James Gordon Bennett Jr

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841-1918), American newspaper owner and editor, contributed to journalistic innovations and created a legend of personal authority and enterprise.

On May 10, 1841, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., was born in New York City. He was raised in Europe to avoid the stigma his father's bold editing of the New York Herald newspaper attracted to the family. Young Bennett served in 1861-1862 in the Civil War without distinction. In 1866 he climaxed several years dedicated to entertainment and sports by winning a grueling transatlantic yachting contest. The tall, straight, firm-jawed "Commodore" (so named by the New York Yacht Club) retained an interest in sailing and other diversions but now turned seriously to mastering newspaper work.

In 1867 his father made Bennett head of the Herald's editorial department. That year the young man launched the Evening Telegram, which exploited sensational news. He was an editorial autocrat who hired and fired many brilliant and remarkable writers and editors. Bennett early projected his goal of making as well as reporting news. As in his scoop on the Custer massacre in 1876, he followed his father's goal of energetic news gathering.

Bennett's newspaper firsts were many, resulting from his bold planning and indifference to expense. Most famous was his 1869 assignment to Henry M. Stanley to find Dr. David Livingstone in Africa—a successful mission that won world acclaim. Other exploits included efforts to reach the North Pole and to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. Bennett published the distinguished reports of J.A. MacGahan, providing evidence of Bulgarian atrocities that helped spark the Russo-Turkish War of 1871. Notable, too, was Bennett's duel with financier Jay Gould, whose telegraph and cable systems taxed Bennett and others heavily. Acting with the mine owner John W. Mackay, Bennett set up rival systems which by 1887 had lowered the prices of messages drastically and created freer international exchange.

In 1887 Bennett started the Paris Herald, which over the years gratified American tourists abroad and enjoyed its own journalistic distinctions. It ran at a loss (as did the London edition, 1889-1891, which failed entirely) but helped explicate the American image abroad. The competition of publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in the 1890s harmed the Herald's prestige, but the paper revived during the Spanish-American War (1898), when Bennett's resourcefulness and knowledge of ships resulted in creative reporting. Bennett moved from notoriety to fame, and back again. For example, in 1907 he was required to pay a total of $31,000 in fines for having permitted publication of immoral advertisements.

Bennett's new Herald building in New York was long a showplace for its architectural charm. During the 1900s the Herald lost status as a journalistic leader, and Bennett, who was said to have spent some $30 million from Herald revenues, gave up the lavish gestures and bold experiments which had made him an international legend. A bachelor until the age of 73, he married a widow in 1914. Convinced that he would die on his seventy-seventh birthday, he actually sank into a coma in Paris on May 10, 1918, and died 4 days later. He was buried at Passy, France.

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Further Reading on James Gordon Bennett Jr

Bennett has been treated as a phenomenon rather than as a noted journalistic figure. The initial tone was struck in Albert Stevens Crockett, When James Gordon Bennett Was Caliph of Bagdad (1926). Don C. Seitz, The James Gordon Bennetts: Father and Son, Proprietors of the New York Herald (1928), emphasizes the journalism of father and son. More anecdotal is Richard O'Connor, The Scandalous Mr. Bennett (1962). A succinct statement is in Oswald Garrison Villard, Some Newspapers and Newspaper-Men (1923; rev. ed. 1926). See also Al Laney, Paris Herald: The Incredible Newspaper (1947).