Academic journal article Journalism History

Brothers Keeper: The Reform Journalism of the New England Magazine

Academic journal article Journalism History

Brothers Keeper: The Reform Journalism of the New England Magazine

Article excerpt

When the reformist minister the Rev. Edward Everett Hale died in 1909, his friend and colleague Edwin Doak Mead eulogized him in The New England Magazine, the publication the two men had once edited:

He was Boston's greatest citizen. His life is explained ... when we say and see that his aim has been to make his city, his state, his nation, precincts of the kingdom of God.

Hale spent his life

talking politics in a religious way, and talking region in a political way; for this is what he has been doing all his life, and it is for this that he has lived. It is this insight into the common end and aim of Church and State, this insight that we are all our brothers' keepers, in what ever way we look at it, that our duties to our brothers are no less sacred and no less commanding as citizens than the churchman may feel his to be as churchman to his fellow churchmen.(1)

Mead's comments described not only Hale's outlook, but also his own and that of The New England Magazine. The two men took over the editorship of the magazine in 1889 and quickly transformed the once-failing publication into a secular reform journal. Through a carefully-considered blend of social Christianity and socialism coupled with case study methods from the newly-emerging field of social work, Mead and Hale promoted progressivism a decade before it gained widespread acceptance. Together the two men hoped to awaken (and inspire) upper class readers and encourage them to undertake what Mead and Hale perceived were the wealthy's Christian and civic duties toward the working classes.

Hale's and Mead's publication is significant because it brought reform writing into the modern era. The New England Magazine's style and substance shows the emergence of the expert as author more than a decade before muckraking appeared. The journal's articles used newspaper-style reporting and writing--quotations, attribution, short paragraphs, and a dispassionate, just-the-facts style--to lobby for reform goals. In contrast, the other reform magazines of the time, such as The Arena and The Forum, used the traditional essay style of writing. Much of The Arena's religiously tinged articles went further, often reading like impassioned sermons. The New England Magazine's editorial style differed from that of its contemporaries because it had what others did not--two editors, one--Hale--with an extensive print journalism background and the other--Mead--a well-connected activist.

This article examines the reform agenda of The New England Magazine from its inception in 1889 until 1901, when Mead gave up the editorship to devote himself full-time to his work on world peace.(2) In a time of social and economic turmoil marked by often-bloody labor unrest, the publication challenged traditional religious, social, and scientific beliefs to posit that poverty was abnormal, unnecessary, and curable.

The magazine's editors borrowed ideology and solutions from both moderate Christian reformers (adherents of the Social Gospel movement) and radical Christian reformers (Christian socialists) as well as from secular perspectives. Like many social gospel advocates, Mead and Hale sought to improve the existing democratic system, rather than call for a new form of government. They encouraged citizens to return to earlier, and seemingly forgotten, religious and democratic values which stressed individuals' duties to each other.(3) Hale and Mead wanted to combine the teachings of Jesus, the Puritans' perceived theocratic society, and Jefferson's and Lincoln's beliefs that human rights were inalienable and superseded property rights.(4)

The New England Magazine lobbied for both government and individuals to improve the poor's wages, working, living, and sanitary conditions as short-term goals. The editors also sought to end government corruption. A nation with dishonest leaders could not serve its citizens. Mead and Hale also had a long-term goal: turning America into a Christian nation. …

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