by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
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.
Editorial pages wrapped in a little tendentious news? We never see that in today’s media world, do we?