In 1899 New York City, orphaned, crippled, and unfortunate boys known as Newsies make a living by selling newspapers. At the Newsboys Lodging House, the boys prepare for their day’s work and head to the printing press. Outside, the Delancey brothers harass one of the younger boys, but Jack Kelly, a Newsie nicknamed “Cowboy,” defends him and leads the brothers on a chase. Returning to the press, Jack is cheered by his fellow Newsies and waits for the distributor, Mr. Wiesel, whom the boys call “Weasel,” to sell him his usual allotment of one hundred “papes.” Weasel shortchanges one of the Newsies and Jack protests, buying the boy fifty extra copies. When the boy objects to Jack’s charity, his younger sibling, Les, introduces Jack to David, and Jack suggests they form a partnership as compensation because younger boys sell more papers. After agreeing to a sixty-forty split in Jack’s favor, Jack teaches Les and David the ropes. Meanwhile, publisher Joseph Pulitzer complains that the headlines are not selling enough of his papers to compete with William Randolph Hearst and orders his advisors to find a way to increase revenues by that evening. Casing the crowd at a boxing match, David observes Jack advertising false news stories and coaching Les to play sick in order to sell papers, but when he says his father taught him not to lie, Jack responds that they must do what it takes to survive and argues that the newspaper writers also embellish the truth. Upon spotting Snyder, the jail warden, Jack tells the boys to run and they hide in a local theater. Jack informs David and Les that the “Refuge” is a jail for kids, and Snyder is trying to imprison him for a past offense of stealing food. Although Jack refuses to explain why Snyder called him “Sullivan,” he tells the brothers that he escaped the Refuge on Teddy Roosevelt’s carriage. When Medda Larkson, the matron of the theater, investigates the noise, she welcomes the boys to stay and they watch her perform from the wings. As they leave the theater, Jack tells David and Les that Medda was a friend of his father, who is with his mother in New Mexico, and that they will send for him once they find a ranch. Investigating the sound of gunshots and shouting, the boys discover a riot of striking trolley workers but David encourages them to escape the violence and invites Jack home to meet his parents. After dinner, Jack flirts with David and Les’s sister, Sarah, and David tells his parents that they will be successful in their partnership with Jack. David’s father, however, reminds his son that he will soon return to his job at the factory when his arm heals and that David must go back to school. Later, David tells Jack that his father was laid off after becoming injured at work because he was not protected by a union. Although invited to stay the night, Jack refuses and on his way back to the Newsboys Lodging House, he fantasizes about going to Santa Fe. Meanwhile, Pulitzer’s adviser, Jonathan, informs Pulitzer that revenues can be increased by either raising the distribution price of the paper for the Newsies or by cutting salaries at the top level, and Pulitzer agrees to charging the Newsies ten cents more per one hundred papers. When his associate, Seitz, objects and argues that the Newsies will work for Hearst, instead, Pulitzer plans to conspire with Hearst to raise the fee so there will be no competition and claims that the fees will provide incentive for the boys to sell more papers. The following day, Jack suggests a strike, but David reminds him that they do not have a union to back them. Despite his concern that they will end up in a violent stand off like the trolley workers, David tells Jack that they need to recruit all of the Newsies in New York City for a successful strike. As David whispers rhetoric about rights and unity in his ear, Jack makes a rousing speech to the Newsies and they declare themselves a union. At the door of Pulitzer’s building, Jack tells the boys to be “ambassadors” and spread the word about the strike then heads to Pulitzer’s office with Les. A reporter with The New York Sun , Bryan Denton, observes the rally and questions David, saying that he looks like the “man in charge” when Jack and Les are evicted from the building. Denton treats the boys to a meal, listens to their story and tells them to keep him informed. Later, Jack faces off with Spot Conlon, leader of the Brooklyn Newsies, who doubts that Jack’s Newsies have the courage to fight. The next day, the strike begins with the Newsies intimidating scabs and destroying newspapers, but they are broken up by the police and Crutchy, one of the Newsies, is captured