WT Stead: The Father of Investigative Journalism

WT Stead: The Father of Investigative Journalism


WT Stead, the Father of Investigative Journalism Victorian era Britain was a time of massive
change. From sweeping imperialist expansion abroad
to political and social reform at home, to the rise of mysticism, spiritualism, and romanticism,
the nation was growing and, in many ways, thriving. For some, cities were becoming bustling, prosperous
hubs of industry, but for the less fortunate, they also became cesspools of disease, darkness,
and misery. It was an era of invention and advancement,
and Britain’s citizens learned about it through the newspaper. Before the modern era of journalism, there
was once a time when the newspaper was simply for reporting the news. However, a young editor named WT Stead saw
the potential for it to be something more — at one point, he described his vision to
a friend as “a glorious opportunity of attacking the devil.” And he did. There were plenty of devils out there, rearing
their ugly heads during this time of all-encompassing change. Not only did he attack them, but people listened,
and he proved that one person really can be the voice that changes history. This is Stead’s story. TITLE: A world shaped by the newspaper Today’s world is connected in ways the average
Victorian-era citizen could never have believed. News travels fast, they say, and today, that’s
certainly true. It was quite a bit less true in the 19th century,
so when newspapers became widely accessible in the mid-1800s, it quickly shaped the daily
operation of entire cities. Typically, newspapers were the only way people
would hear about wars in far-away lands or the goings-on of their own governments. That made them powerful, and many built massive
and ornate buildings that towered over the worlds they reported on. Since not everyone could afford to buy their
own paper, public social clubs were formed and reading rooms were built, where hundreds
of members could get together to share papers, read the news, and discuss. Others headed to the pubs, where landlords
kept papers on hand and sometimes paid speakers to perform the news to raucous applause. There were more newspapers in public libraries
than there were books, newsagents popped up everywhere, and newsboys hawked the latest
edition with the help of signs proclaiming the day’s headlines. Suddenly, everyone was learning about the
world, and they only wanted more. William Thomas Stead was brought into that
rapidly changing world on July 5, 1849. Born a minister’s son, he could read both
Latin and English by the time he was five years old, and it would be his words that
would not only shape his own life, but go on to change the world he lived in. Even though it had originally been assumed
that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a minister, that’s not what happened
at all. After finishing his schooling, he ended up
working as a clerk in a merchant’s office in Newcastle. While he was there, he was a regular contributor
to a newspaper called the Northern Echo. The editor, John Copleston, saw something
valuable in him and mentored him for a surprisingly short time. The paper opened in 1870, Stead got his foot
in the door, and in 1871, the owner of the paper offered him his mentor’s job. At the time, Stead had never even stepped
into the paper’s offices. Stead hesitated, as he was loathe to take
the job of a man who had been such an inspirational teacher and mentor to him. But when Copleston left voluntarily, he rose
to the challenge, becoming the country’s youngest newspaper editor. It was a huge task, and to Stead, it was a
chance to make a monumental contribution to society. He wrote, “I felt the sacredness of the power
placed in my hands, to be used on behalf of the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed.” And that’s exactly what he did. His goal was to create a newspaper that was
just as entertaining as it was informative, one that would reach the masses and spur them
to action. He started out in the most shocking way possible,
with a topic he’d revisit later: prostitution. He called it “the ghastliest curse which haunts
civilised society,” and at the time he was splashing it across the front page, it was
such a taboo subject that talking about it was just as illicit as partaking in it. Stead’s condemnation of prostitution wasn’t
quite universal, though — at the same time he condemned the wealthy echelons of society
for funding brothels, he acknowledged that, for many, it was the only way they could put
food on the table. Stead’s preaching from the pulpit and his
almost sermon-like articles set the tone for the Northern Echo and for the rest of his
career. He condemned entire nations for their politics
and their human rights abuses, and he waxed philosophical on why the death penalty was
a necessary evil. That was a viewpoint that was a bit problematic,
considering the paper was funded by Quakers, a religious group who believed there is a
bit of God in everyone, and that all life is valuable. It wasn’t long before Stead grew too big for
the Northern Echo, and headed to London to take up with The Pall Mall Gazette. TITLE: New Journalism Stead continued his fire-and-brimstone flavor
of journalism when he got to London, but it wasn’t particularly popular. Some of his contemporaries hated him as much
