Today in History: Mark Twain Begins Reporting for Territorial Enterprise
Remembering my first and only journalism class, I look back and sigh; what seemed easy on the surface was nothing but tough, akin to the teacher that reminded me of an armadillo. He was hard skinned, symbolic of boundaries and shields, and completely in charge. From the minute we stepped into the classroom, the scene was set for a battle of wills, topics, and styles — only to be overruled by the essential elements of the journalistic process: the lede or opening pitch (be it anecdotal, question, quotation, direct approach and/or a combination of approaches); the 5W’s (who, what, when, where, why, plus how), and the intended impact on the reader. Very few stories ever made it into the school newspaper, and those that did foreshadowed the students’ successful futures in writing.
Did you know that on July 6,1862 Samuel Clemens began reporting under the pen name Mark Twain for Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper based in Virginia City, Nevada, a busy mining town? His newspaper stories, which revealed a talent for writing, covered prospecting for gold and silver and other facets of frontier life and society. Twain travelled further afield to cover news about California, where he published his celebrated short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Twain proved tough and adventurous, with a propensity for humor. To be a reporter in the 1860s, a time of westward expansion, industrial growth, and speculation in wealth, was no small feat, and he had a laugh or two using artistic license. It is possible that Twain’s journalistic eye sowed interest in and controversy over “The Gilded Age“, a term he coined for looking at both sides — the rich and the poor; the decades ahead of his time as a newspaperman proved a period of both expansive economics and massive poverty in the United States. Similarly, while Twain made substantial money from his writings and lectures, he also lost heavily on investments, including those in technology (the Paige Compositor, a mechanical typesetter) and publishing (Charles L. Webster and Company).
The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers which serves to inspire research, as well as classroom learning and teaching.
- Mark Twain’s First Humor. (1911, Aug 20). New York Times (1857-1922)
- Where Mark Twain Got His Pseudonym. (1911, Oct 29). St.Louis Post – Dispatch (1879-1922)
- Mark Twain Finds Career in Old West. (1938, May 29). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File)
- Special to the, H. T. (1952, May 02). Lucius Beebe Reviving Paper Where Mark Twain First Wrote. New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962)
- Blair, W. (1964, May 10). New Facts on Mark Twain’s Western Days. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File)
- Mark Twain Couldn’t Resist Gag. (1972, Oct 01). The Hartford Courant (1923-1990)
- James R Carroll. Special to The Globe. (1981, Mar 08). Territorial Enterprise Dispute Is No Tall Tale by Mark Twain. Boston Globe (1960-1984)
Tip: Check out Territorial Enterprise, including articles written by Mark Twain from 1874-1879, via Early American Newspapers.
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