Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer "A newspaper should [do] more than . . . printing every day first-rate news and first-rate editorials. It should have hobbies, undertake reforms, lead crusades, and thereby establish a name for individuality and active public service."

Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911)

The publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer was largely responsible for the creation of the modern American newspaper. In the last decades of the nineteenth century Pulitzer's New York World combined innovations such as extensive photography and dedicated sportswriters with the sensational stories that attracted a large readership. (Crime and disaster always found a place in the World's pages, and in 1889 the newspaper sent reporter Nellie Bly around its namesake—in 72 days.) He wanted the reporting to be factual as well as lively, and his heart was always with the common man: Pulitzer's investigative reporters rooted out corruption in government even as his editorial pages crusaded against the business trusts, sympathized with the poor, and urged widespread participation in the American democratic process.

Born in Hungary, Pulitzer emigrated to the United States in September 1864 after being recruited to join the Union army in the waning months of the Civil War. Shortly following the war he moved to St. Louis, where from a job reporting for the German-language Westliche Post he rose to become the sole owner of the English-language Post-Dispatch by 1879. Indeed, it was in St. Louis that Pultizer developed his publishing philosophy; in some regards, his 1883 purchase of the World merely gave him a more visible platform. Intermittently active in Democratic politics, Pulitzer served in Congress briefly before realizing he wielded more influence at his newspaper. It was after a losing battle with William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal—both papers claimed circulation of 1.5 million at one time or another—that Pulitzer turned his attention to elevating the standards of the profession.

In the last years of his life Pulitzer sought to give Columbia University two million dollars for the establishment of a journalism school. For a time, the University refused; journalism was considered an unsuitable field for a Columbia student. But the trustees eventually relented in the face of Pulitzer's vigorous advocacy, and Columbia has educated a long line of distinguished journalists since opening its journalism school in 1912. Today's Graduate School of Journalism continues to administer the Pulitzer Prizes, created as part of Pulitzer's bequest to recognize excellence in journalism and other endeavors.

Read more about Pulitzer in the Columbia Encyclopedia.


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