as he hated London, and no one made a secret of it. At the same time Stead called the bustling
metropolis “the grave of all earnestness”, his paper was nicknamed the “Dunghill Gazette”
by poet Algernon Swinburne. Novelist Mathew Arnold was more direct, calling
Stead’s sensationalist style “feather-brained”. But as much hate as he got, he also got results. In 1883, the clergyman Andrew Mearns wrote
a pamphlet called “The Bitter Cry of Outcast London”. It detailed the plight of the countless souls
living in the slums of the city, and it was dire stuff. He wrote: “Few who will read these pages will have any
conception of what these pestilential human rookeries are, where tens of thousands are
crowded together amidst horrors which call to mind what we have heard of the middle passage
of the slave ship. To get to them you have to penetrate courts
reeking with poisonous and malodorous gases arising from accumulations of sewage and refuse
scattered in all directions and often flowing beneath your feet; courts, many of them which
the sun never penetrates, which are never visited by a breath of fresh air, and which
rarely know the virtues of a drop of cleansing water.” If it wasn’t for Stead, the pamphlet might
have gone unnoticed. But the journalist picked it up and ran with
it, using The Pall Mall Gazette as a megaphone for Mearns’ monologue. Consequently, the paper increased its reputation
for sensationalism and scandalous stories, as its readers were outraged at the lurid
tales about what missionaries would find in the slums of London. The paper spoke of dozens of people, huddled
together in the dirt and squalor, of children poisoned by the foul stench, of child corpses
and vermin abandoned to rot the darkness. The outrage of these freshsly realized details
didn’t just disappear. Mearns’ words and Stead’s relentless promotion
of the pamphlet resulted in new housing legislation and the organization of missions throughout
London, whose only goal was to alleviate some of the suffering and misery described in the
macabre tales. The next year, Stead picked up another cause:
the Navy. Calling for an end to party squabbles in the
interest of national security, he appealed to the government to make sure its fighting
fleet was, indeed, capable of fighting. The result was the government making a £3.5
million investment into upgrading its fleet, a staggering amount for the time. Clearly, readers were listening. TITLE: The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon Stead’s tour de force came in 1885, published
under the sensationalized headline “The Maiden Tribute of Babylon.” This is when he returned to a subject that
he had condemned earlier — prostitution. This time, he was kicking the door wide open
on one of the darkest areas of London’s seedy underbelly, and that was the selling of virgin
children to men who were wealthy & debased enough that they found no greater pleasure
in life than [quote] “the exclusive luxury of revelling in the cries of an immature child.” Stead didn’t just write about it second-hand
— he spent four weeks in the streets, brothels, and hospitals of London, meeting with everyone
from doctors and bishops to those deemed “procuresses.” These were people willing to find and broker
deals for human flesh and services. He thoroughly documented all that he found,
describing the London underworld as a place “with all the vices of Gomorrah, daring the
vengeance of long-suffering Heaven.” The story that unfolded on the pages of The
Pall Mall Gazette was horrifying. Stead secured a meeting with a contact who
was connected to all sorts of crime in the city’s underbelly. When he inquired about purchasing a virgin
girl for his pleasure, he was told that wouldn’t be a problem. When Stead began to ask more questions about
any potential consequences attached to his actions, he was further assured that screams
would not be investigated and legal action would not be pursued. He quoted his source as saying, “Whom is she
to prosecute? … who would believe her?” Stead, incredulous, asked for confirmation
that these unspeakable procurements were common, and was not only assured that they were, but
was told, “And you cannot help it, as long as men have money, procuresses are skillful,
and women are weak and inexperienced.” It was something the stalwart journalist could
not walk away from, and could not let continue to happen while he stood idly by. But just the word of a seedy soul prowling
the shadows of London wasn’t going to be enough to instigate the change Stead wanted to see. He knew he needed proof, and started by finding
and interviewing former brothel owners and those whose innocence had been sold. It wasn’t long before he met a working brothel-keeper
who promised it would only take him only a few days to find several virgin girls — whose
untouched condition was verified by a doctor. Stead backed away from communication with
this man, but it wasn’t long before he found one of these virgin girls, grown and turned
procuress, who was willing to reach out to old contacts and find him the sort of girl
he was asking for. The price? £3 to £5. As Stead waded deeper, he found that crude
medical procedures and violent assaults didn’t bring an end to the nightmare the children
were sold into. Many children, most of whom were orphans or
had no family to speak of, were generally passed along to brothel-owners to fill their
