William Randolph Hearst, 1863-1951: He Created What Was Once the Nation's Largest Newspaper Group
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Welcome to the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today, Steve Ember and Rich Kleinfeldt tell about American publisher William Randolph Hearst. Mr. Hearst created what was once the nation's largest newspaper organization. He bought newspapers in many areas of the United States. He spent millions of dollars to gain readers in sometimes shocking ways. He forever changed the American newspaper business.
William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco in eighteen sixty-three. He was the only child of George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. His father became rich by developing mines. His mother was a philanthropist who gave her time and money to help others.
William Randolph Hearst had everything he wanted as a child. But, he was a rebel. In eighteen eighty-five, he was expelled from Harvard, one of the best universities in America, for playing a joke on a professor.
George Hearst wanted his son to take control of developing the mines or the land he owned. But William had other desires. He became interested in newspapers while at Harvard. He started working as a reporter for the New York World newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer.
George Hearst owned the San Francisco Examiner newspaper. But he was more interested in politics than in newspaper publishing. In eighteen eighty-seven, George Hearst became a United States senator. He gave control of the newspaper to his son William who was twenty-three.
William Randolph Hearst wanted to create a newspaper that people would talk about. He worked long hours and put high energy into his newspaper. He employed some of the best reporters and writers he could find. And, he paid them the highest wages. Mr. Hearst improved the appearance of his newspaper and bought modern equipment. He also improved relations with advertisers. Advertisers pay to have their products shown in newspapers to increase sales. Newspapers profit from the money paid by advertisers.
News stories in the San Francisco Examiner were written with force, energy and excitement. Some stories were written to shock readers and affect them emotionally. However, the stories were simple and easy to read.
Mr. Hearst believed in doing whatever it took to get readers. His newspaper policy was: make the news complete; print all the news; shorten it if necessary, but get it in. That became the policy in newsrooms across America.
By eighteen ninety-one, the San Francisco Examiner had three times more readers and advertisers than when Mr. Hearst took control of the newspaper. In less than five years, William Randolph Hearst made the new San Francisco Examiner a huge success.
Mr. Hearst repeated his success in New York City. He borrowed five million dollars from his mother to purchase a second newspaper, the New York Journal. In his first two months, he increased the number of copies sold from thirty thousand to one hundred thousand.
Joseph Pulitzer was a very successful publisher in New York. Mr. Hearst shared Mr. Pulitzer's excitement and energy about the newspaper business.
During the eighteen nineties, Mr. Hearst and Mr. Pulitzer began a fierce newspaper war. Mr. Hearst hired many reporters from Mr. Pulitzer's New York World newspaper. He paid them more than two times as much as they had been earning. He also reduced the price of his newspaper below Mr. Pulitzer's.
Mr. Hearst won readers by making the news more exciting and entertaining. He created a kind of newspaper reporting known today as "yellow journalism." News events were made to seem greater than they really were. His methods went beyond what would be accepted today in major newspapers. Critics said his newspapers were only for entertainment. Yet many other newspapers tried to copy his methods.
Mr. Hearst attacked big businesses and dishonest politicians in his newspapers. There were also reports about sex, murder and other crimes. His newspapers became a voice for working people and the poor. His influence grew across the nation through his newspapers and the magazines he bought or began.
Many experts say Mr. Hearst's reporting methods and his battle with Mr. Pulitzer for readers led to the Spanish-American War. In eighteen ninety-eight, the United States fought Spain to help the people of Cuba gain independence from Spain.
Mr. Hearst's newspapers had accused Spain of sinking the American battleship Maine and killing two hundred fifty sailors. This increased public support for the war. However, it still is not known how the ship sank.
The war greatly increased readers for the Hearst publications. Mr. Hearst's battle with competitors widened after the war. Some newspapers blamed him when President William McKinley was murdered in nineteen-oh-one. The assassination happened after one of the Hearst newspapers seemed to suggest killing Mr. McKinley.
In the early nineteen hundreds, William Randolph Hearst became deeply involved in politics. He represented New York in the United States House of Representatives from nineteen-oh-three to nineteen-oh-seven. In nineteen-oh-four, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president. He also failed in his campaigns to become governor of New York or mayor of New York City.
Mr. Hearst had hoped to change the way things were being done in New York City. He hoped to defeat dishonest New York City politicians who controlled the city at the time.
Mr. Hearst also campaigned against big business. He supported labor unions and government ownership of public utilities, railroads, and other big companies. And, he sought political reform and the return of economic competition in the country.
Mr. Hearst's opponents accused him of being disloyal to his country because of his support for Germany during the first years of World War One. He was opposed to American involvement in the war.
Mr. Hearst was sharply criticized for his political ideas. Many people refused to deal with him. Some hated him. His newspapers were banned in many communities.
Mr. Hearst strongly supported Democrat Franklin Roosevelt for president in nineteen thirty-two. Then he became increasingly conservative and turned against President Roosevelt. He opposed American involvement in World War Two. He also led a fierce campaign against communism during the nineteen thirties.
Through the years, Mr. Hearst continued to buy newspapers and magazines across the country and around the world. He also controlled a number of radio and television stations and a movie company.
William Randolph Hearst and his wife Millicent were married in nineteen-oh-three. They had five sons. She remained married to him until her death. However, Mr. Hearst spent almost thirty years of his life with Hollywood actress Marion Davies in San Simeon, California. They met in nineteen seventeen and later lived together at San Simeon. He started a movie company to produce movies for her. Their relationship shocked the nation.
Mr. Hearst spent thirty years and thirty million dollars to build a huge home at San Simeon. It has one hundred sixty-five rooms. Mr. Hearst and Marion Davies entertained many famous people there. He continually bought costly art objects to fill it.
By nineteen thirty-seven, Mr. Hearst's heavy spending threatened to ruin his publishing organization. He was forced to sell much of his property and many art objects. The economic recovery after World War Two saved what was left of his media organization.
When William Randolph Hearst died in nineteen fifty-one, he still owned what was then the largest newspaper company in America. Today, the Hearst Corporation includes more than one hundred thirty separate businesses. They include newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and business media companies. The communications business William Randolph Hearst began continues to influence and inform people around the world.
This Special English program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was produced by Paul Thompson. Your narrators were Steve Ember and Rich Kleinfeldt. I'm Faith Lapidus. Listen again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.