Murder, Mayhem, Mudslinging, Scandals, and Disasters in 19th-Century Reporting


List Price: $49.95

Bookmark and Share
ISBN: 978-1-4128-5171-8
Pages: 425
Binding: Hardcover
Publication Date: 07-22-2013
Also available as:
Google eBook Paperback


David B. Sachsman and David W. Bulla have gathered a colorful collection of essays exploring sensationalism in nineteenth-century newspaper reporting. The contributors analyze the role of sensationalism and tell the story of both the rise of the penny press in the 1830s and the careers of specific editors and reporters dedicated to this particular journalistic style.

Divided into four sections, the first, titled "The Many Faces of Sensationalism," provides an eloquent defense of yellow journalism, analyzes the place of sensational pictures, and provides a detailed examination of the changes in reporting over a twenty-year span. The second part, "Mudslinging, Muckraking, Scandals, and Yellow Journalism," focuses on sensationalism and the American presidency as well as why journalistic muckraking came to fruition in the Progressive Era.

The third section, "Murder, Mayhem, Stunts, Hoaxes, and Disasters," features a groundbreaking discussion of the place of religion and death in nineteenth-century newspapers. The final section explains the connection between sensationalism and hatred. This is a must-read book for any historian, journalist, or person interested in American culture.

Editorial Reviews

“Concise but engaging overviews that would work well for undergraduate readings in American journalism history. . . . This book complements overview history texts by offering deeper explorations of the lively and colorful individuals, events, and subjects that distinguished yellow journalism in all of its notorious glory.”

—Paula Hunt, American Journalism


“Sensationalism is appealing because it plays on emotions—and it is disdained for the same reason. . . . The first of the book’s 21 essays looks at ‘yellow journalism,’ considering how that pejorative was entwined with the personality of William Randolph Hearst—though it was not just the business impulse of the press baron that accounted for sensationalism. Another strong chapter looks at the rise of illustration, perhaps the key facet of present-day sensationalism, as a component of 19th-century practice. Several contributions touch on the morality play that often constitutes sensational coverage; Les Sillars argues that the judgmental lessons embedded in that style of reporting were rooted in sermonizing. This book offers much food for thought, and it succeeds because of sensationalism’s inherent allure. . . . Recommended.”

—J. K. Chakars, Choice

“Serious scholarship shouldn’t be this much fun. Americans of the twenty-first century bemoaning the ‘Foxification’ of television news will find useful historical perspective from this engaging collection of essays on the nineteenth-century press. As with today’s traditional media and new media, paradigm-breaking nineteenth-century technological change—steam powered presses, railroads, and the telegraph—led to exponentially faster news delivery. Readers wanted news and entertainment, and the press delivered sensationalism galore. Some of the fare was a moving freak show after P. T. Barnum’s heart, but sensational exposés of tainted ‘swill’ milk and dangerous machinery served society well. . . . David B. Sachsman, a distinguished social scientist who once was a copy boy at the New York Daily News, and David W. Bulla, a rising star in communication history, serve the past—and the present—well with this thoughtfully edited volume featuring the work of top historians of the media.”

—Dwight L. Teeter, Jr., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

“Why is it that we are so attracted to sensationalism in the press? We are not even sure how to define sensationalism except, like obscenity, we know it when we see it. Apparently it is part of our journalistic DNA, and—it turns out—it can be traced back for a long time. These major journalism historians have dissected sensationalism from coverage of murders in our early national history to somber scenes on Civil War battlefields and in more recent news coverage as well, all based on detailed primary research. This book goes a long way in explaining why we publically scorn sensationalism while secretly sampling it. Apparently we always have. And the writing in the book, like the news stories studied, is so bright, it is almost . . . well, sensational.”

—Donald L. Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“From Thomas Nast’s dramatic cartoons to the daring Evangelina Cisneros rescue to the eye-opening escapades of Nellie Bly, Sensationalism readers are treated to a cavalcade of tales about both the famous and the infamous, as well as many unknown characters of mass media history. In the introduction, Bulla and Sachsman point out that sensationalism in the news is defined by three elements—topics, tone, and degree. Each chapter reminds us that these stories deftly blended vivid details with dramatic alliteration and heightened levels of rhetoric. The journalism of the nineteenth century marked the first time news was recognized as a commodity, and each newspaper or magazine struggled to adapt to its varied role of informing, entertaining, and often shocking its readers in what would become the early stages of a truly mass appeal medium. Sensationalism provides historians with an opportunity to examine not only why titillating topics first attracted thousands of readers to early news columns, but also how those same topics continue to entice and pique the interests of audiences in modern times.”

