CITIZEN REPORTERS by Stephanie Gorton


S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America
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A history of McClure’s magazine, its publisher, and its most important contributor.

While employed on the editorial side of magazines and book publishing, Gorton began wondering about the motivations and interpersonal dynamics of writers and editors. When she discovered a century-old professional relationship between magazine publisher Samuel Sidney McClure and his star writer, Ida Minerva Tarbell, she began to conduct research for this book. Both born in 1857, McClure and Tarbell met in 1892 as he sought to hire her for the editorial staff of his nascent, eponymous monthly magazine. That magazine would become hugely successful from 1893 until about 1906, when internal and external forces caused a decline, leading to eventual closure. In Gorton’s wide-ranging book, the magazine does not make its debut until nearly 100 pages in. Before that, the author lays out a dual biography, alternating chapters between the two outsized personalities. While McClure was restless, Tarbell was steadier in nature. Gorton conducted primary documents research in archives filled with papers from McClure (mostly in Indiana) and Tarbell (mostly in Pennsylvania). The author also cites liberally from a previous McClure biography as well as two previous Tarbell biographies and her memoir, All in a Day’s Work, originally published in 1939. Tarbell’s fame rests largely on her accomplishments as a muckraking woman journalist in the male-dominated industry while McClure was well known for his ability to lead “by enthusiasm, rather than by example.” The best-known content—an exposé of Standard Oil Company and John D. Rockefeller researched and written by Tarbell—appeared in installments published between 1902 and 1904 and was later published in 1904 as The History of the Standard Oil Company. Though Gorton offers a sturdy portrait of Tarbell and McClure for a new generation of readers, much of the information she provides has already appeared in previous books and historical journals. The author variously refers to Tarbell as “Miss Tarbell,” “Ida Tarbell,” or simply “Ida,” which becomes distracting.

An adequate resource for readers new to this piece of the history of American journalism.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-06-279664-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2019