|Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911)|
Pulitzer was born on April 10, 1847 in Makó, Hungary. His father
was a wealthy grain merchant in Budapest, Hungary, where Joseph went through
his primary schooling through various local private schools and tutors.
With a hunger for adventure and fame, he attempted to join the Austrian
army at age seventeen, and was promptly rejected due to his extremely weak
eyesight and his poor health. He also attempted to join up with Napoleon's
Foreign Legion to serve in Mexico and with the British Army for service
in India. He was rejected from both outfits for the same reasons. However,
when he was travelling in Hamburg, Germany, he came across a bounty recruiter
for the United States Union Army. By a certain procedure permitted under
the American Civil War draft system (where one could contract to substitute
for a draftee) he enlisted, and served in the Lincoln Calvary from 1864-1865
At the conclusion of the American Civil War, Pulitzer worked his way to St. Louis, Missouri. He traveled there mainly because of its large German population (he spoke German and French fluently, but only broken English). He held various odd jobs to get by and spent much of his time in the local Mercantile Library, where, peculiarly enough, he received his first significant career opportunity. While in the chess room there, he caught the attention of the editor of a local German-language newspaper editor, and after a brief conversation, Pulitzer landed a journalism job for the Westliche Post.
By 1872 (four years later), he had developed a reputation for being a hard-working, enterprising reporter, and, with the owners nearly bankrupt, he was offered a controlling interest in the newspaper, which he later sold back to the original owners, making a $30,000 profit. In 1878, he married a woman named Kate Davis. Later in that year, through a series of various ongoing business deals and a merger, he became the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This new newspaper, which Pulitzer often used with a very political and corruption-exposing edge, gained a great amount of success under his leadership, and earned him a small fortune in the years that followed.
In 1883, although his health was deteriorating, he purchased the financially insecure New York World for $346,000 (while retaining control over the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and made it his main focus. Through the use of sensationalism and other specific marketing strategies that he had used in his previous endeavor, Pulitzer was able to drastically improve the circulation rate of the newspaper. In just a decade, he was able to increase the subscription rate of The World, in all it's editions, from an original rate of 15,000 subscribers to over 600,000, making it the largest circulating newspaper in the country.
However, due to escalating health problems, he withdrew from the editorship of the newspaper at the age of 43. Although he traveled very frequently, Pulitzer worked hard to maintain the closest of editorial direction and management with his newspapers, using a code of sorts to ensure secrecy in communication. Between the years of 1896 and 1898, a circulation war of sorts was waged between his company and William Randolph Hearst's. After the end of the Spanish-American War, however, he withdrew from the practice of what had become known as yellow journalism, and focused more on waging fantastic and often beneficial campaigns against corruption in government and businesses.
Joseph Pulitzer died aboard his yacht in the harbor of Charleston, North Carolina on October 29, 1911. One year after his death, however, the Columbia School of Journalism was founded and merely six years later, the first Pulitzer prizes were awarded for brilliance and quality in journalism and other fields involved in news reporting.
Modernly, some historians blame Pulitzer for starting the practice of yellow journalism and plunging the United States into a "Dark Age" of journalism. Yet others assert that he only leveraged the factors that were already present towards his advantage, and merely set these factors into motion. Regardless, Joseph Pulitzer will go down in history for being one of the most influential figures in the history of journalism.