Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kidstells the story of the amazing reporter Nellie Bly, and the early muckrakers who used the power of the pen to bring about social reform in America. Muckrakers were newspaper, magazine, and book writers who “raked up the muck” of society to tell readers what was really happening with important issues such as child labor, government corruption, monopolies, poverty, racism, suffrage, unhealthy food practices, and violence at the turn of the century. Although Nellie Bly did not have formal training as a journalist, she went on to become a top reporter in the male-dominated newspaper world of New York City. At one point she was a worldwide celebrity. The book also highlights key muckrakers of the late 1800s and early 1900s including Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, and Upton Sinclair. Readers will also learn about acclaimed modern-day muckrakers including Amy Goodman, Michael Moss, Annie Leonard, and Bill Moyers. In addition, a timeline, informative resource section and 21 fun and relevant activities are included.
“An engaging book with very rich stories about the early muckrakers who helped to define journalism as a public service. Ellen Mahoney’s storytelling approach is perfect for young readers, and each chapter unfolds as an adventure.” —Suzanne Lysak, assistant professor, broadcast and digital journalism, Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications
“This outstanding work of nonfiction is sure to inspire a new generation of investigative journalists.” —Teacher Librarian
“With excellent content, an appealing layout, and an exciting topic, this book is a joy to read and explore.” —Booklist
Q & A
How did you learn about Nellie Bly?
While teaching an introductory journalism course at Metropolitan State University of Denver, we used the Media & Culture textbook by Richard Campbell, Christopher R. Martin, and Bettina Fabos. The book’s chapter about newspapers talks about early reporter Nellie Bly and I was immediately hooked.
What was so interesting about her?
There were many things. But what truly amazed me was Nellie’s courage in going undercover at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island near New York City to report on the abuses of women there. It was 1887 and Nellie was only 23 years old when she feigned insanity to get committed to the asylum. Once there, she was treated cruelly like other patients. Some of the patients were actually sane immigrants who didn’t speak English and couldn’t defend themselves. At the asylum, Nellie choked for air during an ice-cold bucket bath. She was slapped, pushed around, and given spoiled, bug-infested food. She slept on a hard cot in a small room with bars on the window. Each night her “cell” door was locked, and Nellie realized that in the event of fire, she and other patients would likely be trapped.
How did she finally get out of the asylum?
At the time, Nellie was a reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper, and a lawyer associated with the paper set her free. Nellie went on to write an eye-opening and damning series of articles for the World about conditions at the asylum, which helped bring much-needed reform. Nellie then published the articles as a book titled, Ten Days in a Mad-House.
How did she become a worldwide celebrity?
Nellie pitched a story idea that was a big hit. She wanted to travel around the world to beat the record of Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg character in his novel Around the World in Eighty Days. During the journey Nellie would write about what she saw and experienced. Her editors were reluctant at first to let her go, but eventually gave her the green light. As Nellie traveled by steamship or train from country to country, readers followed along via newspaper articles. They were glued to her fascinating journey. In addition, the World featured a fun contest so readers could bet on what day and time Nellie would get back home. It wasn’t common in the late 1800s for women to travel like this, let alone report about it. When Nellie finally beat Phileas Fogg’s record, she became a celebrity. Her articles were published in the World and then published as a book titled Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.
What was it like choosing the various muckrakers featured in the book?
I thought a lot about individuals and causes young people could relate to and find interesting. Journalist Jacob Riis used his photography to show devastating conditions in New York City tenement houses. Ida Tarbell wrote about growing up in the emerging oil industry and the many problems it caused her family and others. Ida B. Wells went from being an educator to a journalist and wrote prolifically about the horrors of racism and lynching. As an author, Upton Sinclair tackled many subjects and he’s best known for his shocking expose of the meatpacking industry in Chicago. There are numerous modern-day muckrakers and many of these individuals are Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. Again, I thought about different individuals young people could relate to. As an activist, journalist, and television host, Amy Goodman works hard to give individuals an independent voice. Michael Moss is an acclaimed writer whose book, Salt Sugar Fat, focuses on the ills of our modern-day food industry. Annie Leonard’s acclaimed animated film, “The Story of Stuff,” talks about materialism and consumerism. Bill Moyers, a longtime journalist and television host/commentator, brings important issues of politics, spirituality and health to light.
How will this book help young readers?
As journalism continues to change in our digital world, it’s great when young people are encouraged to learn skills in writing, editing, interviewing, reporting, storytelling, and photography. Their words and pictures can be powerful and make such a positive difference in the world. Nellie Bly had a nose for news and knew a good story when she saw one. Through the hardships of her own life, she felt compelled to write about the injustices other people faced. I hope this book is interesting for young readers and inspires them to take on their own writing and photography projects.