I had my second cataract surgery and couldn't read for a week. I turned to my old friend, the Librivox collection. Librivox.org is a library of public domain audiobooks recorded by volunteers. Its hundreds of titles range from classics to cyclopedias, from s-f pulps to 18th-century romances. The readings vary in quality, but most are quite listenable (though it is very
strange to hear a Tom Corbett
book dramatized by an all-English cast).
Since all Librivox books are solidly in the public domain, 99% of them are very old. Few were published after 1920. That means many novels are overwritten and tedious. It was a rare treat to discover the 1905 novel A Yellow Journalist
by Miriam Michelson. It's the first-person story of an ambitious woman who works her way up from cub reporter to city editor at a sensationalist San Francisco newspaper. The book is written in a fast-moving, breezy style that seems much more modern than other novels of the period.
Michelson was herself a reporter, and her descriptions of behind-the-scene newspapering have an authentic ring. We watch spunky Rhoda Massey snoop, bluff, cajole, and fib her way to the Big Scoop. It's reminiscent of The Front Page
without that play's cynicism. Which doesn't mean Rhoda is altogether ethical. Rhoda's personality is refreshingly three-dimensional. Her impulse to get an exclusive at any cost frequently bumps into her conscience and she doesn't always make the noblest choice.
It's funny how the story seems almost contemporary--then you realize the cabs are horse-drawn and electricity is still competing with gaslight. Michelson addresses some of the problems of the day like corrupt trusts and workplace sexism. She doesn't preach, though. Rhoda simply charges forward and shows 'em a thing or two. Miriam Michelson obviously loved San Francisco. She writes several evocative descriptions of The City. It's sad to think that a couple of years later her City was wiped out by the big earthquake.
This is a popular novel and it isn't perfect. All the seemingly unrelated characters and incidents turn out to be interconnected, which is dramatically satisfying but not very believable. Rhoda's romance with a rival columnist reads like an afterthought. I guess back then you needed a romance to sell copies. But even in romance Rhoda remains Rhoda. She loves reporting as much as (more than, really) she loves Ted and basically dumps him when things start popping. By the time Ted reappears for the closing clinch, Rhoda has wrapped everything up all by herself.
I recommend A Yellow Journalist
for a fun change of pace. It's read by Lee Ann Howlett and can be found here:https://librivox.org/a-yellow-journalist-by-miriam-michelson/