"We must be alarmingly enterprising, and we must be startlingly original. We must be honest and fearless. We must have greater variety than we have ever had."
William Randolph Hearst wrote those words as he prepared to publish his first issue of the San Francisco Examiner in early 1887. It was the beginning of a vast newspaper empire that influenced American journalism for over half a century.
Hearst was 23 years old when his father gave him possession of The Examiner. Within five years, the newspaper's circulation under young Hearst jumped from 5,000 to 72,000 and had surpassed the San Francisco Chronicle as the leading daily in the city.
The young publisher experimented from the beginning with crusades and reporting stunts to present news in a forceful manner. Hearst also utilized a technique throughout his career that brought success to his publications, namely, the employment of top men from other newspapers at high salaries.
For The Examiner's managing editor, he chose Sam S. Chamberlain, who had worked for Joseph Pulitzer and James Gordon Bennett.
Other talented recruits included Ambrose Bierce, who contributed his "Prattle" column, star reporters like Edward H. Hamilton, and Arthur McEwen, who became a key figure in developing Hearst-style journalism.
Hearst pepped up The Examiner's writing and headlines, introducing mass coverage of newsworthy events. News that was important, but dull, took a back seat. Hearst writers played up a sensational, picturesque fact in their lead paragraphs — love, power, hate or sympathy were the preferred themes.
Though some of Hearst's editorial methods were criticized, his experiments on the mechanical side are still considered important and constructive. He worked with the typography of The Examiner to give it readable and attractive type faces. He tried new patterns of makeup, arranging the heads in symmetrical patterns, introducing illustrations and large headlines, eventually evolving a distinct Hearst style that other newspapers imitated.
Hearst often worked over the page forms himself, but he also sought as eagerly for mechanical experts as he did for writers and artists. George Pancoast, considered a genius in the mechanical field, came to work for Hearst in 1888. Pancoast perfected the electric drives for presses, improved color printing processes and designed 14 printing plants as the Hearst empire expanded. He was superintendent of all Hearst mechanical plants and remained at this job for most of his 50-year career.
Hearst launched three major crusades in his first year at The Examiner: a drive to defeat an inadequate city charter, a fight for lower water rates and an extended campaign against the vast power of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The Examiner led the opposition that defeated the city charter, aimed at strengthening what was then called the corrupt control of the city. Also, the newspaper was regarded as a major influence in obtaining a 16 percent reduction in the water rates. The battle against the railroad brought no immediate victory, but it did bring recognition to Hearst as a spokesman for the people.
In 1895, Hearst purchased the New York Journal, which Joseph Pulitzer's brother Albert had established in 1882.
The San Franciscan busied himself staffing The Journal with members of Joseph Pulitzer's Sunday World staff. "When Hearst offered Pulitzer's Morrill Goddard a fabulous salary to come over to The Journal, Goddard explained that his staff of writers and artists did most of the work. Hearst bought all of them, too. Goddard's staff included artist Richard F. Outcault, who created the famous cartoon figure the "Yellow Kid," which seemed to symbolize the kind of sensational journalism that was developing in both the Hearst and Pulitzer papers. Thus evolved the phrase "yellow journalism," which became widely used by opposition newspapermen.
Hearst subsequently developed a chain of newspapers across the nation. As a publisher, he reached his peak in the 1920s with 20 papers in 13 cities.
Hearst died in Beverly Hills on Aug. 14, 1951. On that day the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors adjourned in respect to his memory. The mayor of Los Angeles paid him this tribute: "To hundreds of thousands of people in every walk of life, Hearst was a great and true friend. He was a great influence for good in our everyday affairs. He stood for good government. He was for a greater Southwest, a greater California. He was a constant and vigilant foe of corruption and deceit."