Arthur Brisbane

Brisbane whole


Arthur Brisbane, Patron Saint of Yellow Journalism

Brisbane is famous for his admonition to reporters: "Never forget that if you don't hit a newspaper reader between the eyes with your first sentence, there is no need of writing a second one." He's also notorious for his role in fomenting the Spanish-American War while working for Hearst's New York Journal (1898), and is credited with the popularization of such "modern" newspaper techniques as short sentences, lots of illustrations, huge headlines, and overuse of exclamation points. With a column published in 1,000 daily and weekly newspapers for two decades, Brisbane could (and did) claim to be the most widely read writer in the history of the world.

Was Brisbane a great man?

 This is the evaluation of Brisbane's life's work by Oliver Carlson in Brisbane: A Candid Biography.

Was Brisbane a great man?

The answer depends upon the yardstick used. If greatness be measured in terms of mass appeal - then Brisbane was truly great. If it be measured in terms of financial success - again the answer must be in the affirmative. If it be measured in terms of achievement within his profession - then too, he is great, for his innovations in the field of journalism were pioneer efforts in creating the "yellow press." But if the yardstick be an intangible something such as truth, integrity, consistency or humanity, the answer must be in the negative....

He craved power, popular success, and, above all, money.... His philosophy of life, if such it may be called, was a vulgarized pragmatism which believed that any means used in attaining the end sought was proper and justifiable, provided that it was adequately seasoned with ripe old moral and religious precepts plucked for the occasion.

And his perpetual advice to his readers to THINK, while it was, perhaps, well meant, and fed his own ego, certainly didn't improve his own powers of cognition. His active mind, had it been harnessed to some important problem for more than a few consecutive moments, could have made important contributions to any field he had chosen to explore. He read widely, but not well. He thought quickly, but superficially. These qualities, which fitted him so well as a newspaper editor appealing to the mass mind, at the same time unfitted him for a more profound and worthwhile contribution to American thought and letters. But the fact of his great influence and appeal makes even his mediocrity important. In an age in which manipulation of public opinion has become the fulcrum of the political lever, Arthur Brisbane's strange career is an astonishing document. -- Oliver Carlson in Brisbane: A Candid Biography (1937), pp. 17-18