Synopses & Reviews
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the public had had enough of sex and death. The lurid penny presses of the industrial East had been mixing a potent cocktail of sensationalism to tempt the American public and increase newspaper circulation, but that steady diet of sexual scandals and murders was growing increasingly unpalatable to readers. When investigative journalists William T. Stead and George Kibbe Turner launched their soon-to-be infamous investigations into global sex trafficking, they were met with skepticism, allegations of fraud—and eventually the two newspapermen saw a fundamental change in their craft, a shift from sensationalism to journalistic objectivity.
In Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, Gretchen Soderlund offers a new way to understand sensationalism in both newspapers and reform movements. Moving beyond an awareness of sensationalism as either overt emotionalism or attributed critique, Soderlund explains how the social and political realities of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century society changed, slowly marginalizing this kind of journalism in favor of a new more ethical style that demonstrated the significance of race, gender, and sexuality to its readers.
"This is a beautifully written, skillfully narrated take on the transformations that took place in American journalism during the Progressive Era. Highly creative and meticulously researched, there's no book quite like it." Elizabeth Bernstein, Barnard College
"Sex Trafficking is model media research. Soderlund unearths the origins of 'sensationalism'—stimulating the senses—which aimed to build a new public aroused to progressive reform. But the use of scandal backfired, laying a shaky foundation for news media that has led to the crisis of journalism today. Soderlund's book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the fate of citizenship and democracy in the digital era." Kevin G. Barnhurst, University of Leeds
“By considering the role that media scandals around sex trafficking played at a critical juncture in journalism history, this book offers new insights into the evolution of a wide range of media practices. Rigorous, eloquent, and original, Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism is going to change how we think about journalism history and the role that women—as both objects and subjects—played in the making of it.” Carol A. Stabile, University of Oregon
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the penny presses of the industrial East treated brothels as a mundane, if annoying, aspect of city life. But later in the century, reformers and mainstream papers began to push back against this representation through highly public campaigns against “white slavery.” These newspaper crusades mixed a potent cocktail of lurid sexual detail and sensationalist scandal aimed equally at promoting anti-vice measures, arousing popular demand for progressive reform, and increasing newspaper circulation.
In Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, Gretchen Soderlund offers a new way to understand sensationalism in both newspapers and reform movements. By tracing the history of high-profile print exposés on sex trafficking by journalists like William T. Stead and George Kibbe Turner, Soderlund demonstrates how controversies over gender, race, and sexuality were central to the shift from sensationalism to objectivity—and crucial to the development of journalism in the early twentieth century.
About the Author
Gretchen Soderlund is assistant professor of English and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she also teaches in the interdisciplinary Media, Art, and Text PhD program.
Table of Contents
1. White Slavery and Journalisms Shifting Axis of Truth
2. William T. Stead and the “Soul” of Sensationalism
3. The Journalism of Reform and the Reform of Journalism
4. George Kibbe Turner, Muckraking, and the Brief Reign of Piteous Facts
5. Authorizing Skepticism: The New York Times and the Demise of Muckraking
6. From Sensation to Secrecy: The Rockefeller Grand Jury and Its Aftermath