New York Sun was a small New York newspaper with a circulation of 4.000 daily. On August 25 and in the 2nd page of the newspaper there was an article titled “Celestial Discoveries” that reported a line of shocking discoveries – observations. These observations had been made by sir John Herschel, via a telescope of new technology that had been set up somewhere in the Cape of Good Hope, and had been published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science.
Herschel’s observations revealed the existence of a variety of animal forms on the surface of the moon. Bisons, beavers, rich flora, but also traces of artificial structures with smoke coming out of them, implying the existence of intelligent life. On the 4 day of the series of articles the newspaper presented the batmen.:
«… They averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs from the top of the shoulders to the calves of their legs. …
… We could perceive that their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in structure of those of the bat. … The wings seemed completely under the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in the water spread them instantly to their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them again in a compact form …»
On the day that the story about the batmen was presented the NY Sun reached the astonishing, for that time, circulation of 19.360, the largest of any newspaper in the world. However, while the readers waited for new revelations the newspaper announced the destruction of the telescope, something that resulted to the interruption of observations.
It was true that Sir John Herschel was at the time in South Africa for astronomical observations, however the telescope that NY Sun described, simply did not exist. The Edinburgh Journal of Science had already suspended its circulation for some time and obviously had not published such stories. On September 16, 1835, NY Sun admitted that it was a hoax. Strangely enough the public was amused, even after the admission of the hoax, and the NY Sun maintained the circulation that the story had produced. The following year its circulation reached the inconceivable number of 30.000 leaves daily.
The story of batmen and life on the moon signified a milestone in the history of US, and the world’s media. NY Sun manufactured a story and conquered the tp of the circulation figures. The basic components of the hoax were:
- a subject relating to something very familiar and yet with a mysterious sent (the moon)
- comprehensible from the average citizen (the life forms that were discovered were identical with others on Earth, or combinations of known species, so that an exotic element was also present)
- extremely impressive, even outrageous regarding the content
- supported by a technical development (revolutionary telescope) which the average citizen could not fully understand or dispute
- difficult to verify with the existing technical means (observations of other telescopes) or by communicating with the original source (contact with Herschel )
A new type of journalism was inaugurated, one who’s objective was to create an impression. A more recent version is the one that uses impressive, promising titles (pe «shocking revelations»), even if the content of the article or the television story does not have nothing new to adds to the subject it negotiates.