The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage
Introduction Origins of the Kid Class Warfare on the Urban Stage Race and Ethnicity Selling the Kid The Death of the Kid
poster for the New York Journal
Poster for the New York Journal, Around the World with the Yellow Kid
Yellow Kid pin
Sheet music
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Selling the Kid

The ROLE OF YELLOW JOURNALISM

The Yellow Kid's rise as a commercial presence would not have happened without his namesake: yellow journalism. Media historian Frank Luther Mott listed some defining characteristics of yellow journalism: prominent headlines that "screamed excitement, often about comparatively unimportant news"; a lavish use of pictures, many of them without significance"; faked interviews and stories; a Sunday supplement and color comics; and a "more or less ostentatious sympathy with the 'underdog,' with campaigns against abuses suffered by the common people."1 In his study of yellow journalism, W. Joseph Campbell explains that the term came about while New York Press editor Ervin Wardman was looking for a term to describe the new kind of journalism represented by Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal; he tried "new journalism" and "nude journalism" before seizing upon the phrase "yellow-kid journalism" in January 1897, later abbreviated to "yellow journalism."2 Campbell says the Pulitzer-Hearst fight over the Yellow Kid—Outcault left Pulitzer to join Hearst in October 1896—was not the immediate inspiration, but the Yellow Kid's appearance on the Journal's editorial page (in the Yellow Kid Diary entries) during his Around the World trip early in 1897 angered the editor. Wardman wrote, "The 'new journalism' continues to think up a varied assortment of new lies.'"3 It was one of only many products to carry the Kid's name.

Having the original Yellow Kid artist offered Hearst a selling point for his paper. Historian James D. Norris wrote, "Perhaps the most significant discernible trend during the last two decades of the nineteenth century was not the raw growth of advertising, as impressive as it was; rather, it was the utilization of advertising to introduce new products, to homogenize tastes, and to create demand." Hearst had hired Outcault to create increased demand for the Journal, and the artist recognized his character could become commercially viable. Outcault moved to copyright the Yellow Kid in September 1896, one month before he moved to the Journal, and in doing so he wrote to the Librarian of Congress about his "Yellow Dugan Kid": "His costume however is always yellow, his ears are large he has but two teeth and a bald head and is distinctly different from anything else."4 Outcault's move to the Journal was accompanied by a flurry of activity from both papers,5 because George Luks would take over as the Hogan's Alley artist at the World. Hearst priced his paper at 1 cent, and the World reduced its price to 1 cent to compete—but in effect customers could get two newspapers for the price of one (Sunday papers with the color supplements were still 5 cents). Following the cut, Chicagoans and Los Angelenos could also pick up the paper for a reduced price.6 Faster and cheaper printing, reduced paper prices, favorable postage rates, and bonuses from ad revenue all encouraged a wider and larger distribution of popular newspapers, magazines, and journals in the late 19th century.7 When the dust settled, the Journal's national sales beat the World, likely because of Outcault's version of the Yellow Kid was more popular.8

From the LOC American Memory site.

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1 Campbell, W. Joseph. Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies . Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001. 7.

2 Campbell 32. Campbell discounts other myths regarding the origination of "yellow journalism," including Bill Blackbeard's claim that a September 1896 cross-country bicycle race sponsored by the Journal inspired the term; Blackbeard admitted the article reported to him could not be found. Campbell also says it's unlikely the phrase was coined so early and then not used again until January 1897. (30)

3 Campbell 31-32.

4 Blackbeard, Bill. Introduction. R. F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1995. 49.

5 Blackbeard 57.

6 Ibid.

7 Norris, James D. Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865-1920. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. 31.

8 Blackbeard 58.