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The Editor

( Originally Published 1916 )

Can he know all, and do all, and be all,
With cheerfulness, courage, and vim?
If so, we perhaps can be making an
Editor " outen of him."


WITHOUT an editor all is vain ! Much merit as there is in a well-organized business office, success belongs to the editor. He makes the goods. If his ideas and output are not salable the best economic management and most zealous advertising hunting fails. To prescribe what an editor must be is a difficult and delicate undertaking. To describe his task is easier. The poet whose lines head this chapter had the qualifications clearly in mind, but he left out the chief one: Imagination! By this is not meant inventiveness but the possession of a mental mirror that enables him to see what is " in" things ahead of others, so to grasp and compass them as to reflect his vision until it interests and informs the multitude! The gentleman of Wordsworth's lines to whom

A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him .
and it was nothing more,

would not do as an editor. The editor is one to turn the primrose into decorative garlands, into a bloom rivalling the orchid, into a decoration for the fairest scenes. As the trade grows complex he must think for many subordinates and inspire as well as command.

Men have broken into the newspaper world who had no thought of business or money making, who felt they had a message to expound or a cause to create, and so have founded great journals. Few newspapers ever began as calculating getters of money and few could survive if this was their sole intent. That money comes is the result, not the primary purpose, of good newspaper making.

The editor in America has passed through two stages and is well on in a third. The early editors were servants of party. They echoed the views of statesmen. The quarrels of Hamilton and Jefferson, of Jackson and the Whigs, were the themes. Then came the period of personality; Greeley, Raymond, Webb and Weed, Halstead, Medill and Watterson, imposing their views on the public mind. Instead we have now a powerful impersonality. It is no longer the opinion of the editor that prevails. It is the opinion of the paper, which has taken on the personalty lost by the editor. What does the World say, the Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Evening Post, the Boston Globe? The editorial opinions are collected over the wire in the face of great events. Whoever the writer of the moment may be, he expresses concretion, not the views of an individual. They who plead for a return to the one-man view and deride the " irresponsible " press, " hiding behind anonymity," and urge the signing of editorial articles, with the best of motives, are wrong, if they desire the real forces of opinion to operate. The view of one man so revealed is nothing more in effect than the view of another, except for the wider expression attained through the printed page. It remains of no more potency than the letters from " Veritas" and Pro Bono Public() " in the correspondence column. But where the paper speaks, the force it represents is crystallized, the people and the politicians know that a vast activity is in the field to demand and enforce. John Smith writing a leader above his name is John Smith talking; but the leader standing alone is the voice of organized intelligence sending its message forcefully and cogently to the land ! The great editor writes little and thinks much. But a gifted few can pour out their brains in penmanship and preserve virility and expression. The rest must think before they write. Indeed, the greatest of editors in the sense of direction, John Thadeus Delane, who lifted the London Times to its highest estate, wrote little. He thought, directed, and acquired knowledge. He kept close to the inner circles of government, when government had an importance quite beyond the usual American estimate. He frequented the salon of the social leader and the study of the statesman. His views were acquired first hand and he spoke always with authority.

We have no such relationships in these United States. The editor who " keeps close " to society and statesmen soon gets far away from his paper and its true purposes. There probably was never so complete a disassociation of the press and politics as we fortunately now enjoy in America. The editor edits, untrammeled by the pressure of politicians or the aims of social leadership. That extraordinary feminine influence so strong in the England of Delane's day is and always has been absent from American journalism. The American editor is influenced by facts and events, not by relation-ship or " pull." Moreover, the greatest and most exacting editor cannot be certain that his " page " will not be tipped over before morning. The night man is there to do as he pleases in most offices. He is usually too busy to pay attention to anybody.

Until the great war broke out America's isolation kept the country out of world politics, which were so great a part of Delane's activities. In American affairs today the editor does not " commune with " leaders." He looks down, not up, on statecraft and politics.

