Who was William Thomas Stead?
William Thomas Stead was a news paper editor of England. He is considered as the forefather of investigative journalism. His ‘New journalism’ inspired the rise of tabloid journalism of the 20th century. Through the paper “Northern Echo” , he severely criticized Prime Minister Disraeli for his inactiveness regarding Turkey’s role in murdering 12,000 Bulgarian Christians. He believed that newspapers should be entertaining besides being informative. While working as an editor of “Pall Mall Gazette”, he introduced several changes like usage of short paragraphs, maps and illustrations in the news articles, application of banner headlines and publication of personal opinion while publishing interviews of famous persons. To him, newspaper is a medium to express views on social justice, equality and to promote liberalism. Through one of his articles, he disclosed the issue of child prostitution that created much uproar in the country. He was an active supporter of women’s rights. He played a vital role in the formation of the Law and Liberty League by Annie Besant, a women’s rights activist. Through his paper, he crusaded for issues like old age pension. Through his articles he used to express his strong support for the charity works of the Salvation Army. As a passenger of RMS Titanic, he lost his life when it sank.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Embleton, Northumberland, William Thomas Stead was the son of Rev William Stead, a Congregational minister and Isabella. In 1850, his family shifted to Howdon on the River Tyne.
He received his early education from his father at home. He learnt Latin and English when he was very young. In 1861, he attended Silcoates School near Wakefiled. After leaving this school in 1863, he started working as an apprentice in a merchant’s office on Quayside in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
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In February 1870, he started writing articles for the “Northern Echo”, a newspaper. In the next year, he was appointed as an editor of this paper and he served in this position till 1880.
In September 1880, he shifted to London where he worked as an assistant editor of the “Pall Mall Gazette” under the editorship of John Morley. After Morley’s election as MP to the Parliament, Stead took the responsibility of the editor of that paper.
As an editor of the “Pall Mall Gazette”, he introduced several innovative changes for the improvement of this paper. It was Stead who introduced the concept of using of banner headlines and shorter paragraphs in the articles.
His application of illustrations, diagrams and maps made newspaper more attractive. As part of his innovative idea, he used to express his personal opinion while publishing the interviews of several well known persons.
During this time, “Pall Mall Gazette” started acting as an influential supporter of a number of political and social agenda. In 1883, his article “The Bitter Cry of The Outcast London” provided a detail description of the lifestyle of slum dwellers in London.
As a result, a new housing legislation was drafted. This draft stated that the government should build low-cost housing for those people who are living in slums.
After reading the paper’s article titled “The Truth about the Navy”, the government was forced to provide necessary financial aid to empower the country’s naval defenses in 1885.
In the same year, his controversial article “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” revealed about the heinous acts like child prostitution. His articles on this sensational issue disclosed a shocking fact about the government.
According to this fact it was revealed that though the government was aware about the issue, it did not take any measure against child prostitution only to save wealthy clientele of this trade.
As the immediate effect of this article, the female age of consent was raised to sixteen through the resurrection of Criminal Law Amendment Act. In 1888, he was actively involved with the Matchgirls Strike in London.
His severe criticism of the British Army for its role in the Bloody Sunday affair created his conflict with the Liberal Party members.. He effectively used his paper to save the life of Florence Maybrick who was convicted for murdering her husband. After leaving “Pall Mall Gazette” in 1890, he started publishing “Review of Review”, an international periodical.
Due to his interest in spiritualism, he edited “Borderland”, a periodical about spirituality from 1893 to 1897. He established and edited a weekly paper titled “War Against War” after his visit with the Tsar of Russia in 1898. During this time, he strongly campaigned for ‘Peace Crusade’.
He visited the World’s Fair organized in Chicago where he investigated the city’s underworld and published his findings in the form of “ If Christ Came To Chicago : A Plea For The Union Of All Who Love In The Service Of All Who Suffer”.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married his childhood friend Emma Lucy Wilson on 10 June 1873. They had four sons and two daughters. In 1912, he got the invitation to speak at the international conference on world peace at Carnegie Hall.
He accepted the invitation and boarded the Titanic. According to the survivors of the ship, Stead helped several passengers of the ship to get into lifeboats and gave his life jacket to another passenger when the ship struck the iceberg.
It has been known that he made no attempt to save his own life and was last seen standing on the deck of the ship. His body was never recovered.
While exposing child prostitution in England, this influential newspaper editor staged the purchase of a girl, Eliza Armstrong. As its result, he was imprisoned for three months on charge of civil indictment.