By: Aakanksha Tangri
Anya Schiffrin is the director of the media and communications program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Her new book, Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World is the first anthology that looks at investigative reporting from the developing world including groundbreaking pieces of journalism from India.
How did the idea of the book come about to be?
I was doing research to prepare a history of journalism class at Columbia’s journalism school and began reading newspapers from the 19th century and books about journalism. I came across King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild which described E.D. Morel’s campaign for better conditions for workers in the Congo who were gathering rubber there when it was ruled by King Leopold. I was intrigued by the idea that there were journalists working on these labour campaigns that I became interested to know what kind of journalism were being written in the 19th century and that led me to learn about Roger Casement who was also researching on rubber conditions on rubber plantations in the Amazon and inevitably that also led me to read many more newspapers in Teen Murti Library and also in Calcutta. I had read anthologies of journalism from the US and UK but reading these old newspapers inspired me to edit a collection that would showcase journalism from the developing world.
What pieces of journalism did you end up choosing for the book?
I got historians, journalists and activists from around the world to nominate pieces of journalism that they thought were important and then we divided the book into different categories such as rural affairs, women, corruption. Some of the pieces from India include writing by Dwarkanath Ganguly which is introduced by Jayeeta Sharma a piece by Madhusree Mukerjee who introduced Biplabi and a piece on honour killings by a Pakistani journalist. P. Sainath is in the book as well. Amartya Sen has talked so much about the Bengal Famine and the impact the press coverage has had on food supply in India, so I thought it was important to have a piece of journalism from the Bengal Famine. I had a researcher spend a lot of time reading the English-language newspapers from Calcutta and we ended up using one of The Statesman editorials about the 1943 famine in Bengal. As I understand it, war-time censorship from the British prevented the famine from being reported in the English language newspapers in India.
Many of the issues that journalists uncovered and reported on over the last 100 years are still problems today including labour conditions, human rights violations, poverty, corruption, women’s rights. But how has the style of reporting and writing evolved over time?
In English, writing has become more concise. There’s also more use of data and probably more sources. For the modern reader, the storytelling is easier to understand. A lot of 19th century newspapers feel a bit like blogs in the sense that there’s randomness, personal stories and rumours.
Surprising to me was continued…