What Is Muckraking Journalism?
Muckraking is a term applied to journalists who use newspapers as a means of attacking injustice, exposing abuses, and circulating information about misconduct to the general public. The term was popularized in the late 1800s when some American journalists began to stray from reporting news events and started investigating and writing about prominent people and organizations. Concerned with exposing corruption in both business and politics, they helped raise awareness of social, economic, and political ills. Their work led to a number of reforms and legislative changes. Magazine articles in the early 1900s on corrupt practices in such businesses as the Beef Trust, the Amalgamated Copper Company, and various life insurance companies led to crucial actions on pure food laws and antitrust legislation. These articles permanently changed the role of the journalist in society.
While the early muckrakers were often criticized for their tactics, their work was influential in raising public awareness and in using the medium of journalism as a tool for critique and social action. Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) dubbed the controversial journalists "muckrakers" in reference to a character in the book Pilgrim's Progress (by English preacher John Bunyan, 1628–1688) who rejects a crown for a muckrake, a tool used for raking manure. This implied that such journalists preferred the dirtier side of current events and were willing to dig for it rather than concentrate on "cleaner" news stories. Some of the more famous muckrakers were Ida Tarbell (1857–1944), Lincoln Steffens (1866–1936), and David G. Phillips (1867–1911).
Further Information: Brasch, Walter M. Forerunners of the Revolution. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990; Filler, Louis. Crusaders for American Liberalism. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1939; Harrison, J. M., and H. H. Stein. Muckraking. University Park, Penn. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974; "Muckraking." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www. encyclopedia.com/articles/12643.html, October 23, 2000; "Muckraking." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/12296.html, October 23, 2000.