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Have Newspapers Always Had Ethical Standards?

The New York Herald was one of the first newspapers founded during the so-called "penny press" era, when advances in printing technology made news accessible to the middle class at a reasonable price. Otherwise known for its non-partisan political reporting and solid business coverage, the paper is forever ink-stained by a 1874 hoax article that falsely claimed that animals from Central Park Zoo had escaped and “mutilated, trampled and injured” a number of people in the city. Eventually, reporter Joseph Clarke admitted that he and managing editor Thomas Connery made up the story to illustrate what might happen if conditions at the zoo weren’t improved.

A bad idea that backfired:

  • At the end of Clarke’s original story, the reporter even stated: “Of course, the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true.” But the belated disclaimer was missed by most alarmed New Yorkers.
  • Central Park was about 15 years old at the time, and popular with New York’s leisure class. The zoo -- home to elephants, zebras, bison, big cats, monkeys, and other creatures -- was one of the park’s most popular attractions.
  • The rival New York Times called the stunt “a violation not only of journalistic propriety and a due respect for the public, but also of common decency and humanity.”
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