July, 1899: When Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise the distribution price one-tenth of a cent per paper, ten cents per hundred, the newsboys, poor enough already, are outraged. Inspired by the strike put on by the trolley workers, Jack "Cowboy" Kelly (Christian Bale) organizes a newsboys' strike. With David Jacobs (David Moscow) as the brains of the new union, and Jack as the voice, the weak and oppressed found the strength to band together and challenge the powerful.
A week in the life of the exploited, child newspaper sellers in turn-of-the-century New York. When their publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, tries to squeeze a little more profit out of their labours, they organize a strike, only to be confronted with Pulitzer's hard-ball tactics.
In 1899, New York City got its news from an army of ragged orphans and runaways, called newsies. They sold the newspapers of Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and other great publishers. Like many of his friends, newsie Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) dreams of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. But when Pulitzer and Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsies' expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for, and must decide between his dreams and his newfound responsibility.
A musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. When young newspaper sellers are exploited beyond reason by their bosses they set out to enact change and are met by the ruthlessness of big business.
- The film takes place in New York City in the year 1899, focusing on a group of newsboys. Of this group, the focus is on Jack Kelley (Christian Bale),who one day dreams of heading out west to the wide-open spaces of Santa Fe.
One day, Jack meets Les Jacobs (Luke Edwards) and David Jacobs (David Moscow), two brothers who've turned to selling newspapers to support their family, after their father was fired when a machine accident left him unable to work. Jack soon teaches Les and Jacobs some interesting lessons about how to sell papers (such as sensationalizing headlines).
Shortly afterwards, the boys are challenged when the 'World' newspaper's owner, Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall), raises their purchase rate by 1/10 of a cent. Though seemingly a drop in the bucket for Pulitzer (who hopes to use the added funds to keep competing with his closest competitor, William Randolph Hearst), the increase is a significant price gouge for the Newsies. With David supplying input and ideas, Jack becomes the leader of the group. The boys then go to other parts of New York to rally other newsboy groups, with Jack and David going to Brooklyn to recruit Spot Conlon (Gabriel Damon) and his group. Even with David's enthusiasm, Spot is still doubtul about joining them.
At the same time, the boys catch the eye of Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman), a reporter for the 'New York Sun.' Denton soon becomes the boy's champion, making the 'Sun' the only newspaper in New York covering the newsboy strike.
In one incident that gets Pulitzer's attention, the boys cause havoc at a newspaper distribution center, that calls the police to the scene. One of the newsboys, Crutchy (Marty Belafsky), is captured and taken to a place called 'The Refuge,' which is operated by Warden Snyder (Kevin Tighe). While told to be a place to rehabilitate young boys, it is actually a place where its keepers take advantage of the system, pocketing extra money for every boy they bring in, as well as not allowing the boys to partake in more nourishing food. David is informed that Jack was once placed in there, and one day, Governor Theodore Roosevelt (David James Alexander) visited, and Jack rode out of the refuge with him in the Governor's carriage. While a number of newsboys believe this, David is quick to question if it happened.
Shortly afterward, Jack and the newsboys lead another charge on the distribution center, only to find armed thugs waiting to greet them. The boys appear outnumbered, until Spot Conlon and his gang from Brooklyn arrive, fighting the thugs back, and seizing the day. Bryan Denton is on hand, and his article and a picture of the boys brings them front-page glory on the cover of 'The New York Sun.' Filled with enthusiasm, the boys decide to hold a newsboy rally, inviting all the newsies in New York.
The publicity does not go unnoticed by Warden Snyder, who recognizes Jack in the newspaper photo, and after meeting with Joseph Pulitzer, gets permission to arrest Jack, along with a group of thugs.
At the newsboy rally, Snyder shows up with cops and thugs, and a large riot breaks out, at which Jack is apprehended. The newsboys are also brought before the judge, being fined either $5, or 1 week's stay in the 'House of Refuge.' Bryan Denton pays the boy's fees. Jack on the other hand, is given a harsher sentence. It is here that Snyder 'represents' Jack before the judge, revealing Jack's real name to be Patrick Sullivan. Snyder convinces the judge to allow Jack to stay in the care of the 'Refuge' until he's 21.
