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Media File
Jacob August Riis
Date: Danish, 1849 - 1914
Remarks: After immigrating from Denmark in 1870, the destitute Jacob Riis worked as a laborer in coal mines and brickyards before becoming a journalist. He accepted a position as a police reporter in 1874 with the New York Evening Sun newspaper. In 1877 he served as police reporter, this time for the New York Tribune. During these stints as a police reporter, Riis worked the most crime-ridden and impoverished regions of the city. Through his exposure to tenement life and as a witness to conditions of the immigrants and poor in the city slums, he chose to represent those who had no voice. He was one of the first Americans to use flash powder, allowing his documentation of New York City slums to penetrate the dark of night, and help him capture the hardships of poverty, especially in the notorious Mulberry Street area. In 1889, Scribner's Magazine published Riis's photographic essay on city life, which Riis later expanded to create his seminal pictorial essay "How the Other Half Lives"(1890). This work was directly responsible for convincing then-Commissioner of Police Theodore Roosevelt to close the police-run poor houses. After reading it, Roosevelt was so deeply moved by Riis's sense of justice that he met Riis and befriended him for life. Roosevelt himself coined the term "muckraking journalism", of which Riis is a recognized example, in 1906.