So much for the editorial writer and his duties. Other editors are much nearer the reader and more important in filling his daily needs—the managing editor, the news editor, and the city editor. The city editor of a metropolitan paper controls the group of reporters who hunt the news, usually within a 75-mile radius. Beyond that the managing editor rules, with the aid of his associate, the news editor. This last named worker deals with the correspondents, some hundreds of them, at all points of the compass, who send in their daily queries, for example, offering " 200 words, cave-in, at Oneonta." He must judge of values and place the limit. The building of a morning paper requires a double force, and a far greater responsibility than in the evening edition. Here the numerous " extras and quick replating lessen the need of final judgment. The morning man fixes his edition to stand." He only knows the advantage of the other fellow over him after he sees his product, when it is usually too late for more than a hasty lift." The evening man can "make over," and in half an hour few will be able to know who was first. It is a killing job getting out a morning paper and requires a calmness of temperament approach= Mg the phlegmatic, coupled with quickness of decision and soundness of judgment, to do the Work and to meet and pass the next day's criticism. Fortunately the newspaper belongs to the family of the ephemeral. Each day kills its predecessor's failures-and merits !

Office criticism is always cruel. It is well exemplified by the joker who wrote a dialogue something like this for a miniature Chicago Tribune issued to grace a shop dinner:

In our office Managing Editor Note to all the editors-" Why haven't we played up that dash story? All the other papers have it? "

In their offices—Managing Editor : Note to all the editors-" What did you play up that dash story for? The Tribune had sense enough to play it down! "

Upon the City Editor falls the dual responsibility of getting news and handling a large body of men. To do so well he should know more than all of them put together. The right kind of a City Editor must be a cross between a steel trap and an encyclopaedia. He must know everything and everybody. A name must suggest personal history, incident and the past. He must understand the meaning of moves in all walks of life, know politics, Wall Street, police annals and the records of the courts. This he can acquire only with the aid of time and an adhesive mentality to which the things will stick. His telephone is always jingling. He cannot have temper or impatience and he is always on trial !

The personal belligerency of the editor long ago passed away. Like most grades of life in initial stages, fighting was a needful quality. George D. Prentice had his pistols handy in the Louisville Journal office, ready to step to the sidewalk and meet any comer with a grouch. When the " fierce " paragraphs of the day are scanned in a modern light, one wonders what there was in them that incited to murder! The chief resentment seemed to be that the editor had a thousand tongues and so did an extraordinary injustice when he criticised a man possessing but one. In the early days of the ,Cincinnati Commercial, Murat Halstead always kept a loaded revolver in the open drawer of his desk with that piece of furniture so placed as to command a view of the door. The weapon lay under cover of a half open newspaper so adjusted as to slip off at a turn of the hand and give quick access o the weapon. The recitation fights is not edifying, but there is almost amusing interest in the spectacle of the revered author of Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant, cowhiding William L. Stone, editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, and he the head of the New York Evening Post! Philip Hone witnessed the affray, recording it under date, of April 20, 1831:

While I was shaving this morning at eight o'clock, I witnessed from the front window an encounter in the street nearby opposite, between William C. Bryant and William L. Stone ; the former one of the editors of the Evening Post, and the latter editor of the Commercial Advertiser. The former commenced the attack by striking Stone over the head with a cowskin; after a few blows the men closed, and the whip was wrested from Bryant and carried off by Stone."

The warfare batmen General James Watson Webb, of the Courier and Enquirer, . and James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, produced a number of assaults by Webb upon the editor of the Herald. Mr. Bennett always wrote full reports of the en-counters for his paper! Here is a sample excerpt from the Herald under date of the tenth of May, 1835:

"As I was leisurely pursuing my business yesterday in Wall Street, .. . James Watson Webb came up to me, on the northern side of the Street—said something which I could not hear distinctly, then pushed me down the stone steps leading to one of the brokers' offices, and commenced fighting with a species of brutal and demoniacal desperation, characteristic of a fury. My damage is a scratch, about three quarters of an inch in length, on the third finger of the left hand, which I received from the iron railing I was forced against, and three buttons tom from my vest, which any tailor will reinstate for a sixpence. His loss is a rent from top to bottom of a very beautiful black coat which cost the ruffian $40, and a blow in the face which may have knocked down his throat some of his infernal teeth for anything I know. Balance in my favor $39.94."

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