Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Vincent DiGirolamo's "Crying the News"

Vincent DiGirolamo is a member of the History Department at Baruch College of the City University of New York. A former newspaper reporter, editor, and documentary filmmaker, he received his B.A. from the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, M.A. in Comparative Social History from UC Santa Cruz, and Ph.D. in History from Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crying the News: A History of America's Newsboys, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book hits the trifecta in tapping musical, journalistic, and artistic sources to examine a forgotten nineteenth-century reform movement aimed at quashing the so-called “Sunday news crying nuisance.”

At the top of the page is a snippet of a drinking song ridiculing New York Mayor Daniel Tiemann’s 1858 ban on Sunday news crying and beer drinking:
He’s stopped the newsboys’ cries, I think on them he’s quite severe,

He says on Sunday we shan’t drink a drop of lager bier.
The beer! The beer! Our spirits for to cheer,

The beer! The beer! We goes in for our lager beer.
The next passage describes how some dailies endorsed the Sabbatarian crackdown while Sunday papers defended the boys’ right to peddle unmolested. The New York Clipper made its case visually with a satirical cartoon reproduced at the bottom of the page. Entitled “War Upon the Newsboys! The Majesty of the Law Signally vindicated!,” it depicts a squad of baton-wielding policemen rounding up a half-dozen newsboys while a churchman rings his bell and lager bier hall patrons revel in the background.

The page gives a good sense of the book as a whole, especially its lavish use of visual evidence (The book contains 178 illustrations, including 33 color plates!) to recover newsboys’ experience as workers and symbols. It comes in the middle of chapter 3, “Johnny Morrow and the Dangerous Classes,” which details the hunger, homelessness, and poverty that characterized newsboy life at midcentury, and follows the efforts of evangelical reformers to ameliorate these conditions by establishing newsboy homes and night schools.

The page’s focus on the “Sabbath Wars” also typifies the attention paid throughout the book to newsboys’ vociferous participation in social movements, which, in this period alone, included abolition, woman’s suffrage, temperance, nativism, spiritualism, and trade unionism. Indeed, the page implicitly conveys a central theme of the book—that newspaper hawkers and carriers were important economic and political actors whose unwaged labor was vital to the subsistence of working-class families and the fortunes of the capitalist press.

On the downside, the page 99 test gives no hint of the book’s national scope or chronological breath spanning the 1830s to the 1930s. Nor does it reflect its inclusive treatment of women, girls, immigrants, and African Americans in the trade, those humble citizens of newsdom whose voices can still be heard echoing down the alleys of history.
Visit Vincent DiGirolamo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue