for knowledge; were used to please idle curiosity, wonder, the love of the marvelous, superstition, scandal, envy, lust—all the lower and baser passions which the wisdom of God implanted in the breast of man. The lying words of the fanged and yellow-skinned serpent, “Ye shall become as gods,” would have made an excellent head-line for a contemporaneous yellow newspaper.
     Yellow journalism, in a nascent form, long enough preceded the invention of printing. It is seen in the erotic verses of ancient poets, in sybaritic records, in false and fulsome epitaphs graven on the tombs of royalty, in boastful, exaggerated accounts of cruel conquests, in the pages, even, of historical writings that we have been taught to revere. We, in the boasted self-sufficiency of our power, are wont to speculate how the ancients managed to exist without railways, automobiles and the art of distillation; we should rather marvel how they managed to develop such a liberal supply of licentiousness, dishonesty, crime and general immorality, without the aid of yellow journalism as it exists today in the leading cities of America. How the Yellow Citizen would have enlivened society in those “Twin Cities of the Plain,” Sodom and Gomorrah! How the Queen of Assyria would have doted on the pictures in the Naked Truth! What a zest to pleasure the Tinted Times would have been in the groves of Antioch! With what pleasurable emotions Cesare Borgia would have gloated over accounts of murder and outrage as printed daily in scores of so-called modern newspapers!
     It is in no sense an exaggeration to declare that, of all the evil influences now at work in our broad land, none exerts a more corrupting and debasing effect upon society, without regard to age or sex, than the sensational newspapers, to which, in doubtful compliment to the trashy novels of a generation ago, the phrase “yellow journals” is now generally applied. There is no intelligent, self-respecting man or woman but knows that this is true, in a general way, yet few appreciate the evil already accomplished and the threatening prospects for the future.
     “Man is prone to evil as the sparks fly upward”—to adopt again the Scripture-quoting habit into which some of our yellow contemporaries “relapse” when there is a dearth of horrid murders and toothsome scandals, and an opportunity for administering an antidote thus presents itself. Reversing the suggestion of Isaiah, we are inclined to reject the good and choose the evil. Knowing this, those who pander to evil impulses and longings by presenting in an attractive, taking form, detailed accounts of hideous, unnatural crimes and other corrupt doings of degenerate men and women, should be made to answer for the same on earth as they surely will above—or rather, below.
     It is to these accounts that the majority of those who habitually read your genuine yellow newspaper first turn and over which longest linger. To this charge, which is not made here for the first time, the “yellow” editor replies that crime, when recounted in a realistic way, presents an awful object-lesson from which the reader may be expected to recoil in disgust, turning with increased ardor to the pursuit of virtue. Within certain limits this is doubtless true, yet custom dulls our sensibilities, acquaintance with crime and evil-doing in general gives us new, seemingly just, but really false views of society and our relations to it. In the oft-quoted words of Pope:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

     Our yellow journalists point triumphantly to their long circulation lists as at once justifying their policy and appealing to advertisers. As well, almost, might the devil jubilate over the number of his adherents as showing the moral excellence of his work. Not only the depraved, but the thoughtless throng that “eddy round and round,” and those upon whom the routine duties, cares and pleasures of a monotonous daily life are beginning to pall, turn to that which promises excitement because appealing to passion and prejudice, and eagerly devour highly colored, suggestively illustrated accounts of missteps, misdoings and crimes, which prove all the more attractive when the principals are persons of wealth, occupying exalted positions in society.
     But the intelligent advertiser considers, not alone the number, but the character of the persons who read a paper, the solicitor of which appears with contract blanks. Compare two newspapers published in any one of our large cities; one a yellow journal, the other clean, reliable, conscientious. Which has the larger amount of really respectable, valuable advertising? Which leads in lines which appeal to the low and vulgar? This test, which is easily applied, will throw a flood of light on the way in which men of discernment and affairs regard, for purposes of advertising, the circulation of a daily paper that appeals chiefly to sensation-loving, morbid-minded people.
