Journalistic Advocates and Muckrakers/Three Centuries of Crusading Writers

Article excerpt

Journalistic Advocates and Muckrakers/ Three Centuries of Crusading Writers. Edd Applegate. Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, 1997. 219 pp. $39.95 hbk.

Various traditions in the American press have emerged today to create the contemporary news media. At the heart of the press' function, however, is the ideal of objectivity, the belief that readers are best served when they receive balanced information and when the journalist plays the role of political neutral. At times, of course, the press plays other roles, advocating for various causes on its editorial pages and in its opinion columns. At other times it mounts investigations in attempts to find wrongdoing and then exposes what it finds. At one time this was called "muckraking," and today it is known as investigative reporting. Occasionally, although less so today than in the past, the press will crusade for a solution to a problem, perhaps combining objectivity, advocacy, and muckraking in a publication to mount a crusade.

Edd Applegate, an associate professor of journalism at Middle Tennessee State University, is particularly interested in writers who challenge the notion of neutrality, whether they come from the political left or right. His book offers biographical profiles of 101 writers who he classifies as either advocates or muckrakers. He includes a short list of representative works by each writer and a bibliography. This book would be a useful addition to a library collection or could serve as a personal reference for journalism professors. The book's strength is in its research, which is impressive, but it has serious problems of focus that, in the end, create a strange mix of portraits.

Applegate begins with an introductory essay which is perhaps the most disappointing part of the book. Given the title, one would expect the introduction to define advocacy journalism and its relationship to both muckraking and crusading journalism. This would be a fertile area of discussion. The early American press was belligerently partisan; it then moved toward independence from political parties, while still maintaining some aspects of its advocacy. Around the turn of the century it began to crusade, and soon after entered what is known as its muckraking or expose phase. Eventually, the press adopted objectivity as its defining characteristic, while still maintaining advocacy, crusading, and muckraking approaches on its fringes. …