Afterwards, Denton and the newsboys meet at a cafe, where Denton explains that due to a 'print ban' on the strike material, no mention of the riot was published. It is then that Denton drops the big news: The 'New York Sun' has reassigned him to become a war correspondent, and are sending him away from New York. Denton apologizes to David, and gives him the news story that he had written about the riot. With Jack gone, David takes command, and vows to get Jack out of the 'Refuge.'
David and several other newsboys sneak over to the 'Refuge,' only to see Jack being taken out in a horse-drawn carriage, with Snyder close by. They follow it to the mansion of Joseph Pulitzer.
Inside, Jack meets up with Pulitzer, who promises that he can free Jack from his sentence in the 'Refuge,' and offers to pay him to work for him again. Jack balks at this, but grows worried when Pulitzer mentions that he has the power to lock the other newsboys in the 'Refuge,' including David and Les.
Upon leaving Pulitzer's house, David appears, and encourages Jack to run. The two get a ways away, before Jack reprimands David for trying to help him. Jack demands David leave, with David unaware of what Jack heard from Pulitzer.
The next day, the newsboys protest outside the distribution center, but are shocked when Jack emerges dressed in good clothes and a stack of papers under his arm. David angrily reprimands Jack for what he's doing, with Jack saying he only cares about doing this to earn enough money to finally leave for Santa Fe.
One day, David, Les and their sister Sarah (Ele Keats) are assaulted by some thugs from the newspaper distribution center. Jack rushes in to protect his friends, and ends up sending the thugs running, promising to report the incident to their employer. Incensed, Jack, David, Les and Sarah go to visit Bryan Denton. Denton further explains that there's more to the newsies strike than they think. Much of the city thrives on child labor, and word is some people are scared that the strike could spread to other parts of city-wide business. After sometime, the group manages to persuade Denton to join them and distribute their own paper, which will print the riot story that was suppressed by 'The Sun.'
Jack manages to sneak the group into the distribution center where they find an old printing press in the basement. Working diligently, they print out their own paper, and get the other newsboys to distribute the papers all over town. An article is even written in regards to the treatment of the boys in 'the refuge.' Denton delivers this news personally to Governor Roosevelt.
Jack, now back in league with the Newsies, is surprised when their paper sparks an enormous crowd to gather in front of Pulitzer's office. Jack and David are then brought to appear before him. Pulitzer chastises Jack for continuing on with such a foolish venture, while David chastises Pulitzer in turn: everyday that the strike continues, distribution stays down and millions of dollars are spent, all over the 1/10 of a cent increase. Pulitzer ignores this reasoning and calls for the police to enter the room. Incensed at Pulitzer's attitude, Jack flings open the windows, and the cries of the people down below reach his ears, with Jack mentioning that 'people have voices, and they need to be heard.' Pulitzer is further upset when he finds out the strike-related material was printed on a press that he owned.
Shortly afterward, Jack and David emerge, with the news that the 1/10 of a cent increase is repealed. As they cheer, Warden Snyder can be seen with a wagon approaching. Jack is prepared to run, when Bryan Denton appears, telling him he doesn't have to anymore. Before their eyes, the wagon's rear door opens, and a number of newsboys who were in the 'Refuge' (including Crutchy) are released. Snyder is then herded into the wagon, and taken away.
Denton and Crutchy explain how the paper that was written sent Governor Roosevelt to the 'Refuge,' which caused the release of the newsboys. Denton says that the Governor is willing to give him a ride, and Jack decides to take Roosevelt up on his word, and go to the train yards, to head off to Santa Fe.
After the crowds disperse, the newsboys return to business, with David taking Jack's lead. However, they are further surprised when Roosevelt's carriage returns with Jack, who has decided to stay in New York with his friends. A raucous welcome is had by all, and David greets his friend who has returned to them, as they head off into the future along with the other newsboys.