Inktober days 15-18:
The last intrepid female journalist I had the pleasure of studying was none other than Nora Ephron. She was a journalist, feminist, screenwriter, blogger, producer, and director. Perhaps best known for writing the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, she was a journalist first, bringing humor to the world of news.
When I covered the life and journalism of Nancy Hicks Maynard, I encountered the problem of not having enough material. This was NOT the case with Ephron. Her work has been compiled into at least three collections including The Most of Nora Ephron (edited by Robert Gottlieb) which I used for this installment.
Nora was born in New York City in 1941. When she was about five years old, her parents, who were screenwriters, moved their family to Hollywood. For her, the journalism bug bit early in high school. She attended Wellesley College for women where she would later give a commencement address to the class of 1996. Ephron began her career at Newsweek as a mail girl and worked her way up. She quickly learned the women at Newsweek were not allowed to be writers –– The highest rank they could reach was “researcher”, a not-so-fancy term for fact-checker.
“With hindsight, of course, I can see how brilliantly institutionalized the sexism was at Newsweek. For every man, an inferior woman.” (The Most of Nora Ephron, pg.8)
She left Newsweek but participated in a lawsuit against the magazine for sexual discrimination. Even before leaving Newsweek, she wrote a parody article for a small publication, which landed her a job at the New York Post where she was a reporter for five years. From there, she began writing for magazines like Esquire and Cosmopolitan.
During the mid-70s, Ephron was married to her second husband (of three), journalist Carl Bernstein. Together they co-wrote a screenplay for the film adaptation of All the President’s Men, following the Watergate scandal. That screenplay was not ultimately used, but it helped her get future screenwriting gigs. She knew the identity of Deep Throat (Mark Felt) and told people if they asked, though most people didn’t believe her. Ephron and Bernstein’s marriage came to an abrupt end when she discovered his affair while she was pregnant with their second child.
Ephron turned her heartbreak into Heartburn, a mostly autobiographical novel (1982), and an accompanying screenplay (1986). Heartburn was followed by When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998) and Julia and Julia (2009), among others. She was also the writer of three plays, including Love, Loss, and What I Wore (2008).
She died in 2012 from pneumonia resulting from an acute form of leukemia.
The Woman Who Didn’t Believe in Objectivity
(See pg 3 For Proof)
The first thing I’ll say is Nora Ephron did not shy away from getting personal. She puts herself INTO the story and freely gives her opinions. Typically, journalists are taught NOT to do this –– unless you can make it work, and even if you can, avoid it. Long story short: she could and she did. Ephron has the most colorful and humorous style of any journalist I’ve read. She uses words and phrases like prosaic, “long dingy hall”, relic, bare-bones, “morbid fantasy”, squished and coveted, to name a few. More so, I found the WAY she puts words together rather the individual words she uses are where the real magic lies. It just flows.
I thought it apt to begin with her account of how she fell in love with journalism. She tells, in vivid detail, about the start of her career. I think this was a good piece to have at the beginning because it familiarizes readers with the most of what Nora Ephron is all about.
“But for many years I was in love with journalism. I loved the city room. I loved the pack. I loved smoking and drinking scotch and playing dollar poker. I didn’t know much about anything, and I was in a profession where you didn’t have to. I loved the speed. I loved the deadlines. I loved that you wrapped the fish.” (“Journalism: A Love Story”, pg.12)
One of the next and most poignant articles I dove into was about the controversial Boston photographs. “They are pictures of death in action, of that split-second when luck runs out, and it is impossible to look at them without feeling their extraordinary impact and remembering, in an almost subconscious way, the morbid fantasy of falling, falling off a building, falling to one’s death.” (“The Boston Photographs”, pg.26) These images, published in hundreds of papers across America, caused uproar and backlash over what was or was not appropriate to publish in newspapers. This piece took me by surprise. It was not the kind of article I expected to find by one of the funniest women I’ve encountered. It takes a certain skill to be able to write in different styles and moods and it sets dynamic writers apart from the rest of the fold. In this article, Ephron raises several points worthy of discussion –– though uncomfortable to witness, even through pictures, death is a major part of life. Why not print those photos? Even so, editors must weigh the audience’s potential reaction against the newsworthiness and find a middle ground.
