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Frédéric Vagneron

A Press under Influence ? The Newspaper Coverage of the Russian Flu Pandemic in Paris (1889-1890

Le Temps des médias n° 23, Hiver 2014, p. 78-95.


The Russian influenza epidemic in 1889-1890 has been the subject of very limited historiographical interest compared to the later Spanish influenza. Yet it provides a unique opportunity to observe the critical role played by the press during an international health crisis. From a corpus of four French newspapers (Le Matin ; Le Temps; Le Petit Journal; La Presse), we show the role of the press as a protagonist in the mobilization against the epidemic in Paris, playing a crucial role at the interface between people and political and health authorities. Related to an unprecedented information network and in the midst of internal competition between newspapers, the work of the French press was involved in the all the different phases. By confronting available medical knowledge and its field or cable reports, by investigating local stories involving a population which was also its readership, by denouncing political action or supporting it, the different titles were actively involved in the advent of the public event and its politicization in the capital city. It was only later that the statistics brought up the scale of epidemic mortality nationwide.

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