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#145 William Randolph Hearst
September 20th, 2020 | E145

What I learned from reading The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw.


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[0:20] There has never been —nor, most likely, will there ever again be — a publisher like William Randolph Hearst. 

[0:26] Decades before synergy became a corporate cliche, Hearst put the concept into practice. His magazine editors were directed to buy only stories which could be rewritten into screenplays to be produced by his film studio and serialized, reviewed, and publicized in his newspapers and magazines. He broadcast the news from his papers over the radio and pictured it in his newsreels

[1:42]  Winston Churchill on William Randolph Hearst: “Hearst was most interesting to meet,” Churchill wrote. “I got to like him — a grave, simple child — with no doubt a nasty temper — playing with the most costly toys. A vast income always over spent: ceaseless building and collecting . . .two magnificent establishments, two charming wives; complete indifference to public opinion, a 15 million daily circulation, and extreme personal courtesy.” 

[4:42] If public schools are rough-and-tumble they will do him good. So is the world rough-and-tumble. Willie might as well learn to face it. —George Hearst, William’s father. 

[8:45] He didn’t care what the world thought. . .He was rather indifferent to the thoughts and feelings of people outside of his immediate family. 

[10:20] Warren Buffett had this great idea that he came up with by observing his parents. Do you have an outer scorecard or an inner scorecard? Warren says you are going to have a hard time living a happy life if you don’t have an inner scorecard. His mom had an outer scorecard. She was very worried about what the outside world thought. Warren Buffett most admired his father. His father had an inner scorecard. If he could look himself in the mirror at the end of the day and say I’m comfortable with doing then he would accept it regardless if the people around him didn’t understand it. I think William Randolph Hearst had an inner scorecard.

[13:08]  Hearst believed you had to pay for talent: The paper must be built up and cheap labor has been entirely ineffectual. The paper requires a head that has ability, enterprise, and experience. Let one of these things be absent and the paper will be a failure. Naturally such a man commands a high salary and you must reconcile yourself, either to paying it or giving up the paper. 

[14:00] His father thought he was a quitter: Tell him to stand in like a man and stick to his studies to the end. 

[15:00] Joseph Pulitzer was William’s blueprint: His evenings were devoted to the studying of the newspaper industry in preparation to take over his father’s newspaper. He text was Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. He was reading it daily, studying every element in its makeup, and comparing it daily with the Examiner

[17:45] Will was determined to escape the fate of a rich man’s son born a generation too late. His father’s generation had settled the West, cleared the land, built the railroads, discovered and mined the precious metals, and make their oversized fortunes. 

[19:55] No one owns ideas. You can do this too: He intended to work a revolution in the sleepy journalism of the Pacific slope by importing the journalistic techniques, strategies, and innovations that Pulitzer had pioneered in New York City. He is not saying he is innovating here. He doesn’t need to. He is saying I am taking Pulitzer’s playbook and I am going to run it. And I am going to run it better than he did.  

[22:15] If we hesitate a moment or fall back a step we are lost. Delay is as fatal as neglect. —Willam Randolph Heart 

[25:12] Smart way to expand his market: Because San Francisco — a city of no more than 350,000 — had three strong morning paper, Hearst recognized that he would have to expand the Examiner’s circulation base by delivering papers by railway north to Sacramento and south to Santa Cruz and San Jose. 

[27:54] Improve the quality of the product, and the profits will follow: He said that the reason that the paper did not pay was because it was not the best paper in the country. He said that if he had it he would make it the best paper and that then it would pay. Now I don’t think there is a better paper in the country. It is now worth upwards of a million dollars. 

[30:13] When Ross Perot finally leaves the board of NeXT he tells Steve Jobs that he didn’t help him by giving him $100 million dollars. The money I gave you made it easy for you to not have any sense of urgency to make a profit.  

[34:07] Hearst was able to poach Pulitzer’s staff by offering them something Pulitzer wouldn’t, job security: Hearst had to offer more than big salaries. He had to guarantee security in the form of large multiyear contracts. In the newspaper industry this was unheard of. 

[36:37] I feel like everybody beefs with Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt tried to have Pulitzer arrested, he hated Hearst, and goes to war with J.P. Morgan. Hearst felt Roosevelt was his competition. 

[37:23] What Hearst says after one of his reporters is shot during the war between Spain and Cuba: “I’m sorry you’re hurt but wasn’t it a splendid fight? We must beat every paper in the world.” This guy is really dedicated to being the world’s best publisher. 

[38:01] Something that I want to highlight for you that is very common — but very surprising to people who don’t read biographies — is that these people experience periods of intense doubt. We all do. Hearst did as well: I feel like hell. I sit all day in one place in half a trance. I guess I am a failure. 

[42:08] Hearst is deep in debt for half a century: He is an able newspaper man but does not look ahead in financial matters 

[42:30] He listened to no one, trusted no one. 

[42:49]  Any kind of success arouses envy and hatred. The best punishment is to succeed more. —William Randolph Hearst 

[43:05] When he saw an item he wanted, he bought it, regardless of whether he had the money to pay for it. His spending had always been extravagant but it ballooned out of all proportion to his income. 

[46:14] Instead of retrenching until his newspapers began to earn money again, he had gone deeper into debt to finance his movie studio. The combination of debts made it impossible for him to seek further credit from the banks, which he required regularly to refinance his outstanding loans. 

[50:46] The financial situation of your various companies is in an alarmingly serious condition. The Chief went blithely on, spending money like water

[51:19] 70 years old, over leveraged, and going into the Great Depression: He was overextend with debt, bloated payrolls, real estate mortgages, construction and renovation costs, and huge bills to art dealers and auction houses on both sides of the Atlantic. 

[55:37] The Chief had learned early that there was no shame in being in debt. Debt was, on the contrary, the magic ingredient that had made it possible to build his castles and buy his art collections. He didn’t believe in the Protestant ethic or trust in Poor Richard’s aphorisms. A penny saved might be a penny earned, but a penny borrowed was worth even more. The result of this: It had taken almost half a century, but his debts had finally grown to the point where no banker in his right mind would consider refinancing them

[59:39] One of the great defenses against inflation is not to have a lot of silly needs in your life. You don’t need a lot of material goods. —Charlie Munger 

[1:03:06]  A benefit of incorrigible optimism: Hearst never regarded himself as a failure, never recognized defeat, He did not, at the end of his life, run away from the world. 


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