Another less appealing topic journalists have to cover are conventions. Sometimes, depending on the subject of the convention, it is hard to make it seem compelling to readers. One tidbit Ephron makes use of is the fact that one of the presenters, Thomas Friedman, sent a video of himself giving the speech in lieu of him actually being there. It may not seem as strange now in the era of Ted Talks, but I think I would rather be presented to in person. Other points of interest Ephron comments on are: pieces of conventional wisdom often prove to become false with time, Warren Buffett reigns as the king of panelists, and despite what Friedman said about technology breaking down the world’s walls, the earth is NOT flat, and we still have plenty of walls.
I want to take some time to talk about graduations. Originally I wasn’t going to read the commencement speech Ephron gave to the Wellesley graduates of ’96, but seeing as I graduated a few months ago, I thought I might as well.
I remember three things from my commencement address: the speaker’s odd fascination with mediocre cheese curds, a misplaced rant about gun control, and something about Trojan horses. I had envisioned hearing a more empowering or inspirational speech, and maybe she did say something to that degree, but I was to busy thinking about cheese curds to really hear it.
Though Ephron’s speech is as old as I am, I found it to have more of what I needed to hear. It was practical and had the right amount touches of humor and wisdom.
“What are you going to do? Everything is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind.” (“Commencement Address to Wellesley Class of 1996”, pg. 79)
Some of us grow up to be reporters or politicians, and some of us become political journalists who write about JFK’s favorite soup (tomato soup with sour cream). Theodore H. White was once the best writer of political campaign coverage until everyone else caught up. By 1975, when Ephron wrote about him for Esquire, he was tired, frustrated and far past his prime. Ephron presents this portrait in pure narrative form, almost turning White into a character. He is perpetually alone, reading or writing, or noticing the weather. He is fading away.
“The change, the invisible landslide of change, eluded him.” (“The Making of Theodore H. White”, pg. 53)
Here, Ephron paints a pitiful caricature of a once successful man. The narrative style of the article articulates the dangers of resisting change and lingering in the past more so than what a simple features piece might.
Another character Ephron makes her own is Lisbeth Salander, the fictional protagonist of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A year before the American version of the film premiered, Ephron wrote a short parody scene entitled “Lisbeth Salander: The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut”. The danger Lisbeth faces this time: a broken umlaut key! If she can’t fix it, she and Mikael Blomkvist may never know where exactly they are in Sweden…
A Quick Word About Food
I cannot write about Nora Ephron without at least mentioning food. She was a self-proclaimed “foodie” and wrote many articles about it. Her novel, Heartburn is about a food writer and includes several recipes The food-related article I read praises a hot pastrami sandwich found in a Los Angeles delicatessen. This particular pastrami sandwiches so good because pastrami is apparently never that good and this one has tender, juicy meat (a must in most sandwiches, in fact). Another selling point is the bread is hot and fresh. In Nora’s words, “It’s a symphony orchestra, different instruments brought together to play one perfect chord… a work of art.” (“A Sandwich”, pg. 406)
What I learned
I’ll try to stick to three items, but I could probably think of more.
1) Write in whatever style is comfortable: For Ephron, that was personal and witty. If hard news is your thing, go for it. If humor is more up your alley, go up that alley.
2) Even when things are working out well, it’s okay to move on: Nora was a good journalist, but she moved to magazines. When she wanted to move on to screenwriting, she did. And she didn’t give up journalism –– she continued to write.
3) Using ALL CAPS for emphasis is fine if used sparingly: USING ALL CAPS LIKE THIS FEELS LIKE SHOUTING AND IT’S UNNECESSARY! Only capitalizing ONE word is more effective. Note: Ephron often employed this technique for emphasis. She used it in the correct way.
Nancy Hicks Maynard was one of the first female African-American journalists for the New York Times. She was an owner of the Oakland Tribune, a founder and first president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (MIJE).
Despite these achievements, her work isn’t easy to find, unlike that of Bly or Mitchell. I spent what seemed like hours searching for some of her articles. In the end I was able to find two pieces written in the mid-90s and a textbook. I thought for her being one of the first female African-American journalists for a major newspaper, her work would have been better archived. There was little biography to consult. Learning about who Bly and Mitchell were outside of their careers was exciting and informative and I wanted that same opportunity with Nancy. Even with the limited resources at my disposal, I am determined to do Mrs. Maynard justice.
