Waiting for Hearst: A Tragicomedy

The media is has reached an almost unbelievable state of navel-gazing (which I am perpetuating right now). Much of it appears warranted as we go through what appears to be an unprecedented transition in the world of news, newspapers and new media. Of course it’s not at all unprecedented, it’s just been a while since we went a transition of this magnitude. TV was quite a big one, but most of us have no memory of that. A hundred years ago Pultizer and Hearst turned the newspaper business on it’s head in their epic battle for supremacy. In the process they changed journalism entirely and were roundly criticized for it. They were blamed for coarsening journalism. I’ve heard that bloggers have been similarly criticized.

Real Time is A Hundred Years Old

They ushered in the age of the pundit, of the investigative journalist. They changed the design of newspapers and introduced new technologies to sell their papers such as color photography (see that around much today?). They even introduced the first blushes of interactivity and real time news: they used the telegraph and telephone to have reporters give real time updates and they illustrated them on simple displays outside their office headquarters. This was a hundred years ago!

McKinley in The Grips Of Money Interests – Homer Davenport

Personality Sells

Hearst had the good fortune of coming from wealth, but that isn’t what enabled him to succeed. Plenty of wealthy people failed where he succeeded. In fact The New York Journal had already been run by a couple of rich guys who had failed when he bought it (interesting historical side note: the founder of Hearst’s famous newspaper was Albert Pultizer, brother of the more famous Joseph). Hearst succeeded for lots of reasons, but mostly because he aggressively recruited the best and brightest and gave them credit. At a time when papers spoke with “one voice” and denied virtually anyone a byline, Hearst not only gave his people bylines, he put their pictures on the front page. And he let them speak in their own voice and voice their own opinion. His was one of the first papers to voice multiple perspectives. His tolerance of quirky, almost crazy personalities was incredible. He occasionally had to go in search of a drunk reporter in all his local haunts to see where he had passed out.

Technology is Not New

Hearst loved technology. He once went up in a hot air balloon and took pictures of San Francisco giving people their first aerial view of their own city (his first paper was the San Francisco Examiner).

Innovation in Design Was Key – Yes, Even Then.

Hearst once gave the entire front page to an “cartoonist”, an area once reserved for magazines. He was not constrained by columns. To be fair, much of what he did was an extension of the innovations of Pulitzer, but where Pulitzer spent most of his time creating infighting amongst his people while managing them from his yacht, Hearst would dance a jig in the newsroom with the paper on the floor as he read through it.

Waiting…

Waiting for Godot is an enigmatic play at best and defies summary for the most part. But here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Waiting for Godot follows two days in the lives of a pair of men who divert themselves while they wait expectantly and unsuccessfully for someone named Godot to arrive. They claim him as an acquaintance but in fact hardly know him, admitting that they would not recognize him were they to see him. To occupy themselves, they eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide — anything “to hold the terrible silence at bay”

Sound familiar?

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