ranks, or ended up on the streets making a living any way they could. And there were plenty of options, as Stead
would write: “Anything can be done for money, if you only know where to take it.” Stead was careful to say that he knew everything
he said was true, that it wasn’t just sensationalist nonsense… because he oversaw the negotiation
and purchase of a 13-year-old girl. Her name was Lily, and she had a family who
agreed to sell her as a household servant. A procuress paid her parents £5, and she
bid them goodbye. She was washed and dressed, and Stead’s description
of her makes it somehow even more heartbreaking. She could read and write, he wrote of her
as “a loving, affectionate child, whose kindly feeling for the drunken mother who had sold
her into nameless infamy was very touching to behold.” She was “full of delight at going to her new
situation,” he wrote, stressing that even though her parents knew what was going to
happen to her, she hadn’t a clue. Her status as a virgin was verified by a midwife,
the purchaser was supplied with some chloroform, and Stead recorded everything — including
the names of the people involved. He immediately published the story. That public was outraged, and Stead got all
the reaction he could have hoped for… and then, a little bit more. On a national level, the expose sparked the
passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which laid the groundwork for other
legislature designed to protect women and girls who were forced into prostitution, and
it also raised the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16 years old. For the part he played, Stead found himself
in front of a judge, brought up on charges of abduction and indecent assault. When Justice Henry Charles Lopes handed out
the sentence, he explained that Stead’s experiment had failed, because he hadn’t bought a child
for exploitation at all… he had rescued her before anything bad had actually happened
to her. And that meant he had published what the judge
ruled “a distorted account of the case”, and called it “a disgrace to journalism.” Stead was sentenced to six months’ jail and
hard labor, a sentence backed up by the fact he had technically broken the law by getting
only her mother’s permission to buy her, not her father’s as well. The sentence was considered less about the
law and more about what Stead had done. Mostly, his jailtime was thanks to the people
who truly hated him — the wealthy men in power, the ones whose actions he had a tendency
to condemn in a humiliatingly public way. TITLE: The eccentric nature of brilliance After Stead’s stint in jail, he was never
quite the powerhouse of journalism he had been. That’s not entirely because of how his expose
on child prostitution ended, though; in the grand scheme of things, it was a huge success. But for years, he had preached some unpopular
opinions, including advocating for Ireland’s self-governance, as well as forming closer
ties with both the U.S. and Tsarist Russia. When he took over at The Pall Mall Gazette,
he had decreased his popularity by doing something revolutionary: introducing decidedly American
features into British papers, like large-print headlines, bylines for his reporters, and
celebrity interviews. There were a few other things Stead did that
raised some eyebrows, including offering his unwavering support to the establishment of
Esperanto as a global language, vocalizing his opposition to British military endeavors
like the Second Boer War, and suggesting that the nations of the world needed to form something
he dubbed Union International, which would have been a version of the United Nations
dedicated strictly to global peacekeeping and anti-militarism. But it was actually an element of his personal
life that eventually gave 19th century Britian its biggest pause, as Stead was also a devoted
spiritualist who may have been a little too radical, even for Victorian Britain. And that’s saying something — the spiritualism
movement had been wildly popular since the Fox sisters claimed to have channeled the
spirit of a murdered man in 1848 and established contact with the other side. The idea that it was possible to contact loved
ones who had passed on was obviously enticing, and it gained some serious traction within
a select sliver of the population, including Stead. Stead left The Pall Mall Gazette in 1890,
and founded not only The Review of Reviews, but a spiritualist quarterly called Borderland. The publication was a sort of news outlet
for the supernatural, and included everything from astrological predictions and news stories
about ghosts and seances to reports on research conducted on the occult. For Stead, this wasn’t a new fascination,
either, as he reportedly experienced some otherworldly phenomenon as a young man visiting
Hermitage Castle in Scotland. It wasn’t until 1892 that he saw someone practicing
automatic writing — the idea that some men and women could channel spirits to write through
them. At first, he didn’t subscribe to the idea,
but after giving it a try, he claimed to have made contact with an American journalist named
Julia Ames. Ames had died in 1891, not long after she
interviewed Stead. It didn’t end with just making contact. Stead went on to write an entire book called
Letters From Julia, where he both received messages for a friend of the late journalist
and talked to her himself. They talked about grief, about the discovery
