* The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst. Kenneth Whyte. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009. 546 pp. $30 hbk. $17.95 pbk.
Why yet another biography (and a partial one at that) of the long-dead press titan? you ask. Surely we have enough already, for what could possibly be new or different in this one?
Tb begin with, this long biography focuses entirely upon a very short but crucial period- 1895-1898, when Hearst moved from San Francisco to the news cauldron of New York City to compete fiercely with Joseph Pulitzer in what has come to be pejoratively known as newspapers' period of "yellow" journalism. For another, Kenneth Whyte's view is quite different from the accepted account, which dates to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane of 1941, WA. Swanberg's best selling Citizen Hearst (Scribners, 1961) published two decades later, and several more recent and wellreceived biographies.
Whyte's Hearst is seen to play a far more positive role in journalism, that of a genuine innovator with concern for the problems of the common man, something he very clearly was not. Editor of Maclean's, Canada's weekly current affairs magazine, and founding editor of the National Post, Canada's daily, Whyte comes to his subject with an extensive practical journalism background that earlier students of Hearst lacked. He knows the process and problems of trying to build and retain a readership and the advertisers needed to serve and sell to it. And he concludes here, after a five-year examination, that Hearst has been badly treated by historians and thus by posterity.
What is amazing is how fast Hearst established himself. Starting with the San Francisco Examiner, he learned the ropes, as Whyte relates. But the 1895 shift to New York City, the country's premier news market, dominated by Pulitzer's World, was a gutsy move, even for someone with …