David Randall, author of The Universal Journalist, presents 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived - nine Americans and four Britons, ten men and three women, whose lives were full of adventure, wit and the ingenuity to bring the story home.

Nellie Bly
Reporter, New York World

The best undercover reporter there ever was. And, through the fame her stories brought her, she taught the public, and editors, that women could report just as well – and often better – than men.

Bly was born in 1864 and got her break in this utterly male-dominated age by submitting an article anonymously. Its editor had the sense to hire her when she presented herself at the office. Determinied to make an impact when offered a chance by a New York paper, she volunteered to feign madness and get herself committed to the notorious Blackwell’s Island asylum so she could report on the atrocious cruelty and conditions there. She did so, and emerged to write one of the city’s most famous exposes, charting the beatings, putrid food, incompetence of the doctors, neglect of basic fire precations and much more.

A succession of undercover stories followed, and then, in 1889, she set out on an extraordinary assignment: to beat the target set in Jules Verne’s novel – travelling round the world in 80 days. Despite some close calls, she did it and, on her return, became a national celebrity. Then, at the age of 30, she suddenly married an industrialist more than twice her age. After his death, turned herself into one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs – only to see the enterprises she had built up destroyed by her finance director’s embezzlement.

So back, at the age of 48, she went to reporting, covering the Great War and later running a campaigning column. When she died, at the age of 57, the US’s leading editor, Arthur Brisbane, called her simply “the best reporter in America”.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press