History of Newspapers: New York Daily News Part 1

About the history of the United States newspaper The New York Daily News, information about the tabloid and some of their scoops.


The Past. "Tell it to Sweeney--the Stuyvesants will take care of themselves," was Joseph Medill Patterson's motto when, in 1919, he founded the New York Daily News, a tabloid featuring sensational photographs and news stories concerning sex and crime. Though the tabloid was new to American journalism, Patterson had not created the idea but was copying the highly successful London Daily Mirror.

The paper got off to a slow start. In August, 1919, its circulation was only 26,636. However, Patterson was wealthy enough to be able to afford to wait for success. Partial heir to the great Medill-McCormick fortune, he and the flamboyant Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune were cousins. Patterson had socialist leanings. He had written a novel called A Little Brother of the Rich, in which all the wealthy people were bad guys and all the poor people were good guys. Wearing a slouch hat, with his coat collar turned up, he often went out in the streets to mingle with the common man--"the Sweeneys." Impulsive and proud, he was 6' tall with bristling hair and thin lips. His staff called him Captain Patterson. (He had been an army officer in W.W.I.)

Patterson found it hard to get people to work for him because the paper was held in such low esteem by the self-styled literati. Other publishers called the Daily News "the servant girl's Bible." It was described as being "by turns sobby, dirty, bloody, and glamorous," and accused of presenting the news in a way that "would appeal to the more elementary emotions of a truck driver and to the truck driver in everyone." A pioneer in yellow journalism, it aimed at the average 1920s newspaper reader, whom H. L. Mencken described as a "booby unmatchable." Twenty years before, no newspaper publisher would have been able to get away with such tactics; he would have found himself up to his neck in moral protest and lawsuits. But times and social customs were changing fast.

To catch the eye of the commuter running for the subway, Daily News headline writers came up with such gems as KILLER'S GAT FOUND. The gimmick worked. By 1921, the paper was successful. By 1925, circulation had jumped to over a million. The Sunday edition, which was begun in 1921, was outselling all other New York Sunday editions by 1925.

In 1924, 2 more tabloids hit the stands in New York--Hearst's Daily Mirror and the Daily Graphic, which soon acquired the nickname "Pornographic."

In 1927, all 3 papers reached a low point during their coverage of the intimate life of "Daddy" Browning and his Peaches, and the murder case involving Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover. Competing fiercely, city editors approved the use of faked photographs and sent out reporters who were ruthless in the questioning of anyone who had anything to do with either case.

Then the great crash of 1929 hit the country. Patterson changed his method of operation, telling his staff, "We're off on the wrong foot. The people's major interest is no longer in the playboy, Broadway, and divorces, but in how they are going to eat, and from this time forward, we'll pay attention to the struggle for existence that is just beginning."

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