When his father’s newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, was having financial difficulties, William Randolph Hearst, Jr. (1863-1951) stepped in to run it.
More than two hundred newspapers in key cities throughout the country, periodicals, wire even photo offerings, newsreels, radio stations, and film production were all part of the media empire he had constructed by the 1930s.
Hearst was the first American media mogul, and his sensationalistic, attention-grabbing practices would permanently alter the industry.
Background And First Publications
Hearst was born to George Hearst, a gold mining magnate who had moved his family to California during the Gold Rush from Missouri, and Sophia Apperson Hearst, a prior teacher from Missouri.
He enrolled at Harvard, when he was the company editor of the Harvard Lampoon until being kicked out of school for missing too many courses and other misdeeds.
Despite his father’s wishes, Hearst pursued a career in journalism rather than the family mining business.
The older Hearst, who was elected as senator from the United States in 1886, had bought the San Francisco Examiner as an advertisement for his campaign for president, and the younger Hearst was inspired by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World to urge George to give him ownership of the paper.
At the young age of 24, Hearst utilized his family’s wealth to employ top journalistic talent (including authors like Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and Jack London), and he adopted a sensationalized style, replete with snappy headlines and visuals that enlivened the generally dreary paper style of the day.
The Examiner had been losing money for quite some time when Heart bought it, but within three years, circulation increased from five thousand to over 55,000, and the paper started making a profit.
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Successful Media Mogul With A Growing Political Career
In 1902, after being elected as a representative from New York, Hearst made it his goal to become the Democratic nominee for president.
He wed a former chorus girl named Millicent Willson the next year, and the two had five boys together: George, Randolph, William, Jr., John, Randolph, and David. To further his publishing empire, he also bought publications in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston.
Hearst ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904 but lost to Arthur B. Parker
Hearst was undeterred by this setback, and he eventually campaigned for mayor in New York City, where he was soundly defeated by the formidable Tammany Hall political system. Hearst never again served in an elected position after his lost bids for governorship in 1906 and mayor in 1908.
Instead, he put his energy into building a media conglomerate that would eventually encompass newspapers in almost every major American city, as well as popular magazines like Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Town & Country, and Harper’s Bazaar, and a national wire service.
The weekly news footage and serialized thrillers that Hearst produced were screened in movie theaters around the country. He utilized his media influence to push (in vain) for the country’s decision to remain neutral in World War I.
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Death And The Later Years
Hearst, who had previously advocated for isolationism, backed the U.S. going to war with Japan and Germany following the assault on Pearl Harbor. His lengthy history of anti-Asian prejudice was shown in his publications, where he called for the incarceration of Japanese Americans.
World War II helped revitalize the economy, and Hearst was able to emerge from his financial woes in charge of a scaled-back but still strong media empire.
However, by the end of the 1940s, his health had deteriorated to the point where he and Davies had to relocate from San Simon to Los Angeles in order to be closer to their respective doctors. Hearst passed away at the age of 88 in Beverly Hills on August 14, 1951.
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During the Great Depression, Hearst’s business empire suffered. Although he initially supported Roosevelt’s presidency, he later became at odds with the current Democratic president and his New Deal program, which he criticized as being Soviet-style communism.