Yellow Journalism

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Aug 1 19:27:40 UTC 2013

I see that Elizabeth L. Banks is supposed to have written an article
titled "American 'Yellow Journalism'" in _Ninteenth Century_ in April
1898; perhaps she has something to say about the term.  She published
_Campaigns of Curiosity: Journalistic Adventures of an American Girl
in London_ in 1894, but GBooks does not hit upon "yellow journalism"
in  that edition (except in the Introduction and footnotes) or in the
1895 edition.


At 7/31/2013 07:33 PM, Baker, John wrote:
>It is generally accepted that the term "yellow journalism" came into
>use in or around early 1897 and derived its name from the Yellow
>Kid, a character in the comic strip Hogan's Alley in the New York
>World.  What, then, to make of this earlier variant on the
>phrase?  (Spoiler alert:  I'm going to argue that the Yellow Kid's
>role is overblown.)
>The earlier example is from the (Bangor, Maine) Whig & Courier, Oct.
>11, 1883, at 2, col. 1 (19th Century U.S. Newspapers).  The piece is
>too long to quote in full, so I quote selectively.
>To a paragraph of ours expressing amusement that the _Commercial_
>was cried on our streets Tuesday evening as having "A full account
>of the Ohio election," before anybody had the slightest idea of the
>result in that State, the Central street paper retorts by
>characterizing us as "the old dried up and disgruntled WHIG, "the
>muddled WHIG," etc., and says the people who bought the _Commercial_
>"did not expect to find a complete statement of the result before
>the votes were counted." Still, it was considered by its proprietors
>an "enterprising" thing to have their paper hawked about the street
>and imposed upon the public as containing a "full report" of an
>election, "before," as itself acknowledges, "the votes were counted."
>There was nothing "old," or "dried up" about that sort of smartness,
>and it simply suggests the wide difference that prevails between
>some people and some other folks in regard to what is proper and
>honest and decent in journalism.  A recent issue of the Boston
>_Post_ furnishes so apt an illustration and so authoritative a
>proclamation of the peculiar idea upon which the _Commercial_ is
>conducted, that we are tempted to quote some pertinent extracts.  In
>its editorial column, the _Post_, although a strongly Democratic
>paper, feels compelled to plainly and vigorously denounce the
>disgraceful, pictorial campaign pamphlet put forth by Governor
>Butler, which it declares to be _"the vilest book that has ever been
>openly printed in the State,"_ . . . .
>[T]he news columns of the _Post_ of Tuesday, Oct. 9, contain an
>interview with "Hon. Joseph P. Bass, of Bangor" . . . as follows:
>"What do you think about the Governor's picture book?"
>". . . In my judgment the book will MAKE BUTLER LOTS OF VOTES.  You
>see the case is about as it was with a big publisher down in
>Maine.  Somebody said to him one day, 'Mr. ____, you are making a
>big mistake; you ought to hire some first class contributors and
>editors and get out a better class of literature.' 'Now, look here,'
>said the publisher, 'I know more about this business than you do.  I
>HAVE FIGURED THIS THING ALL OUT and I find that where one of my
>patrons wants a higher toned book and a higher toned paper, 20 OF
>PAPER.' It's just so with Butler's Tewksbury work; where one person
>would prefer that the pictures be left out and the text amended
>there are 20 who would say give us the whole story and along with it
>A volume of comment would not suffice to portray more clearly the
>opinion of the _Commercial's_ manager as to the sort of literature
>which "will sell," and his complimentary view of the intelligence
>and taste of the public.  It is perhaps fortunate that even in this
>age of "yellow covered" enterprise, there are some old-fashioned
>publishers of newspapers who are not willing to put a mortgage on
>their souls by peddling out their self-respect and manhood for
>pennies on the public streets.>>
>Note the reference to "yellow covered books" in the quotation from
>the Hon. Joseph P. Bass.  The Century Dictionary (1889 - 1891)
>defines "yellow-covered literature" as "trashy or sensational
>fiction, periodicals, etc.: in allusion to the form in which such
>matter was formerly commonly issued."  Similarly, Webster's Revised
>Unabridged Dictionary (1913) defines "yellow-covered literature" as
>"cheap sensational novels and trashy magazines; -- formerly so
>called from the usual color of their covers."
>"Yellow journalism" became an extremely popular term shortly after
>its use in or around January 1897 and, while the 1883 example from
>the Whig & Courier is striking for its use of "yellow-covered
>journalism" to have the same meaning, I doubt if it played any role
>in the success of the term.  I believe it does, however, illuminate
>the term's history.  It seems to me that when Ervin Wardman referred
>to "yellow-kid journalism," he was not inventing a wholly new
>phrase, but instead making a play on words with "yellow-covered
>literature" and the well-known Yellow Kid.  In other words, "yellow
>journalism" is not so-called because of the Yellow Kid, but follows
>directly from the earlier "yellow-covered" books/literature.
>John Baker
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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