War of Words

Simon Read

Let’s take a break from the media’s boo-hooing about their imminent death (thanks for reading, send money) to explore the birth of one of America’s most prominent newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle. Although, even in this Gold Rush story of sex, scandal, and ultimately the murder of the Chronicle’s co-founder, Charles de Young, we can’t escape the present predicament. In de Young’s efforts to turn a $20 investment into one of the most powerful papers in California, you can’t help but notice that his success was based on everything current publications have abandoned. The city had multiple newspapers with dissenting voices waging wars on public figures and each other with vigor. Objective journalism was pushed aside to make room for gunfights with argumentative readers and disgruntled subjects of scandalous stories. And it all made for damn good headlines. Without implying editors should start packing heat, we can learn something from de Young’s page in history. The founding editor may be in the grave and the Chronicle one foot behind him, but at least de Young went down fighting.