Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine that Rewrote America – Stephanie Gorton (Listened on Audible Audio)

This was a fascinating read about the earliest investigative reporters (“muckrakers”), the pressing topics of the time, and the turn of the 20th-century publication, “McClures” conceived and established by S.S. McClure. Over the years, Ida Tarbell turned up as a character in historical fiction I read. I welcomed this chance to learn about her in a nonfiction setting. Gorton provides us with a fairly complete biography of S.S. McClure, a poor Irish immigrant who secured an advanced education, learned about publishing in early post-college jobs and went on to establish an original magazine that published the fiction of Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, Willa Cather. It notably published investigative series on Standard Oil/John D. Rockefeller, the Ku Klux Klan, United Steel and more. Gorton also gives a fairly complete biography of Ida Tarbell, one of the first writers (a woman no less!) hired on as a permanent staff writer to a U.S. magazine. Tarbell and McClure became dear friends and wonderful collaborators for many years. McClure, a volatile creative genius, who spent much of his time traveling to “find out what the public wants,” gave his staff writers the time to fully learn about an assigned subject. Ida Tarbell’s first piece for McClures was about Lincoln. S.S. McClure sent her to Washington where she stayed at an estate with a large research library. McClure was a restless soul, given to impulsive behavior, often to the detriment of family, friends, as well as the magazine and its staff. He was extravagant, changeable, and charming. It is fair to say the magazine would not have been the unique, highly regarded, and substantive publication it was without McClure and that it was doomed because of McClure. Still, it had nearly a thirty-year run, and the sketches of all the key staff members and contributors were well-drawn and kept me interested. Highly recommend!

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