Abstract: This article investigates the reproduction of the foundational terrain of media work as composed of amateur and professional realms through the youth movement of amateur journalism in the late 19th-Century United States. Amateur journalists wrote, typeset and printed journals of essays, commentary, word puzzles and stories, which were circulated primarily among themselves in subcultural networks of reciprocity. A broad cultural analysis characterizes how debates about social change due to industrialization shaped definitions and valuations of amateurism and professionalism. A critical political-economic analysis examines how these changes and debates as refracted and reproduced through the commercialization of literary industries and printing technologies spawned amateur journalism. A critical analysis of surviving autobiographical works by amateur journalists of the day explores the on-the-ground cultural production of amateurism and professionalism through amateur journalism’s ascendance, peak and decline. The article concludes by reflecting on the value of these findings for understanding today’s media terrain.