What is visible to all men is that a young man of enormous energy and great journalistic instinct has dedicated a fortune as great as that of Monte Christo to the creation of a newspaper which, instead of confining itself to the function of chronicling other men’s deeds, boldly asserts its determination to supersede the journalism that chronicles by the journalism that acts. Other newspapers may write about things. The Journal is determined to do them.
William Thomas Stead from "A Romance of the Pearl of the Antilles"
Stead wrote this in reference to William Randolph Hearst's and Karl Decker's "daring" and successful jailbreak of a Cuban captive - Evangelina Cisneros.
The importance of this story is properly put into context by none other than Stead himself:
Stanley’s commission after all was one of exploration, and came easily within what had always been regarded as a legitimate field of journalistic enterprise; but a commission to break into a gaol, and carry off a captive who was under arrest by the orders of the Government of a city with which the Americans were at peace, marks a development fraught with many possibilities, some of which are by no means calculated to minister to the repose of nations.
What is interesting is that Stead does not characterize the breaking from jail of Cisneros as an illegitimate field of journalistic enterprise. He praises it up and down. Its daring, its spectacular, its brilliant! All of these key words are used in the first few paragraphs, along with a few others.
There is also an ambiguity to the article: Did Decker rescue Cisneros? Or is Hearst her true rescuer? Sure, Decker was the guy on the ground. But Hearst financed it. Hearst told him to go. Look at the first page of the article:
"A CUBAN HEROINE AND HER RESCUER" shouts the headline, and the first picture you see is of William Randolph Hearst. Seems logical then that Stead is characterizing Hearst as the rescuer.
Everything has a turning point. In the annals of activist journalism, Hearst's/Decker's rescue of Evangelina Cisneros is a very important turning point.
This is where the journalism that chronicles was superseded by the journalism that acts.
Furthermore, this highlights a great misnomer about so called Yellow Journalism. We have been told for far too long that the yellows simply made sensationalized headlines to sell more papers and increase their profits. That's certainly partially true - its not untrue. But it's not "the rest of the story".
Plenty of agenda goes into politically-based news reporting, but keep this in mind: This story of Evangelina Cisneros is a human interest story. Yet the intent and agenda runs deep. So next time you see a so called "human interest story", ask yourself this:
"What is the writer's agenda behind this story?"