She was born Nancy Alene Hall in Harlem, New York City. Her interest in journalism began when the media misrepresented her community after a fire. After graduating from Long Island University with a degree in journalism, she began working for the New York Post as a copy girl. (A “copy girl” was a way to identify female copy editors.) About a year later, she was snatched up by the New York Times. Once she reached reporter status, she hit the streets covering strikes, race riots, campus takeovers, education, and health care. In the early 70s, she traveled to China to report on its medical system. She later covered NASA’s Apollo program.
In the late 70s, she and her husband Robert C. Maynard quit their respective jobs and founded an institute for budding minority journalists. The institute now bears Robert’s name as the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. The institute is dedicated to helping journalists of color find jobs in news media. Nancy served as its first president and sat on the board until 2002.
At the time the institute was founded, 4% of journalists in major American newsrooms were of color. Now, the percentage has climbed to about 16.6%, according to the American Society of News Editors.
During the 80s, the Maynards bought the struggling Oakland Tribune. As publishers, they helped the paper recover financially and bring more diversity into the newsroom until Robert’s death in ’93.
Nancy Maynard died in 2008 due to organ failure.
Speculation on the Future of News Media
Unlike the other women I’ve been studying, Maynard’s style is far more serious. Out of the three so far, she writes the most like a typical journalist. That is to say, she focuses more on facts than people. (At least this is true for the articles I was able to find.) While I enjoy writing that features emotion and personality over facts and figures, it certainly is NOT a detriment to Maynard’s style. Without a personal angle, Maynard is able to provide an abundance of information on a rather nebulous subject: the future of journalism.
In all the work I had access to, she speculates on the future of news media, a topic journalists are still debating about. In “Managing the Future” she says newspapers serve two masters–– advertisers and readers. For the “media triangle” to avoid a collapse into a straight line, newspapers need to find a way to remain relevant and integral to the process. Maynard writes to do so is more difficult than it sounds.
“General news is omnipresent. It has become a commodity that doesn’t command a high commercial value.”
She explains that audiences appreciate predictability which general news lacks. To a large extent, each day in news is different. In contrast, sports news follows a pattern. In each game there will be a winner and a loser and fans can expect a rundown of significant plays and have access to game statistics. While Maynard remains neutral on the subject, I think the lack of expectation is what makes “general” news exciting.
Maynard moves on to conjecture on how people receive news in the future. It wasn’t spot on but I did find it interesting to read where people in the mid-90s saw the future heading.
“With fax and color-copying technology, each household could become its own printing site — at a fraction of the cost of traditional newspaper printing and delivery.”
Thankfully, the internet became the go-to place for news instead of the fax machine.
Maynard opens her next piece on Media Economics by asking “Where Is Page One in Cyberspace?”. In the digital world, where does everything begin? In digital (as well as print) journalism, what comes first––an idea or the money to fund the idea? She wasn’t able to answer the question definitively, but in the course of the article she makes the case for money being an important factor in how a pitch becomes a story. Maynard investigated how much money it took to crack big stories such as Watergate or the Pentagon Papers. The Answer: Lots. Once papers spend a fortune on investigation, they need to sell or bring in enough ad revenue to cover the costs. As Maynard writes, “Good journalism can be profitable.”
By the time I got around to reading Chapters One and Two of her book Mega Media, I was frustrated. Why couldn’t I find any of her early work? Why did I have to resort to reading a textbook? (Reading textbooks would be a lot more fun and manageable if more were done in comic form!) But Nancy herself helped me come to terms with my dilemma.
Chapter One is about news going digital. Back when computers were the size of whole rooms, it was harder to preserve content and it was expensive to track down old news. Before 1995 and the increased usage of the World Wide Web, news was perishable. Now,
“The digitization of the news, then, is like food refrigeration: All presumptions about freshness, perishability, production, and delivery times and methods are in the consumer’s favor. Search engines “defrost” information when we want it. The public largely controls what it knows and when it knows it.”
Maybe this is why Maynard’s articles aren’t able to be “defrosted” for me––perhaps no one really collected her old articles to be digitized. Before, I didn’t think about all those journalists before Maynard whose writing has since been lost.
Mega Media focuses heavily on the digital age and how embracing it makes news better. With content and statistics stored digitally, the process of gathering material is much faster. Older ways of content collection, like using the telephone, are still effective and digital methods can act as a helping hand.
Speaking of content gathering, how important is the distribution of the content? In fact, which is more important–– the content or the distribution? In recent months, I’ve heard many people say content is king. However, Maynard explains in Chapter Two of her book a combination of the two hits the sweet spot. Even good content can’t make it on its own. It must go through several channels before it can become effective. On the flip side, it won’t matter if the message is distributed through a hundred channels, if the content is not up to snuff.
