Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nellie Bly, investigative reporter

Nellie Bly
It is the birthday of daring investigative reporter Nellie Bly (1864), whose exposé of an insane asylum led to reforms in New York City. She feigned insanity so she could see the conditions in the mental institution first hand. She also set a record by traveling around the world in 72 days to emulate Jules Verne's fictional Around the World in Eighty Days. She wrote about both events in series published in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World newspaper. Both resulted in books, Ten Days in a Mad-House (1887) and Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (1890). Her real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran and she came to journalism accidentally after she wrote a scathing rebuttal to a sexist column published in the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1880. The editor was so impressed he sent for the man who wrote the letter. He wanted to hire him. When Elizabeth showed up he refused to hire her but she talked her way into a job anyway. He gave her the pen name Nellie Bly after the popular song by Stephen Foster, Nelly Bly. After she wrote an investigative series on the plight of women working in a factory, causing a stir in the community and the newsroom, the editor relegated her to the women's pages, covering gardening, society and fashion. Nellie wasn't content with that, so she went to Mexico as a foreign correspondent and wrote about the lives of the Mexican people. Her reports were compiled into a book, Six Months in Mexico (1888). When she returned to Pittsburgh, the editor assigned her to cover theater and the arts, so she left and went to New York, eventually getting the job at the New York World.

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