Nellie Bly transformed investigative journalism by bending facts in pursuit of truth
I didn’t like the story I was given. So I wrote a new one.
A feminist, a social-justice advocate and a media sensation in her own right, the US journalist Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (1864-1922) – aka, Nellie Bly – would have been right at home in the 21st-century media environment. Yet she started her writing career more than three decades before women in the US got the right to vote. First hired by The Pittsburgh Dispatch after writing a spirited rebuke to a sexist column entitled ‘What Girls Are Good For’, Bly then moved on to the New York World, where she exposed the squalid conditions inside mental institutions by getting herself committed to an asylum. The resulting piece, published in 1887, catapulted her career, making her one of the most well-known and widely read reporters in the country.
In Nellie Bly Makes the News, the US director Penny Lane melds fiction and documentary to chart Bly’s improbable rise from domestic worker to famous journalist. Using a combination of scripted recreations of scenes from her life, expert interviews and faux ‘interviews’ with Bly herself, this inventive and frequently funny animation probes the good, the bad and the everything-in-between of her legacy, cleverly exploring the ever-blurry border between journalism and storytelling.