Let’s go back to the question of Nancy Maynard herself. I did happen to find a tapped interview with her on the Maynard Institue’s website. Unsure how much this would yield, I saved it for last. I should have started with it. In this two-hour interview, she narrates her journey from childhood to adulthood in elaborate detail. She had storytelling in her veins. In person, she was animated and could recall the past in such elaborate detail. I learned New York Times editors were her professors at Long Island University, she worked on her campus newspaper, and was able to get a job at The New York Post right after graduation. Though she was at the post for a little over a year, she was there at the same time Nora Ephron was! At the Times, she struggled with her editors because of her race and gender, but she stuck it out and moved departments. By moving departments, she was able to experience more than the education beat and flourished in science and health care. In the 70s, her editors wouldn’t pay for her to go to China for a story, so she paid her own way, and her story made the front page. She said she was never afraid to go out on assignments alone, a feat she credits to her youth and naivety. Maynard wasn’t afraid of risks as she left one uncertainty for another. Her job at the Times could end at any time, and the move to Oakland might not work out. But it did work out, and she was able to help hundreds of minority journalists achieve their goals. Lastly, while running the institute and raising children, Maynard found time to attend Stanford Law School.
What I Learned:
Listening to Nancy talk about her life and her career was like turning on a lightblub.
Be tenacious in everything: Like with the other two women I’ve encountered through this project, Nancy had to work for what she wanted. Because of her race, she had to work harder for some opportunities. By not letting others tell her what she could or couldn’t do, she was able to accomplish a lot.
Be open to sharing knowledge and resources: Nancy quit her job at the Times to use her experience and resources to help others like her to become journalist and to increase the percentage of journalists of color in newsrooms. Extraordinary things can happen when people come together and help each other out.
When most people think of author Margaret Mitchell, they think Gone With the Wind. Before Scarlett O’Hara was written into existence, there was Peggy Mitchell, a pavement-pounding reporter chronicling life in the Jazz Age South.
Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia and was a rebel from the start. From a young age she dressed in boys clothing and often went by “Jimmy”. Mitchell found herself drawn to storytelling and writing as a young girl but school was a different matter entirely. She often found it boring and wasn’t as studious as her strict mother would have liked. At about 11 years old, Mitchell was thrown from her horse and suffered an ankle injury –– the first of three that would bring an end to her journalism career. During the war years (1914-1918) she attended Atlanta’s Washington Seminary for girls where she began to use the name Peggy.
Mitchell went to Smith College at her mother’s insistence, but her mother’s death cut her tenure short. Mitchell caught the first train home, but arrived too late. She finished out the academic year, and returned home to be with her father and brother. A year later, she made her debut into Atlanta society as a debutante. Always one to shake things up, Mitchell also became a flapper, started a group called “The Rebel Debutantes” and performed a rather edgy dances at a debutante ball.
In the same year (1922) the country was mourning the death of Nellie Bly, Mitchell finagled her way into a job at the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. Though she lacked experience as a news writer and had never touched a typewriter, she lied to the editor and got the job.
Mitchell was married to “Red” Upshaw at the time she began working for the Journal Magazine, but she opted to use her maiden name as her byline. Upshaw was many things–– a bootlegger, unemployed and violent. Their marriage did not last long. He left her, returning months later broke and angry, provoking Margaret to file for divorce.
According to Mitchell’s editor at the Journal Magazine, Angus Perkerson, she proved to be a valuable report who was ready for any story thrown her way. In a 1945 interview Perkerson said, “…she never looked down on any story. And she wrote like a man… Her stories did not require much editing. They ran as she wrote them.” She wrote about Georgian society, the role of women, voting rights, relationships and marriage, personality sketches, and gangs for over four years. Her stories were often the talk of either controversy or high praise. Her profiles on Georgian Civil War generals were hugely popular and provided inspiration for Gone With the Wind (GWTW).
During her time at the Journal Magazine, Mitchell married fellow journalist John Marsh who happened to be the best man at her first wedding. Marsh would become her primary editor for her first and only novel. Mitchell’s career as a reporter ended after she re-injured her ankle. Mitchell wrote more than 200 articles as a journalist.
