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Successful Refugees and Immigrants Leading the Way, Part 13 of a Multi-part Series: Joseph Pulitzer – Father of the Modern American Newspaper

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Born into a wealthy family in Hungary, young Joseph had private tutors and learned both French and German. When he was 11 years old, his father died, and the family went bankrupt. Joseph became determined to become a soldier.

He was soon offered a job as a reporter at a German-language newspaper. Then, he acquired another paper and later combined it with his first one to create the “St Louis Post-Dispatch.” The paper was successful under his management and circulation continually climbed. Pulitzer had an almost religious belief in democracy and the role journalism played in it. He once stated: "There is only one way to get a democracy on its feet, and that is by keeping the public informed." He kept his populist point of view, running stories that focused on the common people.

In 1884, Pulitzer was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He soon realized that his true passion and the best way to serve the nation was through his newspaper. He quit Congress after one year and returned to the “New York World.”

In addition to reporting the news, Pulitzer also wanted the newspaper to be a sort of handbook for immigrants arriving in New York City. He knew they needed help understanding this new nation and a culture that could seem so strange.

All of his instincts paid off. When he bought the “New York World,” it was selling 15,300 papers a day and losing US$40,000 a year. He then made it the most successful paper in the entire country and possibly in the whole world.

When he passed away in 1911, he made provisions in his will that would ensure that his journalistic legacy would carry on far into the future. First, he left an endowment to Columbia University to create a school of journalism. In his will, he also left money to create the award with which his name is most associated - the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer Prize is awarded every year to recognize the most outstanding examples of journalism, including the fields of investigative reporting and public service.

Joseph Pulitzer’s most enduring legacy is to have made Americans a nation of newspaper readers. He created the aspect of the American spirit that believes in staying informed by reading the news every day.

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