     Not only does our modern yellow journalism cater to low tastes and tend to convert into rakes and criminals the children of honest parents, but it gives false ideas of life and leads to no end of failures, where, otherwise, signal success might have been scored. The young clerk reads an escapade of one [88][89] who has embezzled his employer’s money and cut, for a time, quite a figure in the world. The fine clothes and jewelry he wore, the excellent dinners he indulged in, the wild orgies which he led, the fair women he captivated—these and other details artfully illustrated by excellent delineators, inflame the reader’s mind, corrupt his heart and cause similar plans to originate in his mind. Too frequently he forgets the sad ending of the brilliant wrong-doer, or, more often, ascribes his detection and downfall to a lack of sense and sagacity, which he himself possesses, and enters upon a course of crime.
     But these minute details of wrong-doing, particularly when accompanied with portraits and illustrations depicting the offender, actually encourage his class to pursue an evil course. Vanity is the strongest characteristic of the true criminal, “born or taught,” and the world-wide notoriety he achieves atones for the loss of his liberty—his life, even. How the bravado of Claude Duval would have increased if, from his coign of vantage on the scaffold in front of Newgate, he could have looked down upon a score of reporters taking notes, and as many artists making sketches for warm and realistic articles descriptive of his execution in numerous yellow journals. How the influence of his “taking off” would have multiplied among those who emulated his example and thirsted for his earthly immortality.
     While keeping carefully within the limits of the criminal law, many of our yellow journals produce pictures of a decidedly demoralizing character, well calculated to corrupt the young and inexperienced. That they simply “hold the mirror up to nature” is no manner of excuse. At the best human nature is frail, and the conscientious publisher will bear that truth well in mind, printing nothing that may cause his weaker and less well-informed and experienced brother or sister to offend.
     Such journals offend in another and almost equally culpable way. They make savage, frequently venomous attacks upon the rich, respectable and influential members of society, thus arousing feelings of envy and animosity on the part of the poor and humble. This raising of ill-feeling between classes is one of the most dangerous tendencies of our sensational times, for discontent is easier aroused than allayed. The rich, as well as the poor, possess their faults and follies. These should be condemned and, as far as possible, corrected, but the line of demarcation should be the law and the practice of virtue, which are the true touchstones of human conduct, not the possession or absence of wealth and social position, which may, or may not, be an indication of merit.
     Anarchy, which has so recently and signally reared its horrid head in our country, is, indeed, a foreign product, but yellow journalism is doing much to render it indigenous to our soil. No one charges that our sensational newspapers advocate anarchy, but the application of opprobrious names to the Chief Magistrate of the nation and the publication of scandalous cartoons, portraying him in mean positions of servility to what they are pleased to term “organized wealth,” can not but have produced upon overheated, morbid, degenerate minds an effect of encouragement, a feeling that a considerable portion of the American people, in patronizing such journals, showed their marked disapproval of the course the President was pursuing.
     The yellow journalists of America are not, Ephraim-like, unalterably joined to their idol, but have been misled, dazzled by what seemed brilliant success. The tragic death of Mr. McKinley is already bearing fruit; objectionable cartoons have disappeared and publishers have awakened to a knowledge of the fact that a great man has been stricken down, to the irreparable loss of all loyal Americans. It has not been found necessary to mob their offices; they have arisen to the emergency—have taken a hint, without waiting to be thrown down stairs [sic].
     The freedom of the press is one of the boasts and bulwarks of our free land, and it must be preserved inviolate. But yellow journalism must be checked, controlled within the limits of decency and propriety. How is this to be accomplished? By the force of public opinion! Yielding to insidious attractions, thousands, millions of good people have accustomed themselves to yellow journals, until an entirely proper, high-grade newspaper has lost its flavor, become “flat, stale and unprofitable” to their overheated imaginations. Like the prodigal son, such persons will “come to themselves,” and the publishers in question, noting the change of sentiment, will adapt themselves and their publications thereto.
     In the meantime, all Americans who love virtue, home and country should taboo yellow, or parti-colored newspapers, and thus hasten the day when journalism will be restored to its old-time respectable and influential position, and the objectionable variety wither and fall with the “sere and yellow leaf.”



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