The first manuscript for GWTW was completed in 1929. She drew on the stories of Confederate soldiers she’d heard as a child. Over the next five years, Mitchell worked on her novel periodically but made no effort to publish it, thinking it wasn’t polished enough. Finally, in 1935, Harold Latham, a literary editor, convinced Mitchell to let him read the gigantic manuscript. During the next five months, she edited, cut, and revised her work as much as she could. The final edition of Gone With the Wind was published June 1936. It was a smash hit. By October, a million copies were sold. In the same year, Mitchell sold the movie rights to producer David Selznick for 50 million dollars. The popularity of the novel earned Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the annual American Booksellers Association award.
The film version of GWTW premiered in Atlanta in 1939. Come awards season, it received 10 Academy Awards, including “Best Picture”. Even with the success of GWTW, Mitchell chose not to write another novel. Instead, she spent her time answering letters from fans. When America entered WWII, she volunteered as a Red Cross nurse and used the income from her novel to help others. Though she had a complicated relationship with African-Americans, she donated a lot of money to support the education of black doctors. She remained a secret benefactor for the rest of her life.
Mitchell met an untimely end in August 1949. While on the way to a movie, a car hit her, putting her in a coma. She died five days later. In her will there were instructions to have her work burned. Marsh followed her request but grabbed a few pages of GWTW before they burned incase Mitchell’s authorship was ever questioned.
Pavement Pounding Journalist
In the 1920s, it was still uncommon for a married woman to work. A husband was expected to be the breadwinner. This was not so in Mitchell’s first marriage. The one good thing to come from her union with Upshaw was Mitchell’s need to work. Her first assignment for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine was to report on Atlanta socialite, Mrs. Mary Hines Gunsaulus, and the newest fashion she’d seen while in Europe. During the interview, Gunsaulus mentioned she’d witnessed the Fascist revolution in Italy. Originally, the Fascist bit was tacked onto the end of the style report, but Mitchell’s editor turned the story on its head, making world political news relevant to Atlanta society.
Angus Perkerson, managing editor of the Journal Magazine, hired Mitchell to cover the style and entertainment beats, thinking her social connections would come in handy. In a collection of her articles, edited by Patrick Allen, her work is divided into sections such as “Mode and Manners”, “The Debutante and the ‘New Woman'”, and “In and Out of Wedlock”. While these stories were much lighter and fun to read, Mitchell didn’t shy away from hard news. She covered a criminal beat, reporting on Bunko Gangs, rum runners, and thieves. Even these articles focused more on the human aspects rather than the crimes.
Most of her articles, even ones that would typically be classified as “Hard News”, have a distinct story-telling feel. Readers do not feel as if they are getting a facts-only, straight news article. Mitchell’s are full of personality, humor and color.
Mitchell’s work follows patterns found in non-fiction and new journalism, as they are more immersive and focus on truth over fact.
“Fashion is fickle in all things, from the position of waist lines to the size of tips, but nowhere is She more changeable than in slang expressions.”
-“The Cat Has No Pajamas”, June 1924; pg. 31-34
In her articles on styles in slang, she presents a subjective truth that fashion is never stagnant especially in the words we use. She has her readers imagine Miss 1923– the most fashion forward and ideal woman of the modern age. Miss 1923 is up-to-date on everything, most importantly, language. (“Spring Styles in Slang Reach Atlanta”, April 1923; pg.9-11) Mitchell’s presentation of Miss 1923 got me thinking about what Miss 2018 would be like. Would she be an aspiring Instagram model wearing the latest in hipster fashion and have multi-colored hair? She’d almost certainly use words like “bae”, “lit”, “yaass”, “extra” or “low-key”. While Miss 1923 and 2018 would appear completely opposite, their attitudes towards the world, style, and language might be surprisingly similar. In many of her writings, she allows her humor to poke through. Her brand of humor is less subtle than Bly’s but isn’t as outright as more modern writers like Chuck Klosterman or Nora Ephron.
“Men are endowed with ostrich-like attributes which Providence spared women.”
-“Just Like a Woman; Ditto for Men”, March 1923; pg.85-88
Style was only a small part of her repertoire. Like Bly, Mitchell writes many articles on women. She also covered marriage and relationships, voting rights, and work in a woman’s world. In her July 1924 article, “Do Working Women Make the Best Wives?” she explores the quandary of whether a wife should be employed. While some believed having a job would make women less feminine and too independent, others argued the experience would give wives a better understanding of their husbands and the value of a dollar. She wrote it was smart to work and “As for making a good wives, the girls declare that far from ruining them as homemakers, a job before marriage is the best insurance of a happy married life.” (pg. 102)
The structure of a typical article written by Margaret Mitchell begins with a short headline and a snappy lede.
