Why is Yellow Journalism, Yellow?

Is yellow journalism to imply that the journalists are cowardly (yellow is associated with cowards, but I don’t know why) for printing lies, but hiding behind the freedom of the press???

  • Jinx

I believe it was called that because of the old comic strip, “The Yellow Kid”. Why it was named after the comic strip, I don’t remember. I’ll see if I can find any sources to back me up…

According to this site, The Yellow Kid was the first widely popular newspaper comic strip, and it became the focus of a battle between New York’s two main papers, Hearst’s New York Journal, and Pulitzer’s World. Eventually, there were Yellow Kid comics in both newspapers (the originial one was by R.F. Outcault). The newspapers were called “The Yellow Kid Papers”, later “The Yellow Papers”, and because of both of the newspapers habits of just making up news, this practice began to be called “Yellow Journalism”.

It was the color of the ink not the tittle. The color represented something to atracked all atention of the readers.

I don’t know if this is accurate, but my Journalism teacher claimed that it was because newspapers that practiced yellow journalism were often printed on cheap, thus yellow, paper.

Yellow journalism traditionally refers to using sensationalistic headlines and stories to attract readership, I believe.

The reason goes back to Yellow Kid but sort of indirectly. Until the introduction of comics into the newspaper, journalists (especially, I imagine publishers) saw their profession as a “calling” above such things as entertainment and sensationalism. But with the introduction of the Yellow Kid (first by Pulitzer, I believe at the World although the artist Richard Outcault was soon hired away by Hearst at the Examiner) also came large headlines, stories that pandered to a “lower” class of readers, photographs and the like. The easiest negative thing to hang on it was “Yellow” because that color also carried with it the implication of the “yellow peril” of rasist fame and as was mentioned cowardice.

From Emery and Emery’s The Press and America:

In complete truth the original name of the comic in question was “Hogan’s Alley” but:


My Journalism teacher told our class the same as FDISK. Of all places to pass along inaccurate information…

With all due respect to high school journalism teachers (and truly as a newspaperman, I have tons of it because they have started more great journalists on their way than any 50 good j-schools), they have seldom taken a course in the history of the profession. Generally they get stuck with teaching high school journalism because they happened to have taken a newswriting course in college (to teach journalism in most states, it requires only three semester hours in journalism and often that can be waived if they have specific hours in English or even business). To gain more knowledge in the subject, often high school teachers will take journalism-related courses in the summers, but a history of journalism course is seldom offered and probably if it were, they would see a greater need for something that would come up more often in their day-to-day work, like photography, desk-top publishing, libel laws or lay-out trends.

So Sgt. J don’t hold it against him or her, at least you got an answer.

I also read somewhere that, as duke 69 alluded, the term, besides being connected to the “Yellow Kid,” was also connected to the fact that the printers had come up with the right goo to print yellow on newsprint without it running or smudging .

From John Bremner’s Words on Words, a highly respected newspaper source book:

And from the UPI Stylebook:

I found these sources (plus the Emery and Emery history of journalism cited above) lying around the house. Probably if I go to the office I can find some more.

It was a combination of factors.

It took awhile to develop a good yellow for newspapers. Around the time, R. F. Outcault started a comic strip for Pulitzer’s New York World called “At the Circus at Hogan’s Alley,” which included a jug-eared boy with a blue nightshirt. In a few months, the boy became bald and the shirt became yellow. The official name of the strip was “Hogan’s Alley,” but the public referred to it as “The Yellow Kid.”

After a year, Outcault was hired by Hearst’s New York Journal and continued the strip there. The strip was renamed “The Yellow Kid.” The World hired George B. Luks to continue “Hogan’s Alley.” There was a lawsuit over the rights with the result that Outcault kept the right to draw the characters, but not to the “Hogan’s Alley” name.

The “better people” of New York felt “The Yellow Kid” – in both incarnations – was just too vulgar, and began to refer to the World and Journal as “yellow journalism.”

This from Horn’s World Encyclopedia of Comics.

Here’s the Straight Dope.

There is no record of such a lawsuit. It is just a repeated mistake.

There is also no evidence of yellow paper.

The ink/yellow connection is rather speculative. And doubtful in my mind.

The first appearance of the term yellow journalism was in an editorial written by Ervin Wardman in The New York Press in January, 1897. In this editorial(which I have not read firsthand), Mr. Wardman excoriated both the * World* and the Journal as being sensationalist. He did not explain why he used the term or what it meant.

Because the Yellow Kid was such a phenomenon in the 2 years prior to this editorial, Mr. Wardman may have been indeed referring to the two most prominent examples of the day as “yellow” in reference to the Yellow Kid.

I respectfully offer an alternative theory.

The term “yellow” in reference to newspapers and novels/books goes back in print to the 1840’s. It meant sensational and referred to writers who’s works were bound in yellow covers. I can offer numerous examples of this starting in 1846.

I simply think that Mr. Wardman was editorializing about two newspapers which were trying to out-sensationalize each other. As a literate person, he might simply have used an older term for such sensationalism. But, again, he could have been referring to the Yellow Kid controversy.

We’ll probably never know.

A search on Wardman led to this site that discussed aspects of “yellow journalism.”

It seems that the term was used against the newer newspapers that were noted for excessive self-promotion, a cutting-edge use of type (compared to the grey pages of the more conservative newspapers, the World positively screamed), and most important, a series of investigative scoops against the powers that ruled New York.

In other words, “yellow journalism” was used to castigate newspapers that were perceived as being too big for their britches, especially for remaking themselves into something that people might want to read.

Anyway, that’s what the paper on the site claims.