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How William Randolph Hearst Still Influences Media Today

Citizen Hearst still image
Courtesy of Library of Congress
/
PBS
William Randolph Hearst with his wife, Millicent in 1923.

New four-hour "Citizen Hearst" film on PBS' American Experience explores the life of America's first media mogul.

William Randolph Hearst, America's first media mogul who died 70 years ago, still influences media today.

"He was this tremendous force that transformed America's media landscape," said Stephen Ives, a writer-director on PBS' "Citizen Hearst" documentary premiering 9 p.m. Monday on American Experience on WCET-TV, Dayton's WPTD-TV, Covington's WCVN-TV and KET.

Ives was interviewed last week by Cincinnati Edition host Michael Monks about the four-hour documentary airing 9 p.m. today and Tuesday. (Listen to their full conversation by clicking the play button above the image.)

Hearst was 24 when he took over the San Francisco Examiner in 1887, which his father acquired as payment of a gambling debt. Soon after, he bought the New York Journal. At his peak, he owned 28 newspapers from coast to coast. Nearly one in four Americans once got their news from one of Hearst's papers, according to his biography.

In the 1920s, Hearst started one of the first print-media companies to enter broadcasting. He also was a major producer of movie newsreels with his company Hearst Metrotone News, and produced more than 100 films including The Perils of Pauline.

Hearst also is widely credited with creating the comic strip syndication business. Today his King Features Syndicate is the largest distributor of comics and text features in the world.

As the PBS promotion says, "Everything he did was news."

Ives told Cincinnati Edition that today's media world can be traced back to Hearst.

"Everything that we see in the flood of information, the explosion of stories, the celebrity-driven culture, the fake news that's all around us – those were all elements of a media empire that Hearst created. And I think his influence is kind of imbedded in the DNA of America's media today," Ives said.

Here's the American Experience description for "Citizen Hearst":

"In the 1930s, William Randolph Hearst’s media empire included 28 newspapers, a movie studio, a syndicated wire service, radio stations and 13 magazines. Nearly one in four American families read a Hearst publication. His newspapers were so influential that Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Winston Churchill all wrote for him.

"The first practitioner of what is now known as 'synergy,' Hearst used his media stronghold to achieve unprecedented political power, then ran for office himself. After serving two terms in Congress, he came in second in the balloting for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904.

"Perhaps best known as the inspiration for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and his lavish castle in San Simeon, Hearst died in 1951 at the age of 88, having transformed the media’s role in American life and politics. The two-part, four-hour film is based on historian David Nasaw’s critically acclaimed biography, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst."