Sensational: A Book Just as Exciting as the Women It Talks About

Title: Sensational: The Hidden Histories of “Girl Stunt Reporters”

Author: Kim Todd

Published April 13th 2021 by Harper

Genre: History, Non-fiction, Feminism

Pages: 400

A vivid social history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” of the Gilded Age who went undercover to expose corruption and abuse in America, and redefined what it meant to be a woman and a journalist — pioneers whose influence continues to be felt today

In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation and their own safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. Inventive writers whose in-depth narratives made headlines for weeks at a stretch, these “girl stunt reporters” changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women’s rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age.

The 1880s and 1890s witnessed a revolution in journalism as publisher titans like Hearst and Pulitzer used weapons of innovation and scandal to battle it out for market share. As they sought new ways to draw readers in, they found their answer in young women flooding into cities to seek their fortunes. When Nellie Bly went undercover into Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women and emerged with a scathing indictment of what she found there, the resulting sensation created opportunity for a whole new wave of writers. In a time of few jobs and few rights for women, here was a path to lives of excitement and meaning.

After only a decade of headlines and fame, though, these trailblazers faced a vicious public backlash. Accused of practicing “yellow journalism,” their popularity waned until “stunt reporter” became a badge of shame. But their influence on the field of journalism would arc across a century, from the Progressive Era “muckraking” of the 1900s to the personal “New Journalism” of the 1960s and ’70s, to the “immersion journalism” and “creative nonfiction” of today. Bold and unconventional, these writers changed how people would tell stories forever.” -Goodreads

My Review:

I do not read a lot of non-fiction books especially not about history. But I recently was talking to an editor at a local magazine in my home state who told me about this book. I would love to become a more well-rounded reader so I decided to use an audible credit and listen to it while I drove to Montana.

This is a story about female stunt reports in the later 1800s to early 1900s. I am a journalism major so I thought this was a fitting topic to pursue.

Todd does a great job of showing instead of telling all the facts. She writes in the story in a way that does not sound like a textbook but does not sound like a narrative piece. She does give great details and beautiful imagery.

Each chapter focuses on a certain woman or a certain event and how that affected the course of journalism or the women’s work. It highlighted a tie where female reporters were not seen as serious news reporters.

The book highlights so many great role models. Nellie Bly and Ida B. Wells are two of my favorites in the book. I love looking at their histories and what they risked to becoming such influential people in this time period.

I am usually not a huge fan of non-fiction. I usually get bored really easily reading long works like this. News stories are fine, like what the women in this book write.

This book I did not get bored at all. Sometimes, I felt a lull in the story. Some experiences felt like reiterations of the same story last chapter. I listened while I was driving so I probably would have fallen asleep and crashed if this book had not been as entertaining as it was.

I think it is really worth the read. Not everyone will enjoy it but if you like reading about women’s issues, are a journalist, or like non-fiction, this book will interest you quite a bit.

As always, thanks for reading,

A Bookie

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