Shot Three Times, Missed Him–– Divorced
The little things that break the backs of camels and the yoke of matrimony.
Some of her articles feature a short synopsis before the lede and a great many are segmented. The article above has four subheadings, ‘Threw Bed Clothes on the Floor’, ‘The Dentist’s Wife’, ‘Trailed by Detectives’ and ‘Missed Him Three Times’. I feel this can be a good way of presenting a story as it naturally sets the reader up for a new idea. It could also be a good way to transition if other methods aren’t working.
Despite having a short career in journalism, Mitchell went on to write one of the most popular books in American history. She may have been born with story-telling in her blood, but her stint at the Journal Magazine prepared her and allowed her to hone her skills before embarking on the road to Gone With the Wind.
What I’ve Learned:
Every News Article is a Story- While hard news typically stays with the facts, there is no reason not to make the piece compelling. Mitchell achieved this by using her natural lyrical style and providing plenty of description of her subjects.
“Grandma Veal is a slight, tiny figure, yet erect of carriage. Her small face is wrinkled and faintly yellow, but marked with determination.
Her eyes, undimmed by age, gleam vivaciously over her spectacles and her small hands are constantly in motion as she talks.”
“Grandma Veal Speaks Her Mind on Her 102nd Birthday”, October 1924; pg. 172-179
The Lede is as Important as the Headline- Mitchell knows how to write a good headline. Both her headlines and ledes are fantastically crafted. A punching headline will get readers to look at the article, but a good lede will get them to continue reading.
Nellie was what was known as a “stunt reporter”. She’d put herself in dangerous and sometimes ridiculous situations. Her undercover stories were exciting and boardered on sensationalist. Joseph Pulitzer, owner of The New York World, capitalized on this style of reporting. He began hiring many more women to follow in Nellie’s footsteps and become her competitors. Soon, women almost outnumbered men in America’s biggest newrooms.
Motivated by her competitors, Bly wanted to pull something new out of her hat. She proposed a trip alone around the world, hypothesizing it was possible to make it back in less than 80 days. Her editors had already considered the idea but wanted to send a man. To get her editors to agree to her plan, she threated to make the trip for another paper AND beat any man The World sent. And so, on Nov. 14, 1889, Bly began her journey from Hoboken. Her itinerary was as follows:
Nov. 14: Left from Hoboken, NJ (USA)
” 22: London, England
” 23: Calais, France
” 25: Brindisi, Italy
” 27: Port Said, Egypt
” 28: Ismallia and Suez, Egypt
Dec. 03: Aden, Yemen
” 08: Colombo, Sri Lanka
” 16: Penang, Malaysia
” 18: Singapore
” 25: Hong Kong (territory of China)
” 28: Yokohama, Japan
Jan. 07: Left Yokohama
” 21: San Francisco, CA (USA)
” 23: Chicago, IL (USA)
” 25: New York City, NY (USA)
Around the World in 72 Days differs in style from most of Bly’s other work. It flows more like a novel than a news article. Bly was able to write more personally because she treated the trip more like a vacation. Her trip wasn’t to report on any one story –– she WAS the story. She included more dialogue show the vast cast of characters she met. She allows her humor and wit to come through as well.
Despite 72 Days being more personal, it remains straight forward and factual.
Early in her journey, Nellie stopped by Amines, France to visit Jules Verne. He was excited to meet the woman proposing to beat his character’s record. On a map showing Phileas Fogg’s 80-day route, Verne marked where Bly’s journey differed. He wished her success saying, “If you do it in 79 days, I shall applaud with both hands,” and “Good Luck, Nellie Bly”.
However, Bly wasn’t the only woman undertaking this challenge. Elizabeth Bisland, a reporter for Cosmopolitan, raced (in the opposite direction) for the record without Nellie knowing until she was in Hong Kong.
In the end, Bly broke the fictional record, and beat Bisland as well as her own 75 day estimate.
Nellie’s Record: 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes
From the beginning of her career, Bly advocated for women’s rights. When the women’s suffrage movement gained traction, she was right in the thick of it and in 1896 she attended the Woman’s Suffrage Convention to report on it for The World. She was pleased to see a large age range of women there saying, “The oldest woman in the audience was probably seventy-five. The youngest was five,”. Though she found some presentations such as those on finaces boring, she wrote, “Nothing is unimportant at this woman’s Suffrage Convention”.
