The Police Gazette

Raucous Newspaper Popularized Sports In America

Engraved portrait of Richard K. Fox of the Police Gazette
Richard K. Fox, publisher of the Police Gazette. New York Public Library

Richard K. Fox, an immigrant from Ireland, took control of a failing weekly newspaper, the National Police Gazette, in the late 1870s. Within a few years he had turned it into a national sensation, a publication full of lurid crime stories and sporting news which influenced the mainstream press during the era of Yellow Journalism.

Fox keenly sensed the American fixation on sports in the decades following the Civil War, and he assumed a major role in popularizing a variety of athletic contests.

He, along with the fighter John L. Sullivan, brought boxing out of the shadows, where it had been regarded as illegal and immoral.

By creating such promotional stunts as championship belts, Fox rewarded athletes and essentially created heroic figures. In a nation eager for diversion, he gave people something to talk about.

Fox edited the Police Gazette for 45 years, and when he died in 1922 newspapermen paused to recall his influence. It was widely noted that his publication had been considered quite scandalous.

”In the American household the Police Gazette was anathema, but Fox reached his readers through the medium of the barbershop and sporting circles,” said a tribute in the New York Sun on November 24, 1922.

The Kansas City Times, the next day, said of Fox’s publication, “Even when it was read in the barbershop, the reader hid it behind the newspaper if possible.”

Richard K. Fox

Richard Kyle Fox was born in Belfast, Ireland, on August 12, 1846.

He learned the basics of printing and editorial work in his youth, working on newspapers in his native city. He married in 1869, and in 1874 he and his wife emigrated to America.

Fox obtained work as an advertising solicitor for the Wall Street Journal, a job which immediately introduced him to the realities of newspaper publishing in New York City.

He soon found another job, working for an old and failing publication, the National Police Gazette.

The Police Gazette had flourished decades earlier, when crime reporting had been a popular fad in America. Fox had noticed something about American society, the rise of the popularity of sports. He sensed he could turn the Police Gazette around by changing its focus. The owners of the publication were happy to be rid of it, and Fox took over their debts in 1877 and began working to make the newspaper profitable.

The Focus on Sports Coverage

Under Fox’s direction, the Police Gazette retained its venerable name, and kept some of its crime coverage. But it also added extensive coverage of sporting events.

Fox also made himself a focus of attention. Newspapers and magazines were often associated with dominant editorial personalities, such as Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune or William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening Post. By sponsoring athletic competitions, backing fighters, and issuing trophies and championship belts for various endeavors, Fox managed to position himself, and the Police Gazette, in the middle of the growing popularity of sports.

The Police Gazette also became known for its distinctive voice, which was irreverent in the extreme.

The newspaper took delight in exposing hypocrisy and drawing attention to various scandals.

The publication was seen as not fit for polite society, but Fox didn’t care. He was happy to be publishing lively material for a burgeoning culture based in barbershops and barrooms.

As public figures such as the boxer John L. Sullivan rose to prominence in the 1880s, the Police Gazette also became very popular. Fox, in fact, capitalized on Sullivan’s fame by periodically backing challengers to Sullivan’s title of heavyweight champion.

Influence of the Police Gazette

Though Richard K. Fox was seen as something of an outlaw in American journalism, his style of editing could be considered influential. One thing he always stressed was brevity, and his focus on telling a story quickly may have curtailed the meandering style of news writing which had flourished for decades.

And Fox changed mainstream newspapers simply by focusing so sharply on sports. Before his editorship of the Police Gazette, most big city newspapers did not have separate sports sections. But as sports, and reading about sports, became popular, all the major newspapers began to produce sports sections.

Over time, the Police Gazette evolved into something of a sports magazine, and moved away from its more raucous roots. When Fox died, on November 14, 1922, his sons took over the publication, which continued to be a staple of reading, and discussion, in barrooms and barbershops.

Gratitude is expressed to the New York Public Library Digital Collections for use of the portrait of Richard K. Fox.