Thursday, November 3, 2011

The World Newspaper and the Yellow Press

There is a Hawaii History Chat Group on Facebook.  The administrator and members like to publish old photos, stories and sometimes old political cartoons regarding moments in Hawaiian history.  I love to read the discussions that ensue from these often controversial postings.  As an outsider and a haole, I rarely comment, but I’ve learned a lot from these postings.  This cartoon was recently posted on the wall of that group.  I have posted at my blog about several similar cartoons here and here (click for the links) that also were about Queen Lil’uokalani and Hawaii.  I have several ancestors who spoke up against the press in support of the Queen, even though she had little media support in Boston. 

this cartoon was posted on the Hawaii History Chat Group
on Facebook by Arnold Hokulani Kinau,
from The World newspaper, New York, 14 December 1893
In researching this political cartoon, I learned about the newspaper that printed it in 1893.  The World was published by Joseph Pulitzer in New York City between 1860 and 1931.  It is interesting to read the history of the newspaper, since its publisher was so famous.  The World was most infamous for its “yellow journalism” and muckraking stories.  In one scandal in 1864 it forged papers from Abraham Lincoln, causing The World to be shut down for three days.   It seems fitting that such a scandal sheet would publish such an offensive political cartoon.

However, even though it pioneered “yellow journalism”, The World was well known for other reasons, often to its credit.  Nellie Bly, not only one of the first woman reporters, started some of the first investigative journalism.   The World pioneered four color printing.  It also published the first newspaper crossword puzzles in 1913.  Best of all, it ran a series of articles blasting the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.  Their articles at this time period often supported the underdog in the story, and were pro-immigration.

Joseph Pulitzer went on to become the founding benefactor of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.   As an immigrant from Hungary, he went on to become a member of the House of Representatives (1885 -1886) and died a millionaire.  The Pulitzer Prize was established posthumously after his death in 1911.  It is interesting to note that Pulitzer’s lasting legacies don’t reflect his personal record in publishing.
Joseph Pulitzer (1847 - 1911)
Yellow Journalism was well known for its scandalous headlines and sensational news stories with little or no research.  Today’s scandal sheets or tabloid newspapers sold in full color by the grocery store checkout are the legacy of these newspapers.   Political cartoons and newspapers from the past are useful for genealogical research, we can often gain a glimpse of life in the past that is not found in the usual genealogical sources.  Definitely not politically correct by today’s standards, this is the kind of journalism that was common in its own time.   From this we can start to see why our ancestors often held opinions we now consider incorrect, or why they voted, wrote or acted in ways that now puzzle us. We can read these examples of journalism from the past, but I still cannot believe how people fell for believing this stuff!   We haven’t come very far, have we?

For the truly curious:

Wikipedia article on The World  newspaper

A biography of Joseph Pulitzer- Pulitzer: A Life, by Brian Denis, 2001  see the online edition here

Another biography, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power, by James McGrath Morris, 2010

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. excuse me can you tell me thhe symbolism in this picture

  2. The cartoon is a very derogatory depiction of Queen Lili'uokalani as a "barbarian". It is more of a warning. In 1893 American imperialists wanted to take over Hawaii, and were convinced that a "colored" leader was inadequate.