Articles during this period of her career were dialogue heavy. She told stories mostly through quotes which allowed her subjects to take center stage. However, the dialogue does not over power her writing. In an interview with suffragist leader Susan B. Anthony, she opens with enough description readers can get a vivid picture of the “little, silvery-haired warrior” (Anthony) and her surroundings. Then she lets Anthony speak so its as if she is talking directly to the reader. In the interview/article “Champion of Her Sex” (published a few days after the woman’s convention), Bly highlights everything from Miss Anthony’s appearence and personality to her thoughts on women’s rights and the “new” woman.
When she married, Cochrane hung up her reporter’s hat and traded it in for one of a business woman. She came out of her hiatus while in Austria, feeling compelled to keep Americans, who weren’t yet in the war, informed.
“The fine, honest blue eyes of the soldiers would gaze with fearless straightness into the eyes of their princely superior. The Prince would hand them medals, shake hands with them, and they would step back for an officer to pin the medals over their loyal hearts.” – From “Nellie Bly at the Front. 1914. The New York Evening Journal.
Age certainly didn’t stop her from being a daredevil. Ast the beginning of the war, Bly was about 50 years old! Here and until her death, her reports were much shorter and a bit more lyrical.
What I learned from Nellie Bly:
Risky Business Can Be Profitable –– Even with potential safety issues and possible sensationalism, stories don’t uncover themselves. Change does not exist in the comfort zone. Without some risk, Nellie’s of Blackwell’s Island would not have led to changes in asylum practices.
Let Your Subjects Speak For Themselves –– All writer’s are told to follow the “show don’t tell” rule. Quotes allow the interviewee to bring color and personality to the story.
Persistance Is a Must –– Nellie did not let her editor’s turn her down. When she wanted to take a trip around the world, she convinced her editors to agree. She was able to write the stories she chose because continually insisted upon it. Persistance may aid career advancement, but it is also extreamly beneficial when dealing with sources.
Check back soon for all things Margaret Mitchell!
Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, known to the world as “Nellie Bly” was an American female reporter who pioneered the field of investigative journalism. Throughout her career, she frequently went undercover to expose the ills of society, traveled around the world, advocated for women’s suffrage and reported from the front lines as one of the first female war correspondents.
Before getting into her work, here is a Bit of History:
Elizabeth Cochrane was born in Pennsylvania in 1864. She attended Indiana Normal School aiming to become a teacher but was only able to complete one semester as tuition was too expensive.
It was in 1885 Cochrane’s began her journalism career. Moved by anger, she replied to an editorial entitled “What Girls Are Good For”, which suggested women had no place outside of the home and completing an education or striving toward a career was outside female capabilities. The managing editor of The Pittsburg Dispatch was impressed enough to invite Cochrane to the newspaper and offered her a job. Her first article “The Girl Puzzle” was published as a rebuttal to “What Girls Are Good For”. From this point forward, Cochrane began writing under the pen name “Nellie Bly” taken from the title of a popular song.
Bly moved to New York City in 1887 after a brief stint at the Dispatch and a six-month trip to Mexico. Determined to land a job at a big newspaper, she talked her way into the office of John Cockerill (the managing editor of The New York World owned by Joseph Pulitzer). Her first assignment with The World was to go undercover and expose the mistreatment of patients at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. Bly unsanitary conditions, rotten food, and both physical and mental abuse for 10 days. Her account of asylum life convinced city officials to investigate deeper, increase funding, and provide better care for the patients.
Following the success of her madhouse articles, she continued undercover work, helping pioneer the field of investigative journalism.
In November of 1889 Bly set of on her famous trip around the world, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. She returned to the United States 72 days later, breaking the fictional record and becoming a household name. She covered big stories such as the Pullman Strike, the women’s suffrage movement, and even interviewed Susan B. Anthony.
Though Cochrane didn’t plan to wed, She married Robert Seaman, a wealthy owner of a manufacturing company. Cochrane took over the business nine years later upon her husband’s death. The business went bankrupt in 1914 and Cochrane left for Austria to visit a friend.
While overseas, World War I began, compelling Cochrane to assume the role of Nellie Bly once more and race to the front lines. Risking her life, Bly reported back to Americans through The New York Evening Journal giving the country a first-hand account of the action.
