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Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, 1885-1917

In Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, Gretchen Soderlund offers a new way to understand sensationalism in both newspapers and reform movements. By tracing the history of high-profile print exposés on sex trafficking by journalists like William T. Stead and George Kibbe Turner, Soderlund demonstrates how controversies over gender, race, and sexuality were central to the shift from sensationalism to objectivity—and crucial to the development of journalism in the early twentieth century.

224 pages | 5 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History, Urban History

Sociology: Social History

Women's Studies


"This is a beautifully written, skillfully narrated take on the transformations that took place in American journalism during the Progressive Era. Highly creative and meticulously researched, there’s no book quite like it."

Elizabeth Bernstein, Barnard College

"Sex Trafficking is model media research. Soderlund unearths the origins of ’sensationalism’—stimulating the senses—which aimed to build a new public aroused to progressive reform. But the use of scandal backfired, laying a shaky foundation for news media that has led to the crisis of journalism today. Soderlund’s book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the fate of citizenship and democracy in the digital era."

Kevin G. Barnhurst, University of Leeds

“By considering the role that media scandals around sex trafficking played at a critical juncture in journalism history, this book offers new insights into the evolution of a wide range of media practices. Rigorous, eloquent, and original, Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism is going to change how we think about journalism history and the role that women—as both objects and subjects—played in the making of it.”

Carol A. Stabile, University of Oregon

"A compelling account of how the press shaped public understanding of prostitution at a turbulent time in the nation’s history and how, in turn, the resulting scandal shaped the press."

American Journalism

Table of Contents

1. White Slavery and Journalism’s Shifting Axis of Truth
2. William T. Stead and the “Soul” of Sensationalism
3.  The Journalism of Reform and the Reform of Journalism
4. George Kibbe Turner, Muckraking, and the Brief Reign of Piteous Facts
5. Authorizing Skepticism: The New York Times and the Demise of Muckraking
6. From Sensation to Secrecy: The Rockefeller Grand Jury and Its Aftermath



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