The word muckraking often evokes history lessons on the Pentagon Papers or grave conditions in New York City tenements – but what about society-changing journalism in other countries?
It was that question that led Anya Schiffrin, the director of the International Media, Advocacy and Communications specialization at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs, to put together her new book, “Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Reporting from Around the World.”
“I wanted a book that would show all these stories across the world,” she tells ProPublica’s Cezary Podkul in this week’s podcast, “how they related to each other, what impact those stories had, and really showcase the writing for a new generation.”
As the compilation shows, Schiffrin says, change happens quickly when society is ready. In other cases, even the most shocking exposés have little impact.
Take the practice of foot binding in China: “People were writing about foot binding in China for hundreds and hundreds of years,” Schiffrin says, but it was only when the “elites decided it was embarrassing – and that they wanted to join the modern world – that people really sort of sat up and decided to get rid of foot binding.”
Podkul notes that even though some of the writing is more than a century old, it feels modern in its intimacy. He cites the powerful work of Gareth Jones, who traveled through Stalin’s Russia documenting famine’s toll in the 1930s.
“This importance of being there that comes time and again from the writing – that is a big reason why this writing resonates,” Podkul says. “These very often are very brave firsthand accounts of people who traveled and witnessed some really terrible things.”