April 10th is our publication date, quite a day in journalism history.
First we have to go back to 1866, when a gangly nineteen-year-old Hungarian immigrant handed his last five dollars to a slick, fast-talking promoter; a man who promised high wages for work on a Louisiana sugar plantation. Dozens of others seeking employment joined the Hungarian on a river boat ride down the Mississippi. The journey lasted just thirty miles, where the riverboat crew forced the would-be laborers overboard. The men walked back to St. Louis. The Hungarian, who’d earned those five dollars digging graves during a cholera epidemic that killed more than 3,500 people in the city, made his way back to the Mercantile Library where he had previously wiled away many unemployed hours reading German newspapers (He also read French as well as his native Hungarian). There he made the acquaintance of Carl Schurz, co-editor of the German language St.Louis newspaper, Westliche Post. He told Schurz about the sugar plantation ruse and Schurz suggested he write the story down. This marked the beginning of Joseph Pulitzer’s journalism career. Pulitzer was born on April 10th. He has oft times been quoted on the masthead of the AVA: “Newspapers should have no friends.”
At the Westliche Post, Pulitzer worked sixteen hour days as a reporter. By 1872 he progressed to editor and part owner. Disgruntled with the corruption rampant within the Republican Party in Washington D.C. he helped form the Liberal Republican Party. The party’s convention in Cincinnati nominated Horace Greeley, of “Go west, young man” fame as their 1872 presidential standard bearer.
Greeley brings us to another April 10th anniversary. On that day in 1841 Greeley published the first edition of The New York Tribune. New York newspapers cost a penny at the time. The two leading penny papers in the 1840s were the New York World and the New York Herald, publications that followed the precept, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Greeley’s Tribune played down murder and mayhem for political news, book reviews, and poetry. When it couldn’t avoid the most titillating current events Tribune reporters usually presented such occurrences as cautionary tales.
Greeley employed a diverse staff of writers, contributors and editors, including Margaret Fuller, the first woman allowed to peruse the library at Harvard. Her four year stay in Italy as the Tribune’s first female correspondent and her subsequent 1850 sea voyage, which culminated in a shipwreck a hundred yards off Fire Island, are worthy of book length discussion.
George Ripley became one of the Tribune’s prime contributors. Ripley, an ordained Protestant minister, resigned from his church to help found the Transcendental Club as well as the commune known as Brook Farm. After a devastating fire in 1846 effectively ruined the commune experiment, another Brook Farmer, Charles Anderson Dana moved on to the Tribune. As one of Greeley’s editors, Charles Anderson Dana traveled to London in the summer of 1851. There, Dana met the co-editor of Neue Rhenische Zeitung, a publication shut down by the Prussian government during the failed German revolutions of 1848 and 1849. Charles Dana commissioned a series of articles for the Tribune about the 1848-49 liberal uprisings. The man Dana met was not comfortable enough with his English, so he contacted his fellow Neue Rhenische Zeitung editor, who had fled Germany for Manchester, England. The articles were chiefly authored in Manchester then mailed to London where edits honed the writing for final publication in the New York Tribune. The two German émigrés are still fairly well known today: Writing in Manchester: Frederick Engels; editing in London: Karl Marx.