of the afterlife, of spiritual growth, of loss and of hope. Regardless of how inspirational the letters
were, Stead’s obsession with spiritualism serious eroded his credibility in the journalistic
world. But if there’s anything we know about Stead,
it’s that he wasn’t easily swayed by an unfavorable public opinion. He went on to found an organization called
Julia’s Bureau, which was a group founded with the goal of, according to him, “attempting
to bridge the abyss between the Two Worlds.” The idea, he said, was that when loved ones
passed on, they weren’t just floating aimlessly or off to sit on some clouds and play some
harps. They were more alive than they had ever been
before, and in desperate need of comforting the grieving souls who had been left behind. He appointed what he called “competent sensitives”
to the bureau, and their goal was a specific one. They were only to be used by living applicants
who were looking to reach out to those they had loved and lost. Stead likened the bureau mediums to policemen
who reunited lost and frightened children with their frantically searching mothers. And he wasn’t doing it alone — Julia was
on the other side, he said, guiding his efforts. Julia’s Bureau was only active for around
three years, and in that time, they worked with hundreds of grieving people and passed
on countless messages. It cost Stead around £1,500 pounds a year
to run, and it ended with his death. But that’s not the end of his story. TITLE: Eerie prophecies and a sinking ship Toward the end of his life, Stead was derided
and ridiculed for his unwavering belief in spiritualism. And in all fairness, he certainly wasn’t the
only believer — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously became a spiritualist, his beliefs cemented
in the face of the senseless loss of life that happened during the First World War. But sometimes it’s only in hindsight that
certain things become clear, and in Stead’s case, he penned some eerie tales that will
make even the staunchest skeptic think twice. In 1886, Stead published a bit of cautionary
fiction in The Pall Mall Gazette. It was called “How the Mail Steamer went down
in Mid Atlantic, by a Survivor,” and it was the story of a steamer ship carrying 916 passengers
when it collided with another vessel and sank. The story was in response to legislation that
dictated that the number of lifeboats a ship needed to carry was based on the size of the
vessel, not on the number of passengers. Stead described the sinking of the ship in
agonizing detail, narrating the hundreds of people who had been dumped into the water,
the narrator finding himself “amid a blackened, wriggling sheet of drowning creatures.” The tale ended with the footnote: “This is
exactly what might take place and what will take place if the liners are sent to sea short
of boats.” Stead seemed almost obsessed with the idea,
and it wasn’t the only time he wrote about tragedy at sea. In the 1892 Christmas edition of The Review
of Reviews, he wrote a tale called “From the Old World to the New,” and told the story
of the White Star Liner Majestic, whose passengers witness a ship colliding with icebergs, sinking,
and ultimately returning to rescue the survivors. He described the sinking in vivid detail,
witnessed by one of the passengers on the nearby liner: “The waters bubbled and foamed. I could see the heads of a few swimmers in
the eddy. One after another they sank, and I saw them
no more.” Stead often predicted his own death would
come at the end of a hangman’s noose, or by drowning. And not only was he right, but in hindsight,
that bit of fiction written from the point of view of a man drowning amongst hundreds,
and his story about the White Star Liner Majestic and a daring rescue at sea after a collision
with an iceberg — that was more prophetic than he possibly could have known. It was President William Howard Taft who requested
his presence at a Carnegie Hall peace congress in 1912, and to get there, he booked passage
on the Titanic. His first class ticket cost £26 11s; he charmed
other passengers with his stories before he was ultimately among the lives claimed by
the disaster. It’s unclear how he spent his last hours;
there are various witness testimonies that claim to have seen him in the hours after
the Titanic’s fateful collision. Some claim to have seen him reading on the
stern of the ship as it rose into the night sky; others say he spent his last hours sitting
in the First Class Smoking Room, and still others say he was spotted leading women and
children through the chaos and seeing them to the lifeboats. According to at least one testimony, taken
from a survivor named Phillip Mock, Stead actually had made it to a raft alongside Colonel
John Jacob Astor. They had been in the water, clinging to the
side, and Mock related, “Their feet became frozen, and they were compelled to release
their hold. Both were drowned.” Regardless of how he spent his last moments,
his Spiritualist associates would later claim he had reached out from the Great Beyond to
tell them of the tragedy, and that was how they first heard the news. His body was never recovered, or at least,
was never identified. If his earlier works had been prophetic, he
seemed not to have expected his end to come in the way he’d written — at one point, he
had also written that he expected to be back home in London by May of 1912.

