The humanity of the 20th century has many achievements: high technology, economic development, and scientific progress. However, all these breakthroughs can hardly be imagined without the main attainments: democracy and jural society. An American newspaper editor and publisher Joseph Pulitzer once said: “We are a democracy, and there is only one way to get a democracy on its feet in the matter of its individual, its social, its municipal, its state, its national conduct, and that is by keeping the public informed about what is going on.”
During more than one hundred years, individual journalists have advocated and protected the democratic society, the society without corruption and affairs among government officials. They popularized such serious topics as the nuclear war, the environment, sexism, civil and human rights, dangerous pesticides, and starving children.
President Theodore Roosevelt called them “muckrakes” for their ability to provide a detailed, accurate journalistic inspection of the political and economic corruptions and social necessities. The book by Dr. Carl Jensen Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century presents stories of the most prominent American investigation journalists of the 20th century.
Dr. Carl Jensen is a professor of sociology and communications in the University of Sonoma in California. In 1976, he started an international media project called Censored. An outstanding political situation inspired this project. In 1972, the greatest scandal in political history exploded, and it was named the Watergate scandal. For the first time in the history, independent journalists won the case against the president. Investigation journalism was on the top of its development. The Censored project united journalists who covered the most vital topics of the society in those days.
In 1997, Carl Jensen wrote a research book 20 Years of Censored News, and the last and fundamental of his works became the book Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century.
The main aim of the author was to show development of the investigation journalism during the 20th century and its positive impact on society. He insisted that the leadership must use their knowledge and experience to anticipate any challenges. The administration must develop the ability to explain the idea of change to coventurers. It is possible to implement through organizing seminars and retreating to negotiate the approach of leisure facility management. Moreover, the leadership needs to encourage the coventurers to use the project to the fullest by means of taking the coventurers through different kinds of benefits that America offered.
The administration must also inform their workers that they will not lose jobs and businesses respectively. Employees resist changes mostly because they fear that their job security is at stake, although the changes only improve their life and abilities. The management should not only be well-educated and experienced but must have excellent organizing skills. Entrepreneurial skills help a manager run the enterprise effectively and influence the laborers, thus improving the operational product.
The most prominent persons in investigation journalism, who made their contribution for development of the social society during the 20th century, were chosen for the purpose of this review.
The beginning of the muckrakers movement was full of complications. Journalists met many counteractions. In the early 20th century, America was exposed to the industrial revolution, which opened new ways to create “pocket empires.” It gave rise to the wave of corruption and thirst for “easy money.”
The literary movement muckrakers started with critical essays by Lincoln Steffens, which were directed against corrupt officials. Over the time, Lincoln Joseph Steffens became a world-famous journalist and one of the highest-paid reporters in the United States. The major theme of Steffens’s inspection was the bribery in government organizations, corruption in big business, and replacement of democracy by plutocracy. The journalist keenly criticized the American way of life: the political gangsterism, contacts of the police with the criminal world, human trafficking, falsification of medicines and food, etc.
In 1904, Steffens published the famous book The Shame of the Cities, where he included the series of his essays.
For a long time, Steffens defended the gradual liberal reforms, believing that incorruptible officials and honest politicians might cleanse the society. However, after a while, the life convinced the journalist that the evil was not in individual persons but in the “system.” This term became widely-known due to Steffens. However, during the 20s, the muckraker’s activity declined due to the World War I.
The most productive time in investigation journalism was the 60s and the early 70s. Carl Jensen dedicated thirteen stories to this period. Due to the journalists and public, the big political scandal exploded in 1972-1974, which was called the Watergate scandal. This story induced some people to attempt to secretly enter the office of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate hotel, but they were arrested by the police. This story became widely popular due to two young journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The young journalists suspected that the robbers worked with political opponents of the Democratic National Committee, specifically with President Richard Nixon. As a result, the US President Richard Nixon resigned from his office, which was the first instance of resignation in the history.
“The Watergate” has become a term which means “dirty tricks” with political opponents. The press was an essential component in the Watergate scandal. Politicians and society realized that the independent investigation journalists could have a big power in modern society.
Carl Jensen called the last third of the 20th century unproductive in investigation journalism. He explained it by press monopolization and preference of group work to individual investigation. He warned that it was a negative trend because the US still had many problems, especially social problems like poverty, children abuse, etc.
The social problems of the 90s were described by the most widely acclaimed investigation journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele in the book America: What Went Wrong? The work of the modern muckrakers team is characterized as systematic and comprehensive; moreover, they were able to make their work appropriate to ordinary people.
Barlett and Steele are also important figures in business investigation journalism. The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism founded an annual award in their honor in 2007.
Nowadays, investigation journalism is in some decline. The American magazine for professional journalists The Columbia Journalism Review provided researches on investigation journalism; they discovered that media were already in deep crisis in 2000-2007. During this time period, the press started feeling a negative influence of Internet companies. The crisis also deepened due to global financial crisis of 2001-2003 and a wide decrease in the print media advertising.
Nevertheless, even now, many new talented investigation journalists appear. For example, the young correspondent of the Harrisburg Patriot-News Sara Ganim discovered the sensational story of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal that exposed Jerry Sandusky and the Second Mile charity. Children abuse in American families has become one of the major social problems. According to the report of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, “of all children under age five murdered between 1976 and 2005, about two-thirds of them were killed by their parents: 31 percent were killed by fathers and 29 percent were killed by mothers.” Investigation journalists like Sara Ganim raise this important social topic and oblige authorities to prevent such crimes.
In my opinion, investigation journalism has had an unparalleled impact on establishment of the democratic society. First, muckrakers make political system much clearer for the society. The main function of investigation journalism is to check everything. Second, it informs the society about any fraud among government leaders and makes any crime in governmental institutions or civil organizations visible. In this way, government becomes more responsible for its work. If it fails to correct its mistakes, investigation journalism continues monitoring the activity of the organization and finally strives for public justice.
Investigation journalism is also a powerful source in fighting with corruption system. Independent journalists resemble the public watchdogs. They provide people with the information that is different from the official press, and in such way, they resist the corruption.
The Colombian attorney Catalina Botero said: “Half the population doesn’t live in a democracy. The other fifty percent struggle to protect freedom of speech. In the alleged democracies, the thermometer is free speech. And investigation journalism is the mercury.”
During the century of its establishment, the muckraking journalism has gained such outstanding leaders as Lincoln Steffens, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Donald L. Barlett, James B. Steele, and many others. Nowadays, the American investigation journalism is undergoing some crisis; however, there are some positive tendencies in this difficult but such an important profession for democratic society.