( Originally Published 1916 )
THE printing and publishing business stands sixth among the industries of the United States, being exceeded in output only by meat-packing, foundries and machine shops, lumber, iron and steel and the production of flour and meal. It supports underlying industries of much importance, the first of which, of course, is print paper, having a round annual value of $90,000,000 the manufacture of presses and other forms of machinery, of ink and type, and pays the highest average standard of wages to be found in any form of employment.
It remains an independent industry, its very nature forbidding combinations of any extent, and providing the most intense form of competition. Its chief product, the daily newspaper, sells at a price, fixed, as a rule, by one or two of the smallest coins in the republic. That no publisher purveys his product for less than one cent is due only to the failure of the mint to supply a fraction! It has thriven without the help of tariffs or of any support other than that derived from the direct appeal to the public, which yearly grows more appreciative of the services performed and of the value of the press. as an informant, educator and sup-porter of popular rights !
The newspaper publisher is quite out of the line of ordinary business. He does not " take that which was thine and make it mine " for a profit. He does no merchandising, but must produce from the start. He must be a creator and a seller, but not a trafficker. Moreover, he deals in the most elusive and perplexing of all articles—News ! The merchant can figure on his values and his costs ; he can reckon his profits with a degree of safety and to an extent lean upon the market. At least his wares are salable to-morrow, if not to-day. But the news-able and does not know up to the hour of going to press what his wares are to be ! If he fails, to make a true estimate of news values he loses and success goes to the man who can. He cannot have relations with other lines of trade and keep his paper strong in the public esteem. A demagogic propaganda now and then starts out with cries against the " capitalistic press " when 'there can be no such thing, by the very nature of the business. One newspaper cannot hide what another prints and remain fair in the pubic eye. More than once have " interests tried to bolster up a waning sheet, only to complete its doom. A successful newspaper creates its own capital: no capital " as such can save an unsuccessful one. A newspaper with money and no soul is a foreordained failure. Examples could be cited in proof but this would be invidious. The other side can be put in evidence without offence. James Gordon Bennett started the Herald with $500 and in fifteen months had a property which he proudly valued at $5000. The New York World struggled for nearly a quarter of a century, until Joseph _Pulitzer took it from the burdened hands of Jay Gould, May 10, 1883, and gave journalism a new message :
The entire World newspaper property has been purchased by the undersigned, and will, from this day on, be under different management—different in men, measures and methods; different in purpose, policy and principle, different in objects and interests ; different in sympathies and convictions; different in head and heart.
Performance is better than promise. Exuberant assurances are cheap. I make none. I simply refer the public to the new World itself, which henceforth shall be the daily evidence of its own growing improvement, with forty-eight daily witnesses in its forty-eight columns.
"There is room in this great and growing bright ; not only bright, but large ; not only large, but truly democratic, dedicated to the Cause of the people rather than that of purse-potentates, devoted more to the news of the New than the Old World; that will expose all fraud and sham, fight all public evils and abuses ; that will serve and battle for the people with earnest sincerity.
" In that cause and for that end solely the new World is hereby enlisted and committed to the attention of the intelligent public."
Here was a code of journalism, struck off at white heat, almost at the midnight hour as the forms were closing for the first issue of the new World. The paper became profit-able from that moment Mr. Pulitzer had previously combined two staggering St. Louis evening papers, the Dispatch and the Post., twenty-four hours after he had purchased the former, and success followed from the day of the union. When he bought the Dispatch he figured that he had money enough to run it for fifteen weeks! The great San Francisco Chronicle was founded without money as a theatrical program a little more than fifty years ago by two boys, Charles and M. H. De Young. It literally made itself by exhibitions of extraordinary energy and enterprise. For a later example we have the Seattle Times, picked up for a trifle, by Alden J. Blethen, a maker of successful newspapers in Kansas City and Minneapolis, but then " down and out," and well past his fiftieth year ! In magic time it was changed from a burden to one of the most profitable publications of the day. The newspapers mentioned were not made by patient upbuildmg like a select few, but by dash and vigor, by pushing their ideas and energies into the field and conquering.
There are more than 22,000 newspapers and periodical establishments in the United States. The business has become stabilized to a degree but none the less continues to stand itself apart in a class by itself. News-papers are not " capitalized " and their shares distributed via Wall Street. It is the business of the individual, with all the fascination and opportunity that individualism implies and affords.
A witness before a Congressional Committee investigating the cost of white paper, was asked : " Do you run your newspapers for benevolent purposes or as business propositions? "
" Most newspapers," was the reply, " are run by gentlemen who have sporting blood—different from the conductors of any other enterprise. They are all very much alike. They take all sorts of chances and do things that would make ordinary business men shiver."
This pretty well describes the successful newspaper maker. He is not governed by rules. He must meet conditions as they arise, without counting cost or figuring profits. If he is bold enough and sanguine enough for this he can succeed. It is the temperament that tells ! It is this liberal and adventurous disposition that rallies other men and leads to the formation of a working force impelled by the same instincts and these become irresistible in the field.
Percentages of profit in newspaper making vary greatly according to the size of out-put and the proportion of loss from circulation. that must be charged against advertising revenue. It can be established, though, that in a community where newspapers are managed with skill and energy, there will be a return to the papers of the town, of about $1.00 per inhabitant. This does not mean such a return to each publication, but total sum which the population will give up to newspaper profit. That is to say, a city of 100,000 people ought to afford $100,000 in net return to be divided among the papers of the town. This can happen in a place where there are one or more losing propositions. Where the papers are earning this sum per inhabitant it is safe to say a new-comer will have a hard time, but more than once exceptional talent has taken over a losing sheet and exacted its share.
Money is earned, not " made " in the newspaper trade. The business cannot be " run " by boards and councils. It must succeed by innate energy on the part of men on the spot. To decide upon policy by the side of the " form" is something beyond the ability of boards of directors. On a ship, the rule is to obey the last order, no matter what rank may be held by the man who gives it. So in a newspaper office where events are dealt with. They control, but there must be talent present, capable of dealing with events and making the most of them !
Partisanship no longer plays any important part in newspaper success. Indeed, the party paper in cities of size is usually a sad affair. The city papers securing the most success are those of the independent Democratic type. Cities are usually Democratic, but the party idea is hardly apparent in the rule. It is due to freer expression and an utter refusal to tie up to the fortunes of any party or man. Quite often these papers are in revolt against the party organization with benefit to themselves and the community. For striking examples of this rule we have the Globe and Post, in Boston; the World, Times and Evening Post in New York; the Record in Philadelphia; the Plain Dealer in Cleveland; the Post-Dispatch in St. Louis and the Examiner in San Francisco. In Chicago, the Tribune, while nominally Republican, has a long record as an antiprotectionist and of opposition to party. It also enjoys conspicuous prosperity.
Some survivals of the early days had an interesting parentage. The daily Eastern Argus, of Portland, Maine, the oldest newspaper in New England east of the Connecti cut River, was founded in 1803 by Nathaniel Willis, father of N. P. Willis, poet and editor of the New York Mirror. He established also the Congregationalist, first named the Recorder, and the Youth's Companion, of' Boston, interesting progeny, and lusty after all these years!