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Ida Tarbell and the watchdog of power

Posted by: | November 17, 2014 | No Comment |

Journalism has been used as a form of activism in America pretty much since it was introduced to the colonies in the 18th century. Its use in social issues has proved its purpose in upholding the freedoms of American citizens, and keeping an eye out for those attempting to compromise our lawful rights.

Ida Tarbell was a pioneering journalist in the late 19th to the early 20th century. Not only was she one of the first women journalists, she was one of the first investigative journalists as well.



Tarbell was the only women in her graduating class at the Allegheny College in 1880. She entered the field of journalism at a time when women’s presence in the profession remained very scarce.

Tarbell was particularly fascinated with big business, and wrote story after story digging into the Rockefeller’s monopoly of the oil industry — a topic which had interested her since the age of 14. Tarbell’s investigations revealed the Rockefeller’s use of unjust business practices in the industry.

Tarbell’s investigation, which was published at length in McClure’s magazine, became “a masterpiece of journalism and an unrelenting indictment that brought down one of history’s greatest tycoons and effectively broke up Standard Oil’s monopoly,” according to one historical report.

Tarbell’s success was very influential during the Progressive Era in bolstering political, economic and social reforms. Her efforts are an early example of how journalism has become the “watchdog” of power.

This practice continues today, through journalists questioning the power of the government and attempting to uphold some element of transparency between those in power and the American citizens. This transparency is continually threatened, however, by the increased ability of the powerful to hide their actions.

Thus now it is possibly as crucial as ever for journalists to continue to act as investigators. While freedom of speech still remains an American right, we must continue to utilize it to its upmost potential, as Tarbell did so many years ago.

under: Comm 455
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