In this cartoon from Harper's Weekly, Joseph Pulitzer appears with the World balanced on the fingers of his left hand and one of the World's great Hoe printing presses in his right hand, reams of newsprint coming out like ticker tape.
Like Alfred Nobel, Joseph Pulitzer is better known today for the prize that bears his name than for his contribution to history. This is a shame. In the nineteenth century, when American became an industrial nation and Carnegie provided the steel, Rockefeller the oil, Morgan the money, and Vanderbilt the railroads, Joseph Pulitzer was the midwife to the birth of the modern mass media. What he accomplished was as significant in his time as the creation of television would be in the twentieth century, and it remains deeply relevant in today’s information age.
Pulitzer’s lasting achievement was to transform American journalism into a medium of mass consumption and immense influence. He accomplished this by being the first media lord to recognize the vast social changes that the industrial revolution triggered, and by harnessing all the converging elements of entertainment, technology, business, and demographics. This accomplishment alone would make him worthy of a biography.
His fascinating life, however, makes him an irresistible subject. Ted Turner-like in his innovative abilities, Teddy Roosevelt-like in his power to transform history, and Howard Hughes-like in the reclusive second half of his life as a blind man tormented by sound, Pulitzer’s tale provides all the elements of a life story that is important, timely, and compelling.
James McGrath Morris
Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power