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The term muckraker was used in the Progressive Era to characterize reform-minded American journalists who attacked established institutions and leaders as corrupt. They typically had large audiences in some popular magazines. In the US, the modern term is investigative journalism — it has different and more pejorative connotations in British English — and investigative journalists in the USA today are often informally called 'muckrakers'. Muckraking magazines—notably McClure's of the publisher S. S. McClure—took on corporate monopolies and political machines while trying to raise public awareness and anger at urban poverty, unsafe working conditions, prostitution, and child labor.
The muckrakers played a highly visible role during the Progressive Era period, 1890s–1920s.
In contemporary American use, the term describes either a journalist who writes in the adversarial or alternative tradition, or a non-journalist whose purpose in publication is to advocate reform and change. Investigative journalists view the muckrakers as early influences and a continuation of watchdog journalism. In British English the term muckraker is more likely to mean a journalist (often on a tabloid newspaper) who specialises in scandal and malicious gossip about celebrities or well-known personalities and is generally used in a derogatory sense.
The term is a reference to a character in John Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress, "the Man with the Muck-rake", who rejected salvation to focus on filth. It became popular after President Theodore Roosevelt referred to the character in a 1906 speech; Roosevelt acknowledged that "the men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck..."Read more...