Monday, March 15, 2010

We could use another Pulitzer

James McGrath Morris sees parallels between Gilded Age media baron Joseph Pulitzer's time and ours, pointing out that when Pulitzer (1847-1911) began to shape "yellow journalism," newspapers were going out of business and readers were bemoaning the end of journalism as they knew it. Pulitzer charged ahead, boasting that the color pages of the New York World emerged from the state-of-the-art printing presses "like rainbow tints in the spray." Indeed, the World seemed like something entirely new in the staid universe of American newspapers, perhaps as revolutionary then as the Internet today and as provocative as the practitioners of advocacy journalism on Fox.

Morris' magisterial new biography, "Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power" (Harper: 560 pp., $29.99), is the first since W.A. Swanberg's 1967 work to reexamine the strange life of the man who was born to a prosperous Jewish family in Hungary and reinvented himself in the United States. He cut his eyeteeth as a cub reporter in St. Louis, and went on to buy one newspaper after another, each one bigger than the last.

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