We hear a lot about the Pulitzer Prize and winners for exceptional journalistic feats. But who was Joseph Pulitzer? This documentary, directed by Oren Rudavsky, both explores his history and what he brought to the world of communication.

Pulitizer (1842-1911), a Jewish immigrant from Hungary, was publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York World. Along with William Randolph Hurst, he had a great influence on journalism. The World was especially aggressive in its exposure of corruption, and it also was a pioneer in the sensationalism of its day.

The paper became a champion of the underdog and immigrants, and it built a loyal following that brought large circulation. However, there was also the taint of “yellow journalism” that was criticized as exploitative. Pulitzer got into a major battle with President Theodore Roosevelt over Pulitzer’s charge that the Panama Canal project was an example of colonialism. Sadly, in his later years Pulitzer lost his eyesight.

How does a film deal with such a life? To personalize it, the director has actor Liev Schreiber speaking as Pulitzer, complete with accent, to give life to Pulitzer’s words. The film also uses a trove of archival material, plus an array of comments by assorted notables and authorities.

Not only is this a biography, but it offers a view pf journalism in the latter part of the 19th century. It practically invites one to make comparisons with today. Think New York Post. But in the period when Pulitzer flourished the territory was new. In the final analysis, as he film demonstrates, he is remembered for the positive side of his contribution to the growth of journalism as a fundamental freedom of our society. A First Run Features release. Reviewed March 1, 2019.

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