William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco, California, on 19th April 1863 into a family of wealth and privilege. He was to use this wealth to build a powerful American media empire that would make an impact that lasted for many years to come.
Hearst was educated in private schools and went on to go to Harvard University where he became editor of the Harvard Lampoon but was expelled for misconduct.
His journalism career really began when his father, a Californian Gold Rush multimillionaire, acquired the failing San Francisco Examiner newspaper. In 1887, William began running the publication and invested heavily in it, hiring the best writers and buying the most expensive, high-class equipment available.
This was to be where the phrase ‘yellow journalism’ was born. Hearst used sensational headlines, with stories based on half-truths. In the years following his take over, the newspaper’s circulation increased, as he took up most of the column inches with crime stories and tales of government corruption.
This kind of success was not enough for Hearst, however, and he then set his sights on the New York Morning Journal, owned by his former idol, and now rival Joseph Pulitzer. He strove to win circulation wars by opening the Evening Journal and using his technique of yellow journalism.
A price war began with Hearst lowering his newspaper price, leading Pulitzer to do the same, so Hearst conspired to take Pulitzer’s staff away by offering them higher salaries and better job prospects. All of these circumstances eventually lead to Hearst’s victory in the battle for circulation.
His newspapers became dominated by politics and at one point Hearst was going to run for the Presidency of the United States himself. He supported the Democratic Party and in 1896 pushed for a war with Spain in order to liberate Cuba.
In the April of 1903, Hearst married 21-year-old Millicent Wilson, a showgirl in New York City. It was widely believed that this was a political arrangement (as her family had strong connections), and Hearst was attracted to the glamour. Wilson bore five of Hearst’s sons, who went on to follow in their father’s footsteps by going into the media business.
After the Titanic disaster, Hearst’s publications responded with a host of negative articles in his American newspapers. One of the more serious allegations was that J. Bruce Ismay had ordered Captain Smith to make a record crossing, therefore indirectly causing the liner to hit the iceberg. This was widely believed to be untrue.
Ismay and Hearst had met many years before the disaster and had fallen out, due to the fact that Ismay hated press attention and would not co-operate with the media mogul. This led to Hearst fabricating many negative stories about him.
By the 1920s, one in four Americans read a Hearst newspaper. In 1941, a biographic film about his life was created and he did everything in his power to stop its release; however he failed.
William Randolph Hearst spent his remaining 10 years with declining influence within his media empire and upon the public. He died on August 14, 1951 in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 88.