100 thoughts on “WT Stead: The Father of Investigative Journalism

  1. I ♥️♥️♥️ you and your show!! BUT!!! What's up with doing 5 old guys in a row… No offense but throw in a Youth or a Girl in between!! I watch every episode regardless! 👍

  2. Recommendable! How an investigative journalist turned into a weirdo who died with the Titanic, but had previously written about other tragic ship sinkings where life boats were in short supply!

  3. this is my first comment on biographices 1:38 am time zone in Czech republic must be noon love the channel to reveal the truths of Victoria era prostitution and be incarcerated and then die on the titanic which was owned by the white star line cool story of a real journalist

  4. The CGI image of the Simon is excellent but if you look closely the immage glitches every so often. Who knows where the real the Simon is?

  5. A man died and his wife went to a fortuneteller to connect with him in his afterlife. The session starts and the wife asks: " How are you my dear what are you doing?", then the voice of the dead man replies: "I'm good! I sleep, eat, f**k, I sleep, eat, f**k, repeatedly all day, every day!" Then the wife asks: "Where are you? In heaven?", and he says: "No, I'm the Alps. I'm a rabbit." 🙂

  6. Imagine that?! Rich powerful men being horrible pedophiles and rapists! Must be related to Jimmy Savile, the Royal Family, Jeffery Epstien, and the Clintons!

  7. Wow. I made a joking comment before I heard that the judge punished him for the most bent technicality . . . that is nothing I wish to joke about.

    The judges of that day, used to put their black wig on, and sentence lower-class men to death for "sodomy", so did the Navy Post-Captains . . . the whole time they were well aware that fellow judges, Captains, and Lords and Peers were the most determined shirt-lifters that walked the earth.
    One rule for the poor, one for their masters.

  8. What have changed in 2019 , nothing , Jeffrey Epstein is best prove , he get mordered because he knew to much what D.T did , and that he is pedophile too ,there is just too much evidence to prove that , republican and democrats know that , but thay will never charge him with that , because no one need that their most important person was accused of that .

  9. I shall not be able to watch 'A Night To Remember' (1958) again without thinking that the elderly bearded gentleman reading a book in one of the salons as the ship dies could be Stead.

  10. I bet this dude could never imagine a world of deep fakes, slander, and media monopolies. If CNN says it, it becomes fact now, god is a sinner.

  11. Telling the truth and exposing wrongdoers is not
    going to make you popular… But people need to know
    and we're grateful some are willing to do a thankless job.

  12. The only thing more spot on of a prediction of death is by an old west outlaw knowing their end is by bullet or rope. I would say it was an accident but so God help me I got goosebumps hearing his tale of what would be the titanic and his last hours

  13. This is riveting. I always heard the UK had a serious pedophilia problem, but never realized it was an entire industry.

  14. You should do Magrethe I of Denmark, she unified Scandinavia under the Kalmar union. One of the most overlooked persons in european history.

  15. Nowadays they've got virtual 'girls' who chat up guys to catch pedos so no actual girls have to be endangered. It's a pity the poor guy got railroaded for his efforts to expose the horrors of child prostitution, but at least some good came of it.

  16. That, I must admit, was one HELL of a coincidence. I would have thought the irony alone would have kept him warm enough to survive the cold, cold Atlantic even after the Titanic had sunk…

  17. Oddly, you have ignored Stead's greatest triumph. Because of his exposure of child prostitution he was invited to join the Milner Group. He did, but then left it, exposing its corrupt inner workings which led to WW1. No wonder they would be happy to see him go down with the Titanic!

  18. What a great guy. His spiritual beliefs aside, he boldly spoke to an issue that seriously needs to be dealt with, sadly still even today (i.e. Jeffrey Epstein and Co., may he rest in hell).

  19. I don't usually try to give recommendations on these since there's people giving you plenty. But if you get the chance, Ida Tarbell would be amazing. She was an awesome investigative journalist going after the oil monoplies in America

  20. Great video. Victorian London is really interesting. Especially the spiritualism and occult stuff, segway, why not do a biography on Helena Blavatsky.

  21. This guy is legendary, the work he did was so incredible! I wish that HBO or Starz would pick up his life story and make a "true detective," type of story- that would be super interesting.

  22. If he was the "The Father of Investigative Journalism"then none of his descendants "survived" because we don't have such a thing in modern times.Corporations and the wealthy that benefit from such made quite sure of that…

  23. You should do a video on J. Bruce Ismay, a misunderstood and tragic man who was scapegoated for the Titanic disaster and ripped to pieces by the court of public opinion.

  24. This is something that drives me. I hate the scum whom partake in such indulgences. The humans who still do such acts need to be slain in the upmost of animosity.

  25. Getting together and discussing the news after you heard em sounds like a way better version of the shits how that are commentsections now

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