Abstract: Writing Wall Street: Journalists and the Circulation of Knowledge within and beyond New York's Financial District, 1893-1914

Atiba Pertilla


This paper is a study of the information infrastructure of New York City's financial district—Wall Street—from the 1890s up to World War I, focusing on the role of journalists as participants in shaping public attitudes toward Wall Street. Using the articles, papers and memoirs of reporters, editors, and publishers, I show that journalists saw themselves as professionals with status equal to that of the financiers and stockbrokers whose activities they covered, notwithstanding the large gap in their incomes and their very different labor conditions. In a period that saw elite journalism move toward an emphasis on unbiased, "objective" coverage of events, financial reporting by contrast focused on personalities and controversy rather than analyzing business conditions and the soundness of various investment propositions. The paper concludes with a case study of how reporters covered the New York Stock Exchange and its rivals, fleshing out quantitative research showing that the NYSE's ability to thwart competition from rival exchanges had a detrimental effect on the efficiency of American security markets. My argument is that the status financial journalists ascribed to themselves biased them towards cooperating with the NYSE in its anti-competitive efforts and helped produce this outcome.