Introduction: Who Was Lincoln Steffens?
Lincoln Steffens was considered a reformer specifically because he advocated for social justice, social reform, and the democratization of American society. He also participated in the Progressive Era. He was a newspaper journalist and an essayist known for his reportage on municipal government corruption, labor conditions in New York City, and its expanding educational system. He helped facilitate the transition from a rural to an urban society. He was also a well-known advocate for the rights of workers and minorities because he believed that challenges faced by minorities and workers were not being addressed effectively enough.
He was an early critic of William Randolph Hearst, who had a long and violent rivalry with Steffens. They argued over influence and power. Steffens wrote articles critical of the American media. His work is therefore distinguished as one of the first forms of investigative journalism in America.
Steffens supported free speech for reformers and radicals, but he was also supportive of laws that protected the public from printed propaganda (e.g., libel). He called for reformers to address the problems facing American society. Some of his ideas are still relevant today, such as the right of all people to a good education.
Steffens’s most notable work is being considered the first investigative journalist in America. He praised “muckraking” journalists for their honesty, courage and dedication to reform. He wrote some of the most influential articles that put pressure on Congress to pass certain laws, such as The Shame of Minneapolis, written in 1904. In the article he accuses city and state officials in Minneapolis of corruption and exploitation. The article led to major changes in government and society.
The Unusual Life of Lincoln Steffens
Lincoln Steffens was born on July 9, 1866 in the small community of Fairdale, Indiana. His parents were both farmers who had large families. He had eight brothers and sisters. He was very close to his family and to his siblings, including his youngest brother Edward. Lincoln attended the state normal school and earned a teaching certificate in 1886. He taught for two years at a school in Indiana, but did not enjoy the experience. He then took a job as a reporter for newspapers in Muncie, Indiana from 1889 to 1891 (Fountain, 2014). During this time he met his wife who he married in 1896. They would have three children together. He also started to take a few amateur photographs in 1894.
While visiting the British Museum, he stumbled upon some old photographs. Steffens found several interesting images and began an informal series of observations and questions regarding the founding of the United States. His fascination with the early days of America began in 1910, when he attended a meeting at Columbia University where William James was speaking on “The American Idea.” After hearing James speak, he wondered why Americans never possessed this idea for themselves. He decided to write down his own thoughts on the subject and began to research the past. Steffens started his research in a chronological fashion, beginning with the English colonists and Native Americans in New England. It was at this point that he first questioned what would become known as “The American Idea.”
How Did Lincoln Steffens Get to Be a Journalist?
During this time period, the newspapers of Muncie were creating a level of investigative journalism that was not present before. Most journalists at the time were hired by editors and not given any independence. Steffens worked as a reporter for The Evening News, which was owned by George Carlisle and Charles G. Napton (Fountain, 2014). In addition to writing articles for his newspaper, he wrote for other small publications including the Despatch in 1901 and the Springfield Republican from 1905 to 1910. He also published his own magazine entitled Shame of the Cities, which discussed corruption in urban political machines. His work was published widely and widely read. He decided to go to New York City in 1904 because of its large population and opportunities for him to find new job opportunities (Fountain, 2014). His move to New York City lead to bigger job opportunities, he was offered a job at McClure’s magazine. His writing style was straightforward and honest, which led to the popularity of his pieces (Fountain, 2014).
Lincoln’s Early Career as an Investigative Journalist
In his short time there (1904 to 1909), Steffens worked for several newspapers including the New York Evening Post and the World in 1908-1909. He wrote articles about municipal corruption, social conditions and social justice. In 1909, he wrote a book entitled The Shame of the Cities which was later turned into a movie in 1913 and finally a play called “The Shame of Norfolk” (Fountain, 2014). He also went on to write many articles for other publications including The Nation Magazine. Lincoln used these articles to critique the political corruption in America. In 1910, Steffens published a book entitled The Struggle for Self-Government. This book contained articles that he wrote between 1895 and 1910 (Fountain, 2014). He traveled throughout Europe during this time. Later, he returned to New York City in 1914 and worked for the New York Evening Post. During this time, Steffens wrote about politics and issues that were related to the government of America (Fountain, 2014).
The Life and Times of Lincoln Steffen and How He Influenced Journalism in America
After publishing his book, Steffens was hired by The World as a journalist and editor in 1909. He soon had a big influence on the publication. He played a leading role in the expansion of the editorial page, which was previously only published once a week (Fountain, 2014). Steffens also began to write articles that were especially well-written and used many words instead of few. These stories helped readers understand complex situations and concepts (Fountain, 2014).
Steffens also had a big influence on the American press. He was the first reporter to expose the political system of government, which he called “the machine.” He argued that people in power usually take advantage of others. Steffens also exposed corruption by politicians. His investigation made many people think that democracy was not functional in America (Fountain, 2014).
In addition to his journalism, Steffens was also a great author and writer. His writing skills helped him earn more money as a journalist. “The Shame of the Cities” was the first book where he exposed how corrupt political machines were. His writing style helped to expose the dark side of politics (Fountain, 2014). He mainly used words like “sin” and “corruption,” which made him seem more powerful.
Steffens wrote many other books after “The Shame of the Cities.” Some of these books included: “Tweed Days in St. Louis,” “The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens,” and “The Struggle for Self-Government. These books helped him to have a greater influence on the American public (Whitman, 2011).