Hearst, William Randolph

Hearst, William Randolph, 1863–1951, American journalist and publisher, b. San Francisco. A flamboyant, highly controversial figure, Hearst was nonetheless an intelligent and extremely competent newspaperman. During his lifetime he established a vast publishing empire that included 18 newspapers in 12 cities and 9 successful magazines. Although he sometimes manipulated the news, Hearst was not afraid to espouse unpopular causes even at great cost in money and popularity.

In 1887 Hearst persuaded his father, George Hearst, to place him in charge of the San Francisco Examiner, where he experimented profitably with flamboyant pictures, shrieking typography, and earthy, mass-appeal news coverage; the paper remained in Hearst Corporation hands until 2000. In 1895 Hearst invaded New York City with his purchase of the Morning Journal and began a bitter war with Joseph Pulitzer's World and the city's other yellow, or sensational, journals. Hearst provided aggressive news coverage, bought distinctive talent, enticed employees of other papers from their jobs with higher salaries and greater prestige, and increased the size of his paper while cutting its price to a penny—a move his competitors were forced to follow. Into the circulation battle between the rival newspapers Hearst brought wild reports of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain. Other papers replied with further lurid accounts. Leaving the truth behind, the papers' anti-Spanish outcry fanned public sentiment and helped to drive the United States to war with Spain (1898).

By the time Hearst had established his supremacy in “penny journalism,” his funds were almost exhausted, but he had gained a foothold for the great newspaper empire he was to erect. The publisher's holdings eventually embraced not only his newspapers and magazines (which included Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Bazaar) but also the American Weekly syndicated supplement and services supplying news, features, and photographs.

Hearst served in the House of Representatives (1903–7) but was defeated as candidate for mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909 and for governor of New York in 1906. While a congressman he sought the Democratic party's presidential nomination without success. His papers originally supported public ownership, antitrust laws, and legislation favorable to labor unions. Support for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal gave way, however, to vigorous opposition to the president's policies on taxes, trusts, and labor, and Hearst became stridently conservative.

Hearst's castle at San Simeon, Calif., erected from 1919 on, won fame for its huge art collections, which often overflowed into warehouses. At his estate Hearst entertained friends in the motion-picture industry, which he had entered as a financier on a large scale. The property was presented to the state as a museum after Hearst's death. His media legacy remains an enduring one, and the corporation he created owns numerous newspapers, magazines, television stations, and Internet outlets, produces television programming, and also has investments in cable networks and electronic and interactive media.

See biographies by J. Tebbel (1953), W. Swanberg (1961), D. Nasaw (2000), and K. Whyte (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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