In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation and their own safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. Inventive writers whose in-depth narratives made headlines for weeks at a stretch, these 'girl stunt reporters' changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women's rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age. After only a decade of headlines and fame, though, these trailblazers faced a vicious public backlash. Accused of practicing 'yellow journalism,' their popularity waned until 'stunt reporter' became a badge of shame. But their influence on the field of journalism would arc across a century, from the Progressive Era "muckraking" of the 1900s to the personal 'New Journalism' of the 1960s and '70s, to the 'immersion journalism' and 'creative nonfiction' of today. Bold and unconventional, these writers changed how people would tell stories forever.
With textured analysis and an instinct for salient details, Todd emulates her pioneering heroines to offer multidimensional examples of the revolutionary contributions women of this era made to journalism.
These stories make for high adventure ... Todd writes clearly, entertainingly, and, most of all honestly. Journalists covered in Sensational would approve ... The final chapters of Sensational include the author’s failed effort to discern the identity of Chicago’s mysterious 'Girl Reporter' and information on the later careers of the book’s main characters. It also has annotation, illustrations, and a bibliography.
Sensational encompasses the intersection of newspaper wars, the campaign for women’s rights and the growing concern over the exploitation of labor. Ms. Todd interweaves these themes into her close focus on newspaper archives. Rather than emphasize one woman at a time, however, she takes a chronological approach—not entirely successfully, making it difficult to keep the stunt reporters apart as they don their disguises and dive into squalor ... Ms. Todd’s resurrection of these courageous reporters is fascinating because the women and their stories are so vibrant. With acerbic wit, the author also makes a larger point. In the 1960s, Tom Wolfe challenged established journalistic conventions when he told his stories in scenes, with ample dialogue, colorful details and a distinct point of view. George Plimpton trained with the Detroit Lions. Hunter S. Thompson hung out with the Hells Angels. At colleges across the country, MFA programs began offering degrees in 'creative nonfiction.' But it was the male muckrakers who are credited as the progenitors of gritty, detailed narratives told in the first person. Ms. Todd makes a good case that more credit is due to those early 'girl stunt reporters.'