Returning to New York when the fighting was over, Bly obtained her own column in the Evening Journal. She kept up with her column until her death in 1922. The Evening Journal paid tribute to Bly calling her “The Best Reporter in America”.
10 Days in a Madhouse Kickstarts Nellie’s Career
Nellie Bly made her mark by daring to write about sensitive topics most people didn’t want to talk or read about. Her success came from gumption, passion and pluck. However, she would never have made it into the madhouse, around the world, or to the front lines had she ignored the “What Girls are Good For” editorial.
In her first article, “The Girl Puzzle” she addresses all men as well as wealthy, more educated women advocating for women’s (especially the poor) right to work and fair wages.
“In being a merchant traveler or filling similar positions a true woman will protect herselft anywhere –– as easily on the road as behind the counter, as easily as a Pullman conductor as in an office or factory.”
While this first article earned her attention, her work at The Pittsburg Dispatch proved unsatisfying and she eventually left the paper for bigger and better opportunities in New York.
Once on the madhouse assignment, Bly wasted no time procuring a room at a boarding house for working women, using the name “Nellie Brown”. She admitted to being nervous and uncomfortable with the idea of living among mad women but was determined to see it through. Her strategy was to talk nonsense and stare blankly with wide eyes to convince the other women she was crazy. It works alarmingly well. The next morning, she is taken by the police before a judge and doctor who declare her insane. The poor treatment of suspected insane people is already apparent. Only a few people have treated her with kindness and sympathy. Sent to a hospital, Nellie is again questioned and examined by an “insane expert” who asks her ridiculous questions, concluding she is crazy.
Upon the expert’s suggestion, Nellie is sent to Blackwell’s Island. Bly informs readers she decided to drop the act, proving doctors can’t tell or don’t care whether someone is insane or not. Up until this point, Bly’s writing style is mostly to-the-point and factual with doses of her own feelings and opinions. When she arrives on the island, her style becomes more impassioned yet remains as objective as possible. Though her writing is plain, it has an easy, comfortable cadence. Her use of imagery brings the characters and events to life. Her first impression of the asylum gives readers a grim outlook on what can be found inside.
“…how much easier it would be to walk to the gallows than to this tomb of living horrors.”
Bly discovers all food served to patients is rotten and stale. Baths are cold and patients are forcibly bathed by a fellow patient. Nurses are never gentle, force patients to do their work, and find pleasure in the women’s pain.
“Well, you don’t need to expect any kindness here, for you won’t get it here.” – Miss Grupe to Nellie
Doctors ignore patients pleas of sanity and refuse to treat real illnesses like colds or fevers. Bly thinks the mistreatment (and occasional forcing of drugs) is enough to make any sane woman insane and the mad madder. It pains her to watch insanity slowly creep into the minds and souls of women she has bonded with. 10 days in a madhouse seemed like a painful eternity but even release is bittersweet. Bly writes that she felt guilty for being the one to escape while others are left behind.
Back in comfortable society, Bly appeared in court to relay her findings to a judge and jury. The jurors ask her to take them BACK to the island to see the asylum for themselves making both Bly and readers uneasy. Nellie finds the madhouse much changed and hears the attendants were alerted before their arrival. Everything had been made presentable, casting doubt on her story. They look around for some of the women Bly encountered but none can be found. Still, the jury believes Bly’s account to be accurate.
The startling stories of asylum life, paired with Bly’s objectivity, led to nationwide outrage and convinced city officials to make changes.
This is only the beginning of Nellie Bly’s career and personal story. As her career progressed, her style changed in little ways, allowing the voices of her subjects come through. However, her objective remained the same: write so the voices of the unheard could be heard and promote change through facts.
I made this comic a while ago while I was watching the new(ish) Spiderman with my little brother. I was reminded of a funny article I had read in the STL Post Dispatch.
I was recently flipping through an old sketchbook and I found my first real comics! I made these for a final project in a Short Story class.
So without further ado, here are some of my old comics:
That’s right! This semester has been a huge learning expirence for me and I really enjoyed working on this blog. I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning to keep it going. Nothing is concrete yet, but as of right now, the comics (maybe not so much the commentary) will continue. If you have any suggestions or things you’d like to see in the future, let me know!
This is what I was really thinking after I delievered my English Capstone presentation on Ray Bradbury. Brutal Reality: 1 Ellen: 0
Bonus Picture: Ray Bradbury!! (Ingore the writing- this is from one of my notebooks)