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Feeling a bit unsure as to your future career plans? Why not take some inspiration from the father of modern journalism, the peerless Joseph Pulitzer.

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Joseph Pulitzer, a giant among journalists. | Photo: Lesekreis (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC0 1.0

Do you secretly like to read tabloid newspapers for gossip and scandals? Of course you do. You wouldn’t admit it in public, but you do. And you have one man to thank for that: Joseph Pulitzer.

Every aspiring journalist has heard of him: the man, who (along with his rival William Randolph Hearst) created yellow journalism in the shape of a modern newspaper format with pictures and entertainment is, quite simply, a legend. Equally important, the prestigious Pulitzer prize is named after him too.

Pulitzer made newspapers more entertaining and accessible to the common man (both as far as price and content is concerned). He knew what people wanted and gave it to them. Now he might seem slightly unethical, initiating scandals and, as we’ll learn, kind of encouraging a war, but he did actually have morals. Indeed, he exaggerated stories, but he never gave in to sensationalism. He wanted things to move in the right direction, to elevate society in the right direction – albeit only in the direction he thought was right, of course.

If there ever was a brilliant man you should emulate, it is Pulitzer.

Start your career in the States

Although he is known for creating a new field of American journalism, Pulitzer was actually born in Makó, Hungary. He only moved to the States in 1864 when he was 17 years old, having been recruited by the American military during the American civil war. However, he escaped to New York and later moved to Massachusetts where he bought the St. Louis Post and a German language-newspaper. Clearly he had the brains and the will to make every man’s American dream come true. He spoke three languages already; Hungarian, German and French, but quickly learned English after the war, a must-have when you plan on making a career in the States. At the age of 36 he bought and became editor of the New York World. With its cheap price, lashings of gossip and a generous dose of pictures and entertainment his paper quickly soared in readership.

Entertain the masses

Pulitzer strove to make his paper successful by giving his readers entertainment in the form of puzzles, contests, pictures and sensational stories. In truth, not much has changed today regarding the prioritising of newspaper content; scandals and celebrities are still preferred over tedious natural disasters or world affairs in many tabloid publications. Pulitzer was skilled at knowing what people wanted and never failed to deliver the best – that is, not necessarily quality journalism, but exiting stories and illustrations. If you want to be like him, know your audience and pay attention to politics. Most importantly though, know how to captivate and create interest in what you are writing about, preferably with something fun like a brain-teaser.

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A good brainteaser helps. | Photo: Schmeegan (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Exaggerate stories for the greater good

Exaggeration is the key to success, and something Pulitzer took full advantage of as the Spanish-Cuban/American tensions were at their highest. In fact, many have blamed Pulitzer and his arch-rival, Hearst, for starting the Spanish-American war. Who doesn’t want to read about an exotic country on the brink of war with one’s own? Throw in a few wrongfully accused prisoners, an abused woman or two and you’ve got just the ticket! Of course, some would call this a classic case of propaganda, as Pulitzer and Hearst disseminated stories of Spanish military officers applying violence, which made the Americans feel sorry for the poor impoverished Cubans. Nonetheless both of their publications got a kick with these stories and reached new heights in readership. Moreover, Pulitzer felt strongly about the injustice being inflicted on the Cubans, and knew that a helping hand from the States to fight off the Spanish would sort everything out. So we all know that his intentions were good, right?

Change society (ideally for the best)

For better or worse, remember that YOU are in the right and know what the society needs. That is at least how Pulitzer acted. According to him, newspapers existed in order to improve society. Being an active member of the Democratic Party, he also stirred his newspaper in that direction. His revolutionary tabloid format, a new controversial aspect of journalism, was to change the way reporters were viewed forever. But it was never intended to create a different view of the reporter, merely of the newspaper business. Cheap did not have to mean poor quality (although some tabloid publications today might prove otherwise). He never really meant to stir things up for the worse – he only wanted people to care and stand up to injustice.

Pulitzer was in truth an excellent reporter himself, who would work for over 10 hours a day. And a man who is devotedly engaged in his profession is sure to succeed. Even though he is best remembered today for creating yellow journalism, he also made sure his profession could be taught at university level. A journalism degree could for the first time be achieved at Columbia University: a solid education for aspiring journalists, helping them learn how to avoid getting caught for libel or slander and thereby not be sued is something else we can thank Pulitzer for. You’re welcome, celebrities.

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Get stuck into a stack of newsprint. | Photo: Mustafa Khayat (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

Follow the latest fashion trends

As numerous of cartoons of him show, Pulitzer rocked his own style with his round spectacles, simple suit and an Abraham Lincolnesque beard. That was the fashion of his day, and he followed it because he was a modern man (and had the money). If you want to be successful though, you still need to look professional, so do not go overboard. Today’s fashion for a man bun and flannel shirts, for instance, might not be the best components for working in finance or law. Just show that you pay attention to the trends and are successful enough to afford the most fashionable clothing.

Always know when to draw the line

A particularly admirable quality of Pulitzer’s was that, despite his sense of people’s thirst of tabloid stories and entertainment, he also wanted to get them talking and caring about political events. However, after the Spanish-American war in the 1890s, he realised that he had gone too far: the battle for readers with Hearst had finally reached its peak.  He moved away from exaggerated stories of scandal and gave up his editorial position. Yet, we must not forget how much his young golden days have taught us. For instance, if there are some high tensions simmering in a foreign country, pick a side and loudly defend them in your own country. Your shareholders will thank you as not only a public sense of injustice, but also your readership figures begin to rise.

The most important lesson we can pick up from Pulitzer though, is that if you are ever faced with a difficult situation regarding ethics on the one hand versus success and fame on the other, plump for a mixture of the two. But make sure you find your moral compass at the last moment. That would surely make Pulitzer proud.

Teaser photo: Lesekreis (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC0 1.0 

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    Katarina Poensgen is a BA Journalism student at City University London and a freelance writer. She is Norwegian and loves to write political pieces, satirical articles, features and to report on Eastern European. You can follow her on Twitter @KatBlaablomst and read other articles she has written in previous editions of E&M.

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