The term Muckraker was used in the Progressive Era. It referred to a group of journalists who exposed corrupt institutions and leaders. In the modern age, we call them investigative journalists. During the Progressive era, the Muckraker magazines especially the McClure took on large corporates and political groups.
They also tried to raise awareness among the public regarding the poverty, child labor and prostitution. Modern investigative journalists consider Muckrakers to be early influencer’s and regard them to be a part of watchdog journalism.
In 1901 President Roosevelt took office and began managing the press. He organized various press conferences. However, the Muckrakers who had emerged around the 1900s were not easy to handle. Despite all of this, he still efficiently used them and tried to gain support for his Square Deal. When the journalists showed interest in other topics, Roosevelt became agitated and stated that they were floundering in the mud.
On April 14th, 1906, he gave a speech in which he referred to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He both highlighted the pitfalls and the benefits of the investigative writing. This was the start of the term Muckraker. Many journalists hated the term and regarded it as derogatory. It was eventually associated with investigative journalists who exposed frauds, graffiti, waste and public health, issues etc.
Although traces of the reforms could already be seen in the world of journalism, the true form of Muckraking emerged in the 1900s. During this period the magazines such as Collier’s Weekly, Munsey’s Magazine and McClure’s Magazine had already become quite popular.
The January 1903 issue of McClure was the start of the Muckraking era. Ida M. Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and Ray Baker published three different stories in the same issue. In 1902 McClure had published another story called Tweed Days in St. Louie it is regarded as the first Muckraking article. Claude H. Wetmore and Lincoln Steffens were its authors.
The Muckrakers appeared right at the time when the Journalism world was going through changes. To counter Yellow journalism, which focused on exaggeration and sensationalism, objective journalism emerged. A perfect example of this was The New York Times, which was managed by Adolph Ochs. It concentrated on reporting facts and remained impartial. The advancement in wire service also helped in spreading the objective reporting style. Along with this, various other writers such as Nellie Bly, Julius Chambers, Ida B. Wells and B. O. Flower also took on serious topics as well.
The magazine was Muckraking’s primary outlet. On May 1893 Samuel S. McClure and John Sanborn Phillips launched McClure Magazine. They lowered their prices to 15 cents, attracted advertisers, added illustrations and provided good content. After a while, when the magazine became popular, they raised their prices. The McClure searched and founded talented writers. Examples can be taken of Ida M. Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens Burton J. Hendrick, George Kennan, John Moody. Henry Reuterdahl, George Kibbe Turner, and Judson C. Welliver, etc.
Other famous magazines associated with Muckraker movement are American Magazine, Arena, Collier’s Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Everybody’s Magazine, Hampton’s, Outlook, Twentieth Century and World’s Work.
Ray Baker, Lincoln Steffen, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Samuel Hopkins Adams, David Graham Phillips, Louis D. Brandeis, Charles Edward Russell, John Spargo, John Kenneth Turner, Drew Pearson and Gustavus Myers, etc. are some of the most well-known Muckrakers in the American history. Their work brought a massive revolution and exposed many corrupt officials.
The McClure Magazine published the Right to Work article in 1903. It focused on the conditions of the coal mine, coal strike and the working conditions of the scab. According to the author, the scabs were simple farmers who had no knowledge about mining and worked in extremely harsh conditions.
The Tweed Days in St. Louie was published in 1902 and is regarded as the first Mackaracker article. It exposed the corrupt officials of the St, Louie.
The Rise of the Standard Oil company was published in 1902. It focused on the manipulation of the trusts. The author criticized Rockefeller’s for his ruthless business tactics. Along with the various other publications such as The Great American Fraud, The Treason of Senate and The Story of Life Insurance, etc. left their mark on the world.
The Muckrakers had a significant impact on the American society. Due to their efforts, new legislations were introduced. They destroyed the Standard Oil company’s monopoly. In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act was established. Around 1916 USA’s first Child Labor Act was created.
Their investigation revealed that bribery and corruption were not only taking place at the state level but in the congress as well, which led to a complete change in the election results. Along with this reorganization also took place in the army and changes were made in the Senate’s electoral system as well.
The influence of the Muckrakers begun to dwindle during the reign of the William Howard Taft. The advertisement boycotts resulted in the magazines going bankrupt; this made it easy for the Corporations and the political figures to silence the Muckraker journalists. However, the most crucial factor behind the Muckrakers disappearance was their success.
Many reforms had already taken place. Monopolies such as the Standard Oil had fallen apart and the political machines were destroyed. The problems that the Muckrakers had highlighted were resolved. As such, the era of Muckrakers had come to an end; there was no need for them anymore.
In the modern age, people use Investigative Journalism synonymous to the Muckraking. Most of the Journalist textbook agree that McClure’s Muckraking standard are similar to the contemporary investigative journalism. Majority of the modern Journalists draw inspiration from the Muckrakers, and they have also become an essential part of American history as well. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed the Nixon Administration at Watergate, which resulted in Nixon’s resignation. Recently, Edward Snowden also revealed how the government was making use of illegal methods to spy on its citizens.
So, in conclusion, the Mackrackers brought a great deal of change in the world of Journalism. They were different from the yellow journalism, which focused on creating sensations and did not want to change anything. The Mackrackers truly wanted to reform society, and now their torch has been passed on to modern-day journalists.