and taken to the Refuge. On their way to rescue Crutchy, Jack tells David that Snyder receives increased funding for every orphan he “rehabilitates,” but he uses the money to pad his pockets. At the Refuge, Jack finds that the Delancey brothers attacked Crutchy, making him unable to walk, and he cannot escape. The next day, Pulitzer authorizes Weasel to use any means necessary to break up the Newsie strike, and when the boys arrive at the press, they are met by men wielding chains and clubs. Watching Jack's Newsies attempt to fight off their attackers, the Brooklyn Newsies come to the rescue and force Weasel’s men to retreat. Denton captures the scene with a photograph and the next morning, the strike makes it to the front page of The New York Sun . In order to get more publicity, Jack suggests a rally. Back at the Refuge, Crutchy sees Jack in the paper on Snyder’s desk and reveals his identity as “Jack” instead of “Sullivan.” Although Crutchy feigns ignorance about Jack’s location, Snyder pursues him at the Newsboys Lodging House, where Kloppman, the caretaker, and the Newsies claim they have never heard of Jack. When Snyder reports to Pulitzer and Mayor Von Wyck that Jack is an escaped felon, Pulitzer demands that Jack is arrested and used as an example to intimidate the Newsies. At the rally in Medda's theater, Jack and David advocate for non-violence and unity, but as Medda performs, Snyder sneaks inside and the New York police force surrounds the building. As the boys attempt to block the police, Jack runs away but is captured after a blow to the head. At the Newsies’ hearing, Denton pays for their release, but tells Jack that the rally was not reported in any papers. When Jack goes before Judge Movealong Monahan, Snyder announces that his real name is Francis Sullivan, his mother is dead and his father is in prison, and that he is a fugitive from the Refuge. Jack accuses Judge Monahan of accepting kickbacks from Snyder and is sentenced to return to the Refuge until he is twenty-one. The Newsies meet with Denton and discover he has been reassigned by The New York Sun and can no longer write about the strike, but he gives David his story about the rally before he leaves. Guided by David, the Newsies attempt to rescue Jack, but outside the Refuge they see him transported away and David follows the carriage to Pulitzer's mansion. After Pulitzer attempts to bribe Jack with freedom and money, and threatens the livelihood of David’s family, Jack escapes with David. Jack, however, angrily sends David away, reminding him that he has put himself and his family at risk, and returns to the Refuge. The next morning, Jack is presented to the striking Newsies as a scab and they call him a traitor, but Les insists it is a ploy. Feeling betrayed, David takes over as leader of the strike, making him a prime target for the Delancey brothers, but when they attack him and his siblings, Jack defends them and rejoins his friends in their cause. The kids visit Denton and Jack asks him to help them write their own paper to rally sweatshop kids from across the city. Using one of Pulitzer's own presses, they print enough papers to spread throughout the city. The next day, while the Newsies wait for others to show at the rally, Denton takes their paper to Mayor Von Wyck and he agrees to help. Suddenly, thousands of sweatshop child laborers congregate outside of Pulitzer's office and join the strike. With the help of Seitz, Jack and David confront Pulitzer in his office. When Pulitzer threatens to retaliate, David tells him that his circulation has decreased seventy percent since the strike began and argues it is not in his best interest to disregard their voices. Reading the Newsies’ paper, Pulitzer demands to know who defied his ban on publishing stories about the strike, and Jack informs him that the news was printed on a Pulitzer press. Returning to the crowd, Jack announces that they have beaten Pulitzer. When the police and Snyder arrive, Jack starts to run, but Denton tells him that he is no longer a fugitive. Newsies from the Refuge, including Crutchy, are released while Snyder climbs into the paddy wagon in handcuffs. As Crutchy explains that Teddy Roosevelt demanded the boys’ discharge, the governor greets the cheering crowd and Denton tells him that Roosevelt will give him a ride anywhere he wants to go. David, Les and Sarah watch sadly as the carriage pulls away, but the next day, as the Newsies line up for their papers, Jack returns to the press and tells Roosevelt that the boys are his family. As the crowd cheers, Jack kisses Sarah passionately, and the friends walk away from the press arm in arm.