How journalism changed America

For more than 300 years, investigative journalism has been a driving force in the American reform tradition.
Now a collection of these articles has been assembled by a Knight-Ridder editor and a New York University journalism professor.
In Muckraking: The Journalism That Changed America, Judith and William Serrin include passionately written material published from mid-1700 to today.
Although the term “muckraking” was coined to describe shameful conduct, the authors say it should be an accolade. They agree with the famous saying that “The job of a journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
The book is divided into 13 sections, including those on the poor, politics, America at war, railroads, and oil.
In the early years of American history, journalists such as Frederick Douglass rallied public opinion to end slavery. In the same era, Edwin Markham pushed child-labor reform laws.
There is one of the Watergate articles by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Among other well-known reporters are John Steinbeck, Drew Pearson, Edward R. Murrow, Nellie Bly, Lincoln Steffens, and David Halberstam.
The interesting stories include that of Robert S. Abbott. He founded the Chicago Defender in 1905 with 25 cents in capital and a borrowed card table. Within 10 years, it became the most important black newspaper in the country. Heurged Southern blacks to move north.
Some of the important material came from smaller publications such as the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly; McClure’s; The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald; Jewish Frontier; and Harpers.
These reporting gems show how strong American journalism can be.

Muckraking! The Journalism That Changed America edited by Judith and William Serrin, New Press, 392 pages, $25.

 

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