In the Internet Age, actual paper and ink newspapers have gone the way of the dinosaur. But at the turn of the last century, newspapers were as exciting and central to daily life as the internet is now.
The Gilded Age was a time of rapid modernization, but also of endemic corruption with massive amounts of wealth and power concentrated in just a few hands. Industrialists and financiers of the time were more powerful than the President.
Against this backdrop, a newspaper publisher named Joseph Pulitzer developed a media empire large and powerful enough to influence presidential elections and to break through the "laissez-faire" stranglehold that big business interests had on the nation. Pulitzer did this by speaking directly to readers through bold attention-grabbing headlines and by employing investigative journalists like Nellie Bly to expose corruption and plaster it all over the headlines for everyone to see.
This muckraking journalism is what helped to finally cap the excesses of the Gilded Age and introduce the reforms of the Progressive Era that followed.
In many ways, these late 19th Century journalists were every bit the iconoclastic celebrities of their time that New Journalism figures of the 1960s like Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Hunter S. Thompson were, but with the clout of Woodward and Bernstein.
However, the battle of wills, and egos, between newspaper publishing barons like Joseph Pulitzer and his nemesis William Randolph Hearst quickly turned into a race to the bottom, as increasingly sensationalist, less fact-based stories were printed in order to capture a larger share of the readership than the other guy.