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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Things Never Change

The latest reference work I’ve been doing has me flipping through an interesting source. The History of the Mass Media in the United States covers everything from advertising in the eighteenth century to prime time television and women in journalism.

One thing that has surprised me as I’ve been using this book is how things really haven't changed much.

For example, tabloids are no new invention. These publications grew from the penny press in the 1830’s to the grocery store magazines we can’t help but read when we’re standing in line at the grocery store (629). The Daily News, a scandalous tabloid which began in 1919, had a circulation of over three million by 1922. See, even people living in “the good old days” loved a juicy story.

Readers of The Daily News received an “entertaining version of the news” with sensationalized articles of events such as Charles Lindbergh’s flight and the execution of Ruth Snyder by electric chair (629).

The History of Mass Media in the United States says that the issue of The Daily News that covered the Ruth Snyder execution sold a million extra copies! Apparently, a photographer hired by the tabloid attached a hidden camera to his leg, and was able to catch a photograph of Snyder being electrocuted. (And Britney thinks she has problems with the paparazzi!)

The photograph was published in that issue, hence the million extra copies. Well, obviously, I had to find out who Ruth Snyder was and what she did!

The New York Daily News states that Ruth was executed for the murder of her husband, Albert. Poor Albert was still in love with his dead wife. He even named his boat after her, and kept her picture up in the house. Ruth wasn’t too happy about that! Over time, she began to cheat on Albert with Judd Gray, a corset salesman (See Tracy's post on Friday.) Ruth was later able to talk Albert into getting a hefty life insurance policy. After an unsuccessful attempt at killing her husband (make that 3!), Ruth finally coerced her boyfriend into doing it for her.

Sounds like a modern day episode of Law and Order (dun-dun), doesn’t it? It was 1927.

Blanchard, Margaret A., ed. "Tabloids." History of the Mass Media in the United States. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998. 629-30.

Krajicek, David. Ruthless Ruth. 25 Mar. 2008. The New York Daily News. 16 Mar. 2009 .

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