Preventing Yellow Jack and Yellow Journalism: Tensions in Mississippi Valley News Coverage of the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic, newspapers in the Mississippi Valley region aimed to prevent the spread of the disease to their populations by (1) reporting on strategies of prevention and (2) criticizing misinformation from both within their own communities and in newspapers from other towns that obfuscated public understanding of the disease. This in turn (3) highlighted the tensions between cities and their respective newspapers. Journalists writing for these papers—in particular, in Vicksburg and New Orleans—penned accusations that reporters in the other city either sensationalized or understated the impact of the epidemic, thereby undermining their own ability to protect their hometowns from threats to public health, economic stability, and regional or national reputations. At times, multiple papers from the same city argued about the accuracy of each other’s epidemic coverage. Although public health, science, medicine, and journalism have developed tremendously since 1878, this story reminds us of the significance of local news and cooperation between citizens and journalists when facing contemporary health crises, such as COVID-19. Without a robust foundation for covering epidemics on the local level, broader journalistic networks are far less equipped to fulfill their essential roles in mitigating outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-391
Number of pages20
JournalJournalism history
Volume47
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 History Division of the AEJMC.

Keywords

  • Epidemic
  • misinformation
  • Mississippi Valley
  • nineteenth-century journalism
  • yellow fever

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication

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