The Origin of Sensationalism and the End of Truth

Mickey Dugan was called The Yellow Kid for the oversize yellow nightshirt he wore. Created by Richard Outcault, The Yellow Kid was one of the first comic strips in America.

The Yellow Kid character had a shaved head, protruding ears, and buck teeth. He lived in a slum and frequented an alley with other unique characters. Outcault created The Yellow Kid to educate readers of newspapers about the conditions that the poor encountered in larger cities.

The Yellow Kid character became so popular that it led to a bidding rivalry between Joseph Pulitzer’s and William Randolph Hearst’s papers. The comic strip only ran for three years, from 1895-1898, but had an impact on society that continues even today.

Pulitzer’s and Hearst’s papers became known as The Yellow Kid Papers due to the comic strip. In an ironic twist, The Yellow Kid comic which was intended to portray social injustices led to the phrase yellow journalism.

It was common at the time for newspapers to manufacture sensational stories to sell papers. Both Pulitzer’s and Hearst’s papers used this practice and the phrase yellow journalism was born.

Fast forward to today’s society. Social media has become the purveyor of conspiracy theories which resemble the sensational articles born out of yellow journalism practices of the late 19th century. TV personalities make fortunes from what is essentially now over two-century-old yellow journalistic fraud. Candidates for office have found that the practices that began as yellow journalism can get them elected.

The irony is that The Yellow Kid first was published in a magazine called Truth. Just imagine how a comic character created to educate the privileged of society has morphed into the very opposite of its intended beginning.

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“Sensationalism seems to sell more than wonderful-positive news.”
– Michael Jackson


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