—Bernell Tripp, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida

“The essays in this volume present both a broad introduction to the sensationalism of nineteenth-century periodicals and probing analyses of a few specific cases that offer insight into the cultural function of sensationalism. . . . Those who read the volume cover to cover will emerge with just such a sense of what sensational reporting looked like (particularly the importance of the penny press, which arose in the 1830s) and a few ways that it functioned.”

—Andrea M. Holliger, American Periodicals

People Who Bought This Book Also Bought:

Related Topics


Customer Reviews Average Customer Review: Not yet rated

Write an online reviewand share your thoughts with others.
There are no reviews for this book yet!

Table of Contents

Preface - David B. Sachsman
Acknowledgments - David B. Sachsman
Introduction - David W. Bulla and David B. Sachsman
[I] The Many Faces of Sensationalism
1 Yellow Journalism: Why So Maligned and Misunderstood? - W. Joseph Campbell
2 “Alarming Intelligence”: Sensationalism in Newspapers after the Raids at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and St. Albans, Vermont - Brian Gabrial
3 “What H. G. Knows About . . .”: Cartoonist Thomas Nast’s 1872 Crusade against Presidential
Candidate Horace Greeley - Jennifer E. Moore, William E. Huntzicker, and Hazel Dicken-Garcia
4 Publishing Violence as Art and News: Sensational Prints and Pictures in the 19th-Century Press - Gregory A. Borchard, Stephen Bates, and Lawrence J. Mullen
5 Sensational Journalism in the Mid-19th Century - David W. Bulla and Heather R. Haley
[II] Mudslinging, Muckraking, Scandals, and Yellow Journalism
6 “Despicable Journalism”: Sensationalism and the American Presidency in the 19th Century - Crompton Burton
7 Naughty Seeds of Sensationalism: Gossip and Celebrity in 19th-Century Reporting - Jack Breslin
8 “Ours Has Been No Pleasing Task”: Sensationalism in Frank Leslie’s Campaign against Swill Milk - Jennifer E. Moore
9 Anglophobia as Art: Free Trade and Protection in Grover Cleveland Political Cartoons - Harlen Makemson
10 Cuba’s “Hot Little Rebel” and Spain’s “Criminal Fugitive”: The Prison Escape of Evangelina Cisneros in 1897 - Carol Wilcox
11 Inheritors of a Sentimental Mantle: The 19th-Century Roots of Progressive Era Muckraking - Jessica Dorman
[III] Murder, Mayhem, Stunts, Hoaxes, and Disasters
12 “Still Another Horror!”: Religion and Death in 19th-Century American Newspapers - Les Sillars
13 Sex, Sin, and Sensation: Two Major Crime Stories in Antebellum New York - William E. Huntzicker
14 In Defense of Vespertilio-homo: Finding the Truth in the 1835 Moon Hoax - James Eric Black
15 Pushing the Boundaries of Propriety: The Rise of the Penny Press, Flash Papers, and Illustrated Newspapers - William E. Huntzicker
16 New York Times Accident Stories: Sensational Coverage Warns of Consequences - Paulette D. Kilmer
17 Nellie Bly: Flying in the Face of Tradition - Dianne Bragg
18 19th-Century Ship Captains in Reality and Mythos: The Role of Disaster Stories in Defining Seafaring Heroes - Paulette D. Kilmer
[IV] Hatred
19 The Making of a “Scoundrel”: Brigham Young and the Sensationalist Press, 1855–1860 - Katrina J. Quinn
20 Marches, Massacres, and Mayhem in the Civil War Period: Did Sensational News Always Lead to Sensationalized Reporting? - Debra Reddin van Tuyll
21 “Lawless Louisiana”: New Orleans Newspapers, Race, and the Battle of Liberty Place - Nancy McKenzie Dupont
About the Editors
List of Contributors