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.