Baruch Professor Vincent DiGirolamo Wins Three Prestigious Book Awards
April 30, 2020
This spring, Vincent DiGirolamo, PhD, received three major awards for his first nonfiction book Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys (Oxford University Press, 2019). The book—which garnered rave reviews and high praise across the country—won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, the Philip Taft Labor History Award, and the Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Award for the year’s best book on the media.
In Crying the News, Professor DiGirolamo uncovers the fascinating, and often little-known, history of America’s newsboys who began hawking newspapers on street corners in the 1830s, and the central role these children played in America’s economic, cultural, and social development for more than century.
“It’s beyond wonderful to have my book recognized like this,” said DiGirolamo, who teaches history at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. “I had hoped that Crying the News would contribute to our understanding of American labor, journalism, childhood, and other fields. The Turner, Taft, and Mott prizes suggest that my hopes were not misplaced and that my little subjects were up to the task.”
DiGirolamo added, “These honors do not just validate my years of work, but also the faith and favors of my family and friends at Baruch and throughout the profession.”
Three-Question Interview with Professor Vincent DiGirolamo
What sparked your interest in newsboys?
VDG: I grew up listening to the stories my father and uncles told about peddling papers on the streets of Boston during the Great Depression—their fights, their tricks of the trade, their big paydays when the news was hot, and how they’d drop their earnings into their mother’s apron each evening so she could make that night’s supper.
The experience seemed to have shaped who they were as adults. Yet in graduate school, I found that this kind of work really wasn’t explored by historians of labor, childhood, journalism, or urban life. Fiction writers such as Horatio Alger seemed to have had exclusive rights to the subject, and they were interested in only one theme: success.
When did you decide to write a book about newsboys, and what were the challenges?
VDG: I got the idea for the book 30 years ago while running the trails behind University of California, Santa Cruz. I envisioned writing not just a sweeping social history of America’s newsboys, but a newsboys’ history of the United States, one that reexamined major eras and events from their perspective, from the sidewalk up, so to speak.
I thought I could polish it off in a summer, but there was a reason no one had written that book. The sources were scattered far and wide, and many became available only after the digitization of newspapers, periodicals, and other archival material. The visual record alone was enormous, as reflected in the book’s 178 illustrations. These images—genre paintings, photographs, advertisements, movie posters, and comic strips—tell an important parallel story.
How might your students who live in the 21st century relate to the newsboys of the 19th and 20th centuries?
VDG: Like them, many of the young people I write about were immigrants or children of immigrants who contributed to the welfare of their families and to the prosperity of their employers. Yet most newsboys and newsgirls were not employees, strictly speaking. In this sense, they were forerunners of today’s gig workers, and can teach us a lot about capitalism and the narrow difference between opportunity and exploitation.
Students will also see how these young hawkers functioned as the Twitter and Instragram of their day, and thus became actively involved in social and political affairs, making history as well as shouting it.
About the Awards
Crying the News was singled out among 93 submissions to the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, given by the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Established in 1959, the award honors the author of a first scholarly book dealing with some aspect of American history.
“DiGirolamo succeeds in lucidly delineating the alternating stories of journalist practices, business aggregation, child labor policies, shifts in technology, and regional and national patterns. Beautifully executed, thoroughly researched, and carefully crafted, Crying the News is a major accomplishment and a significant addition to the historiography,” the OAH awards committee said in a press release.
The Philip Taft Award, offered annually since 1978 by the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University, now in conjunction with the Labor and Working-Class History Association, honors scholarly excellence in books related to the history of American labor.
Crying the News is a “massive work,” said the Taft judges, “lifting “newsies” far above pop culture and placing them squarely at the center of working-class history.”
Established in 1944 in honor of Frank Luther Mott, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, educator, and longtime leader of the journalism honor society Kappa Tau Alpha, the Mott Award recognizes the year’s best book on journalism and mass communication based on original research.
“[DiGirolamo] brings together extensive research, a rich theoretical knowledge gracefully deployed in the story line, and amazing language skills to produce a book that is a tremendous contribution to the history of journalism,” said Holly Hall, national president of Kappa Tau Alpha and a contest judge.
“That history feels especially relevant today as low-income workers grapple with economic distress and fewer guarantees in a ‘gig economy,’” added Hall, a professor at Arkansas State University.
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