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What Made The ‘World’ Great?
It exposed corruption. It hired drunks. Good writing was rewarded. No wonder every newspaperman wanted to work there.
October/november 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 6
Occasionally Pulitzer began to feel that the World ’s do-goodism was making the paper ponderous and dull. During one such spell he called his close associate and biographer Don C. Seitz to his home in Lakewood, New Jersey, and declared: “The trouble is nobody on the staff gets drunk anymore. Bradford Merrill never gets drunk, Van Hamn never gets drunk, Pomeroy Burton never gets drunk; and you never get drunk. When I was in the office someone always got drunk and we got out a paper. Go back to New York and find a reporter who gets drunk. When you find him, hire him for life.”
Seitz dutifully went on a drunk-hunt through the Park Row saloons frequented by newspapermen, where he ran into Esdaile Cohen, former physician, brilliant writer, and heavy drinker. He had worked for almost every newspaper in town and said that he had just been fired by Hearst because, “I can’t leave the hard stuff alone.”
“You’re just the man!” said Seitz. Cohen went on the payroll and stayed there, setting a standard of brilliant writing between periodic bouts.
The growth of the World to 170,000 copies a day, surpassing the Morning Sun , the establishment of an evening edition of the World , and basic political differences spurred the Evening Sun editor, Charles A. Dana, to launch a war of vituperation against Pulitzer. Dana led off with, “Judas Iscariot … that political road agent … a renegade Jew who denied his breed …”
Pulitzer gave back as good as he got, describing Dana as “a tool of Jim Fisk and Gould…a poltroon in an hour of danger … poor, despised, disgraceful old Ananias …”
“Move on, Pulitzer, move on!” Dana shouted day after day.
“Here for good!” was Pulitzer’s regular reply.
Pulitzer was soon to face a far greater threat to his papers from a wealthy young man who had worked briefly on the World himself—William Randolph Hearst. After learning all he could from the World , Hearst bought the Morning Journal , which had been owned by Pulitzer’s estranged brother, Albert, and set out to copy Pulitzer’s policies exactly: crusades for reform plus entertainment.
Hearst’s first move was to steal a big chunk of the World ’s top brass, including editor Arthur Brisbane, by doubling their salaries. Next he lured away the entire Sunday staff, along with the nation’s most popular cartoon strip, The Yellow Kid . In inaugurating the “funnies” as a newspaper feature in 1894, Pulitzer had R. F. Outcault do his smiling slum urchin. Now Pulitzer hired the artist George Luks to continue a rival Yellow Kid in the World . For the next two years it was raid and counter raid, with both sides offering unprecedented salaries, up to ten thousand dollars a year. Hearst finally called for a truce, after using up eight million dollars of his mother’s money.
Charles Dana, editor of the Sun , called his rival “Judas Iscariot,” and shouted, “Move on, Pulitzer, move on!” “Here for good!” was Pulitzer’s reply.
In the midst of all this Pulitzer went to his office one day after a sleepless night and called for proofs of the day’s editorials. All he could see was a blank page. It was the beginning of his blindness. His nervous condition now grew steadily more acute, making him so morbidly sensitive to certain sounds that he could not bear the clink of a fork against a dinner plate, the sipping of soup, the crunching of toast, or the rattle of paper. But he could still enjoy the sounds of galloping horses, a booming surf, or the wind in the trees. Obviously he could not go on working all day in the tumult of a newspaper office, and his doctors said he must retire.