Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press

Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press

Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press

Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press

Excerpt

James Gordon Bennett did more than anyone else to establish an im- portant American institution, the popular, cheap, mass circulation news- paper, and yet no good, scholarly study exists of Bennett and his paper, the New York Herald. This book is an attempt to fill that void.

The reasons for Bennett's neglect by historians seem clear. There are no surviving records for the Herald during Bennett's era, and his personal papers are sparse, most of them covering the period before the founding of the Herald in 1835. The evidence, then, must come primarily from a careful reading of the Herald itself. Reading over three decades of a daily that went from four closely printed pages to eight, and frequently twelve, with almost no graphic material to relieve the prose is tedious work; but sampling techniques, no matter how systematic, are no substitute. As a result, earlier studies of Bennett tend to be anecdotal and without much substance. Other evidence does exist, of course, especially the observations of Bennett's contemporaries about the man and his newspaper, and more indirectly, in the ways other newspapers borrowed the Herald's style and techniques in trying to emulate its success. The Herald, however, is the primary source for this study. Bennett did not invent the cheap popular newspaper, but his innovations, through a combination of sensationalism, technological improvements, and comprehensive news coverage, made the Herald the most successful and widely circulated newspaper in midnineteenth-centuryAmerica.

A subsequent generation of more famous yellow journalists, most notably Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, taking advantage of technical innovations in format (especially headlines) and in pictorial reproduction simply carried Bennett's techniques of sensationalism and popular appeal to new heights -- or depths. But Bennett was the pioneer.

This book is not a biography of Bennett. Except on rare occasions he was guarded about his personal life, and there are no papers extant to il-

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