The Last Trace of a Great Newspaper; James Gordon Bennett Sr. founded the New York Herald in 1835 and made it the first modern newspaper. The New York Times’ renaming the International Herald Tribune in the fall marks the disappearance of the name of the New York Herald from American journalism after 178 years.

SATURDAY, JUNE 29, 2013

The Last Trace of a Great Newspaper

By JOHN STEELE GORDON | MORE ARTICLES BY AUTHOR

James Gordon Bennett Sr. founded the New York Herald in 1835 and made it the first modern newspaper. The New York Times’ renaming the International Herald Tribune in the fall marks the disappearance of the name of the New York Herald from American journalism after 178 years.

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James Gordon Bennett Sr. founded the New York Herald in 1835 and made it the first modern newspaper.

Since 2003, the New York Times has been the sole owner of the International Herald Tribune, which was founded in 1887 by James Gordon Bennett Jr., with headquarters in Paris. The Times has announced that it will be renaming the paper as the International New York Times this fall.

While that will mean the loss of a masthead familiar to Americans traveling abroad for more than four generations, it also means the final disappearance of the name of the New York Herald from American journalism after 178 years. That is a pity, for the New York Herald was the greatest newspaper of its day and has a claim to have been the greatest newspaper ever. Its founder, James Gordon Bennett Sr., created modern journalism.Born in Scotland, Bennett emigrated to the United States in 1819 at the age of 24. Gangly, stoop-shouldered and cross-eyed, Bennett was not a handsome man. He also lacked social graces or any ability whatever to suffer fools. Even simple tact was beyond him.

Bennett was always a man alone. This made him a great journalist, but he paid a terrible personal price, never knowing real friendship.

Unable to get along with the editor of the New York Enquirer, Bennett suggested he go to Washington and report directly from there. This was a revolutionary idea at the time. Previously, newspapers had reported out-of-town news by simply copying the articles of other newspapers. The editor agreed, happy to be rid of his bumptious but talented employee. Bennett became the first Washington correspondent.

He spent several years working for various papers and slowly conceiving of a new kind of journalism. Newspapers had begun in the 17th century, but they had always been either trade papers, reporting on one sort of news, such as shipping or financial, or they were political, supporting one party or another. The political papers were editorial pages wrapped in a little tendentious news.

WHEN BENNETT FOUNDED THE New York Herald in 1835, with an office in a cellar, a desk consisting of two barrels and a couple of boards, and capital of $500, he had a new idea in mind. Instead of telling readers what he thought they should know, as editors had done in the past, he would tell them what he thought the readers wanted to know: information about the world beyond their immediate ken.

Bennett adapted many ideas first used by other journalists. But he assembled them into a new whole: a politically independent, mass-circulation newspaper full of up-to-the-minute news on all subjects likely to be of interest to his readership. It was, he told his first biographer, “my thought by day, and my dream by night to conduct the Herald and to show the world and posterity that a newspaper can be made the most fascinating, most powerful organ of civilization that genius ever dreamed of.”

The New York Herald was the first general-interest newspaper to report financial news, including the closing prices of securities on the New York Stock and Exchange Board, as the NYSE was then called. It reported sports news and the weather. It printed the first illustration in a newspaper, a map of the area of New York City destroyed by the great fire of 1835. It hired the first foreign correspondents. It also reported on society gossip and scandal, as well as gruesome murders and other mayhem. It was the first to print an interview with a crime-scene witness.

Before Bennett, the scoop was not an important part of journalism. But he was obsessed with being first with the news and made it a central goal of the profession. When the Mexican War began in 1846—only two years after Samuel F. B. Morse had tapped out “What hath God wrought?”—Bennett organized a sort of pony express between the battlefields and New Orleans, which was connected to New York by telegraph line, in order to beat other papers in reporting the war news. In the Civil War, the Herald often had news from the front before the War Department had it.

BEING POLITICALLY INDEPENDENT, the Herald and the many later newspapers that modeled themselves on it, such as the New York Times, became far more politically influential. For the first time, politicians had to cultivate journalists in order to get good stories printed about them and they began to use the media to further their political agendas. It was James Gordon Bennett who coined the word leak in its journalistic sense.

The public loved the new journalism, and the Herald soon had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the country. In the 1830s, 15,000 was a very large circulation for an American newspaper. By the Civil War, the Herald often had a daily circulation of 400,000 and the North American Review could write without exaggeration that “the daily newspaper is one of those things which are rooted in the necessities of modern civilization. The steam engine is not more essential to us. The newspaper is that which connects each individual with the general life of mankind.”

James Gordon Bennett Jr. was a very gifted journalist in his own right. (It was he who dispatched Henry Stanley to Africa to search for David Livingstone.) But he was far too self-indulgent to run a successful business. The Herald declined steadily in circulation and influence and was bought by the New York Tribune in 1924, after the death of the younger Bennett. The Herald Tribune, known as the “writers’ newspaper” because of its stable of gifted journalists, lived on until 1966.

Now with the renaming of the international edition, all that will be left of the name of what was arguably the greatest newspaper in American history will be a square in New York City, famous now only for being the location of Macy’s department store.

JOHN STEELE GORDON is the author, most recently, of An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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