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What Joseph Pulitzer did for Twitter

Upon the Spanish-American war, a new sensational, thrilling, sexy and often false kind of journalism boosted sales.

“At the end of the nineteenth century, American imperialism and journalistic dynamism ame together to create one of the darkest moments in the history of the news media….

The changing news business attracted entrepreneurs who saw journalism as an exciting frontier worthy of their creative talents. Two publishing visionaries in particular dominated the era and ultimately changed the profession: Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph erst. After they revolutionized journalism, their bitter rivalry gave birth to a brand of sensationalism known as yellow journalism. Its toxic formula–one part news to one part hype–fueled the infamous Hearst-Pulitzer circulation war.”

Mightier than the Sword: How the Media Have Shaped American History by Rodger Streitmatter

However, upon this time, as “dark” as it may be, it did indeed attract entrepreneurs. Pulitzer, “a mercenary fighting for the North in the Civil War” came to find himself a writer, reporter and journalist. He created the St. Louis Post Dispatch and brought news to people who had “been ignored by the comparatively staid sheets of the older order.” Streittmatter says Pulitzer believed newspapers cheap, written clearly, concisely and should actively crusade in the community interest.

Pulitzer changed journalism and laid down the building blocks for Twitter. The 140-character post microblog developers did exactly the same thing. Young entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to bring something to a community. Before Twitter, to be a blogger was still not casual. People would sit down in front of their glowing screens, write, edit, post and maybe edit again. Blogging was for writers whom many argued were not journalists, even if they practiced journalism. Twitter lowered the barrier for social journalists, people who wanted to broadcast their thoughts online.

How did Dorsey, Stone and Williams lower the barrier and motivate people to post, blog, write or broadcast online? They did what Pulitzer did. In creating a 140-character limit every writer had to become an editor. Their length limit forced people who may otherwise be overly verbose to write clearly and certainly concisely.

The other thing Pulitzer said news should do is “actively crusade in the community interest.” Social networks like Twitter and Facebook require our social journalists to do exactly that. When we follow someone who posts inane, offensive, boring or uninteresting content, we the community serve as their editor. We validate and approve their posts with replies, retweets, likes and comments. Poor posts get new feedback. Poor social journalists lose followers or get hidden.

When the New York Times came to your doorstep, you could not tell the delivery man to stop sending the Style or Sports section. The only way the reader could double as an editor (and I mean editor loosely) is to unsubscribe or write a letter. Now, good content (sensational or not) gets more validation, a boost in circulation which is exactly what Pulitzer was able to do.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at

One thought on “What Joseph Pulitzer did for Twitter”

  1. Samarth Bhaskar says:

    I’ve always found Hearst and Pulitzer’s influence on the development of American journalism to be really interesting. It would be really interesting to consider what could have happened if the previous models of journalism had been sustained in America (partisan press, in particular).

    The democratization of the press, and of blogging through twitter, is definitely a beneficial prospect, but at what cost?

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