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C H A P T E R F O U R Through the Prism of the Argus-Eyed “Journalists laugh at Coxeyism. The laboring people sympathize, and in the end it is the latter who will prevail.”1 William Stead A S H E L E F T M A S S I L L O N with some forty other reporters on that Easter Sunday, the Chicago Record’s young Ray Baker would later recall how Coxey “did not impress me as a great leader of a revolutionary movement.” And as for Browne, Baker described him as reminiscent of one of those “soap box orators and vendors of Kickapoo Indian remedies I had seen on the lakefront in Chicago.” At the same time, as Coxey and Browne first gazed upon Baker across a kitchen table stacked high with sympathetic letters, the thought must have occurred to them that this young émigré from Chicago hardly looked the part of the stereotypical, hard-­ bitten city news reporter. Fresh from the University of Michigan Law School (which he did not finish), with his full mustache, steel-rimmed spectacles , and cleft chin, he radiated more an air of academic seriousness than serious city reporter.2 In February 1892, bored with his study of the law in Ann Arbor, Baker decided to sign up for a literature course taught by a legendary professor , Fred Newton Scott. Enthralled by Scott’s dynamic approach, which combined adventure, imagination, and science, Baker decided to enroll in what the university subsequently claimed to be the first course offered by an American university in the techniques of newspaper writing. As an undergraduate Baker also immersed himself in the scientific curriculum. The then–widely taught methods of Harvard’s Louis Agassiz attracted Baker. Agassiz, the empiricist, emphasized intense observation as the sine qua non of science.“The facts will eventually test all our theories,” the legendary naturalist observed. Baker would soon find the challenge of digging out the facts and presenting them bald-faced was just as essential to good newspaper reporting.“My business as a reporter was to telegraph the facts as I found them,” Baker would later say. As he left Ann Arbor to begin an 66 C H A P T E R F O U R apprenticeship with the Chicago Record in June 1892, Baker was emblematic of an emerging breed of young, college-educated men trying to become newspaper reporters. They helped define an age of new journalism with its emphasis on recounting the facts, even as, in the case of the Coxey story, those facts often appeared to resemble fiction.3 It did not take long for the Record’s editor,Charles Dennis,to be impressed by the way the young Baker tackled his first assignment, the plight of the homeless in Chicago.The Record was only four years old,but under Dennis’s editorship its circulation grew rapidly. The upstart paper quickly gained a reputation for being more sympathetic to labor causes and the poor than its highbrow rivals the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Inter-Ocean, and it was less sensationalistic than the flamboyant Chicago Times. When handed his first assignment, Baker acknowledged that his attitude conformed to the prevailing anti-tramp attitudes that permeated America. Baker’s formative years had been spent in rural America, and like so many—as historian Turner noted—the vast expanses of land shaped his self-reliant attitude. He saw “the tramp” as needing to pull himself up by the bootstraps and go find a job, which was just over the next horizon: My attitude was that of the frontier where I had grown up. Bums, tramps! Why didn’t they get out and hustle? Why didn’t they quit Chicago? There was still plenty of work out on the frontier. Why didn’t they go to work anywhere, at anything? However, when he arrived in Chicago, Baker quickly became appalled at the lack of an effective social safety net. The alarmed young reporter recounted how “every day during that bitter winter the crowds of ragged, shivering, hopeless human beings in Chicago seemed to increase.” His factual, yet provocatively descriptive narratives about the victims of the Panic, typified a“new journalism.”4 Coined by famous British author Matthew Arnold in 1887, the term first appeared, as coincidence would have it, in a critique of the journalistic style of the British reporter William Stead, who was roaming and writing about the same Chicago as Baker. In his...


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