James Gordon Bennett (1795–1872) was the founder and editor of the New York Herald, the city's most popular penny paper for much of the 19th century. Born in Scotland, Bennett moved first to Halifax in 1819, and then to Boston and Charleston before settling in New York. He worked on several newspapers before launching the New York Herald in 1835.
Bennett modeled the Herald after the New York Sun, which had published its first paper in 1833. Both papers sold for only a penny, depended on street-corner sales by newsboys rather than subscriptions, and covered stories that the established papers had deemed inappropriate. The Herald provided extensive coverage of the more sensational, entertaining, and sometimes sordid side of urban life, focusing particular attention on crime, scandal, sports, and political corruption.
Bennett's wildly popular paper was imitated throughout America. He also introduced structural innovations at the Herald that were equally influential among American newspapers. He assigned his reporters to specific beats, he opened the first American press bureau in Europe, and he was among the first editors to make extensive use of the telegraph to convey news information.
Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911) was the owner and editor of the New York World and the benefactor of the Pulitzer Prize.
Born in Hungary, he gained passage to America in 1864 by enlisting with a Union Army recruiter in Hamburg, Germany. After the Civil War, he worked on a German-language paper in St. Louis, became a United States citizen, passed the Missouri state bar, and won a seat in the Missouri state legislature. In 1878, he purchased the St. Louis Dispatch for $2,500. By 1883, he was netting more than $80,000 a year from the paper.
In 1883, Pulitzer acquired the New York World from Jay Gould. Formerly a religious penny paper, the World under Pulitzer grew into one of the city's most profitable secular penny papers. In 1896, he engaged in a fierce circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. The Spanish-American War provided Pulitzer and Hearst with the material for sensational headlines—both publishers printed distorted, exaggerated stories aimed at attracting new readers. The two editors were subsequently criticized for engaging in "yellow journalism."
After the war, Pulitzer tried to rebuild his paper's reputation as a serous source of news. He lost the circulation battle with Hearst, but by the time of Pulitzer's death, the World was more respected as a serious newspaper. In his will, Pulitzer bequeathed funds for the founding of a graduate school of journalism at Columbia University and the creation of a set of annual awards in journalism and literature subsequently named the Pulitzer Prize.
William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951) was the owner and editor of the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Journal, and the architect of one of America's largest newspaper chains.
He was the son of George Hearst, a mining tycoon who made his fortune in California, Nevada, Montana, and South Dakota. William Randolph Hearst attended Harvard but was expelled before graduating. At the age of 24, his father named him editor of the Examiner, launching his newspaper career. In 1895, William Randolph acquired the New York Morning Journal and transformed it into a more successful penny paper as the New York Journal.
Hearst modeled his papers after the successful New York penny papers of James Gordon Bennett and Joseph Pulitzer. Sensational coverage of scandal, crime, and political corruption contributed to large circulations in both San Francisco and New York. But Hearst also used his father's massive fortune to recruit talented reporters and innovative graphic artists. In 1898, his exaggerated coverage of the Spanish-American War provoked criticism and charges of "yellow journalism."
Building on his success in San Francisco and New York, Hearst began to acquire more newspapers after the turn of the century. By 1930, he'd built a chain of 28 newspapers including papers in Los Angles, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Seattle. While he benefited from continuing access to his father's wealth, Hearst applied the principles of consolidation emerging within the business community to improve production efficiencies within his newspaper empire.
Rupert Murdoch (1931–) is one of the most powerful media tycoons of the late-20th and early-21st centuries. He maintains vast holdings across the media spectrum—including television, radio, newspapers, movies, book publishing, magazines, and the internet. Born in Australia, Murdoch studied at Oxford and acquired his first newspaper, the Adelaide News, at the age of 22, after the death of his father. His major American media holdings include The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and the New York Post.
Murdoch has drawn upon the great media entrepreneurs of the past in building his empire. Like James Gordon Bennett, he's made the sensational coverage of crime, sex, and scandal a central part of his publishing and broadcast formula. Like William Randolph Hearst, he's achieved new production efficiencies through the construction of huge media conglomerates. And like both Bennett and Hearst, he's approached the changing media landscape, including the expansion of the internet, as an arena of opportunity.
His English tabloid, The Sun, maintains one of the most successful internet news sites in the United Kingdom. In 2005, Murdoch's News Corp. also purchased MySpace, which was at the time the largest social-networking website in the United States (though now, not so much). His 2007 purchase of The Wall Street Journal, one of the most tradition-bound newspapers in the United States, sparked a ton of conversation over the paper's loss of independence, the thought of a foreigner owning the paper, and the right-wing tilt it could potentially take.