Society reporting


In journalism, the society page of a newspaper is largely or entirely devoted to the social and cultural events and gossip of the location covered. Other features that frequently appear on the society page are a calendar of charity events and pictures of locally, nationally and internationally famous people.  

The first true society page in the United States was the invention of newspaper owner James Gordon Bennett Jr., who created it for the New York Herald in 1835. His reportage centred upon the lives and social gatherings of the rich and famous, with names partially deleted by dashes and reports mildly satirical. Mott et al record that "Society was at first aghast, then amused, then complacent, and finally hungry for the penny-press stories of its own doings." Bennett had in fact been reporting such news since 1827, with articles in the New York Enquirer. In the period after the United States Civil War, there were many newly rich people in the country, and reportage of their antics, sometimes tasteless and gauche, was of considerable entertainment value. By 1885, Ward McAllister had been recruited to report on society news for the New York World by Joseph Pulitzer, and it was around that time that society reporting, both on dedicated society pages and in the new Sunday supplements, became very popular.  

By 1900, most daily newspapers had a women's page that covered local high society as well as fashion. The goal in any case was to attract women as readers, and attract subscribers by promising a new audience for consumer advertising. Women's pages in general covered issues intended to attract the readership of the stereotypical American housewife of the time: society news, fashion, food, relationships, etiquette, health, homemaking, interior decorating, and family issues. One of the most prominent leaders was Marjorie Paxson. She began her career for a wire service during World War I, when male reporters were scarce. When they returned she went to the women's page in Houston, Texas. In the 1950s she moved to women's section of the 'Miami Herald,' Which was nationally renowned for its women's page. She became women's page editor at the 'St. Petersburg Times' in 1969. She was elected national president of Theta Sigma Phi, now Association for Women in Communications, in 1963. She went on to become the fourth female publisher in the Gannett newspaper chain. After 1970, however, gender segregation faded and the term "woman's page" fell out of fashion. Women in journalism then moved from covering teas and bridal veils to abortion, abuse and feminism.  

Despite the growth in popularity in the 1880s, many "serious" newspapers were initially cautious about society reporting. For example, the Ottawa Journal didn't permit Florence Randal, its first society reporter, to do anything but recite simple chronicles of the dowagers and debutantes of the city. The staff at the Globe, whose society column began in 1893, considered society news to be "horrid vulgar stuff", according to the Globe's editor Melville Hammond, and its publication was not well received by its subjects: "high Society matrons [who were] unused to the publicizing of private life".  

Male reporters were unwilling to cover such things. As Morton Sontheimer stated in 1941, "The women's department jobs almost invariably go to women, not because men can't do them but because they won't." (Newspaperman, pp. 228). One such reporter who refused to do the job even though it had been handed to him was Gordon Sinclair, of the Toronto Star.