Small but vital reporters

23 May

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I loved listening to a CBC radio programme called Double Exposure. Satirizing contemporary Canadian politics, the show starred Linda Cullen and Bob Robertson, and focused primarily on the stars’ voice impersonations of Canadian political and cultural figures. One of my favorite segments has Cullen personifying “Victoria Penner, small but vital reporter”.

For a while, I’d considered journalism as a career, but hadn’t wanted to end up doing human interest stories on a small town paper and laughed as Cullen confirmed my decision to go into teaching instead. Of course, I wanted to be a famous foreign correspondent or at the very least, a substantial figure in Canadian political journalism. I didn’t think I had the killer instinct it would take to get ahead in, what was still, a male dominated career. Writing would be my avocation, but not my career.

With these memories swirling in my memory, I happily found myself reading two books about female journalists that would make a fabulous fiction, non-fiction pairing.

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Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter, by the amazingly named Beth Fantaskey, is set in 1920’s Chicago. Isabel is a small but intrepid newsie, who longs to be a reporter.

Goodreads Summary:It’s 1920s Chicago—the guns-and-gangster era of Al Capone—and it’s unusual for a girl to be selling the Tribune on the street corner. But ten-year-old Isabel Feeney is unusual . . . unusually obsessed with being a news reporter. She can’t believe her luck when she stumbles not only into a real-live murder scene, but also into her hero, the famous journalist Maude Collier. The story of how the smart, curious, loyal Isabel fights to defend the honor of her accused friend and latches on to the murder case like a dog on a pant leg makes for a winning, thoroughly entertaining middle grade mystery.

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Before the era of Isabel’s adventure, Nellie Bly was setting the standard for stunt journalism, when even fewer women worked in the news industry. Deborah Noyes’ Ten Days a Madwoman,  takes us to the start of Bly’s career and the first stunt that made her a household name.

Publisher’s Summary: Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion. But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.

Nellie Bly became a household name as the world followed her enthralling career in “stunt” journalism that raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.

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