The so-called “yellow journalism” of the New York Journal and the New York World in the 1890s has been discredited by scholars and journalists for privileging sensational and biased stories. In its day, however, many within the news industry considered this experimental form of journalism to be a promising new direction for news writing. Both newspapers explored a reform-oriented form of news that some commentators and reformers believed could play a vital new role in advocating for the public interest. Revisiting the activist impulse behind yellow journalism provides a window on a changing media ecology in which the future of news was under debate. This moment of transition within nineteenth-century media also provides insight into the promise and potential dangers of activist media for today’s civically minded experiments with news.
Kelley Kreitz is a Visiting Scholar in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Her research brings together media studies, the history of journalism, cultural studies, and U.S. and Latin American literary studies. She is completing a book called Electrifying News: A Hemispheric History of Newspapers, Novels, and Media Change. Kelley has also served as a radio journalist and as the director of the Idea Lab at Root Cause, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing new solutions to social problems. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Brown University.