The characteristics of yellow journalism
have been conspicuous since the attempt was made last Friday on
the life of the president. These characteristics have been made
conspicuous because every careful reader of newspapers has been
anxious to get at the truth in connection with that tragedy and
all matters bearing thereon or related thereto. Therefore newspaper
yellowism has been subjected to unusual analysis, and the result
has tended to expand and intensify the prejudice of intelligent
people against the yellowism of newspapering.
The weakness of yellowism has fastened
itself to some extent upon nearly all the metropolitan newspapers.
In Chicago, for instance, not one of the prominent newspapers is
free of it. The yellow tendency in Chicago is more noticeable since
Hearst established a branch office there. The other newspapers do
not go to the extreme of the American, but they show that they have
been inoculated and that the poison is working.
Yellowism in newspapering is an innovation
of recent time. It is a result, in considerable part, of cheapness.
The bone of contention among publishers is circulation, not for
the profit of circulation, but because business men [sic] place
orders for advertising on the basis of circulation. Therefore the
publishers reach out in every possible way for circulation. The
character of it is not a controlling consideration. The temptation
is constant to go after the multitude, and it must be confessed
that the multitude in the great cities is not of high average in
point of intelligence. The temptation is to arrest the eye and not
the judgment. Many of these yellow newspapers are made up, from
one end to the other of their news columns, on the unmixed theory
that few people bother themselves to read and fewer still to think.
Big type, setting forth sensational sentences, is employed on every
page. Pictures, imaginary in character, are pushed in everywhere,
labeled as representing this or that, when in truth they represent
nothing except glaring falsehood. The purpose is to excite the senses.
The plan is on the theory that a lie is more acceptable than the
truth, if the truth is tame and the lie exciting.
The shooting of McKinley was sensational
enough for yellowism, but instantly attempt was made to answer all
demands for details, views of every possible scene and person connected
in any way with the tragedy, the words of the victim, the bearing
of his wife—everything that anxiety could suggest and that morbidity
and idle and vulgar curiosity might respond to. To meet this demand
the imagination of writers and of artists was put to work. Consistency
in the stories told and of likeness in the pictures drawn, according
to the daily custom of yellowism, was wholly secondary. The “scoop”
fever runs riot in yellow newspaper offices. An exclusive story
is regarded as a triumph in journalism. The truth of the story is
not the question; but the question is whether it is sufficiently
plausible to be sensational. The story being untrue is many times
turned to advantage, for in a subsequent issue the falsity of it
can be disclosed with scathing animadversions on individuals said
to be responsible for such gross deception, together with some examination
of motive, and with such indignant protest over the general depravity
of people who would deceive the public in the advancement of purposes
of their own as practice in yellowism may render possible.
Men detailed to write stories for
yellow newspapers go about their work as a mechanic might proceed
to build a hog house. What sort of a house is wanted? The correspondent
will supply any sort of a story the management may suggest. The
management understands that there are different classes of readers.
There are those who want the direst possibilities. Therefore there
must be a story for these. There are those who want the brightest
and most hopeful side. Therefore there must be a story for these.
There are those who want to see the assassin. Therefore a picture
with his name underneath must be made for the next issue. There
are those who want to see the house in which the patient is struggling
for life. Therefore the house, or a house, is displayed. There are
those who want to see the family of the criminal. Therefore the
family is presented. Whatever anyone wants to read or wants to see
the yellow newspaper will present in the next issue. It is only
a question of knowing what is wanted.
There has been intense desire on the
part of all classes of people for the news in connection with the
frightful crime at Buffalo. In consequence of this desire there
has been unusual scrutiny of newspapers with a view of getting at
the truth. The result is that attention has been strongly directed
to the sin of yellow journalism.
The difficulty of reading newspapers
has increased with the most discriminating and intelligent people.
Even a yellow of the yellow can be read in a way to get at least
a suspicion of the real news. But the habit is growing with the
best people to question the reliability of newspaper reports. Yellowism
is so insidious that it creeps in everywhere. It is impossible for
the most carefully edited newspaper to trace the origin and thereby
weigh the value of all reports.
Yellowism should be choked off. It
is vitiating in its influence, corrupting in its tendency, and disgraceful
to a profession entitled to be reckoned as honorable.
People who think a Police Gazette
is the highest type of publication will continue to have opportunity
to place their subscriptions to their liking. People who think that
advertising in the vilest yellowism is the most profitable will
doubtless continue to have opportunity to waste their money. But
newspaper patrons who have different ideas ought to unite in making
the best possible market for real newspapers.