( Originally Published 1916 )
THE reader of the newspaper in America is a legion. He is closely followed up by the editor and publisher, morning, noon and night, with an extra allowance on Sunday. Such an appetite as never Gargantua had is that of the American for news! " Everybody reads the papers—nobody believes them " a cynic wrote, most untruthfully, for the reader can do little else than believe the paper if he is to believe anything. The silly idea that a crowded sheet can spare the room for idle deception, or that its conductors are ' foolish enough to believe that invention is more important than facts, obtains in some higher intellectual circles, among men whose learning should teach them to know better. That they do not is a reflection upon them-not upon the hurried, zealous newspaper diligently endeavoring to be first with its wares.
Perhaps this careless characterization is a relic of the newspaper in days when news was scarce and communication slow and talent expressed itself in fancies. The celebrated moon hoax, perpetrated by Richard Adams Locke in the New York Sun, in 1835, purporting to be taken from an ad-vane supplement of the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, was the finest example of this form of fooling. It was a work of genius, causing a great sensation, telling, as it most solemnly did, of the goings on aboard our celestial neighbor, as " revealed " by the mighty telescope shortly before installed by Sir John F. W. Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope!
Beyond this romance, so well done as to live in book form to this day, the papers padded themselves with much useless opinion and extended theorizing, especially in extracting " significance " from politics and guessing at the doings of circles from which they were excluded. The welcoming of the press was anything but cordial, and for much that was printed the keyhole and the back stairs were credited as the source and the purveyor of the information was regarded as a low person. The Right of Publicity had a long journey before it secured recognition !
The church, government and trade alike frowned upon the inquisitive and informing printed sheet. When James Franklin established his Courant in Boston, 1720-21, he was soon in jail as the result of expressing opinions offensive to the authorities, in which he was abetted by his mischievous brother Benjamin, destined to become the first real editor in America, combining wit, wisdom, great intelligence and boldness of opinion, with a commanding style of expression.
Therefore as the voice of the people, the relation of the paper to its reader is intimate and one of confidence. It is fashionable with certain types of moralists to decry the press and to insist it should limit its expressions to things the moralist thinks the public ought to know, with the idea of protecting virtue by suppressing knowledge of sin. The decent newspaper—and I know of few that is not does sift its news, which is quite another matter from either suppression or repression. It does not pander and it tries to adjust news values to fit the comprehension of its constituency, not to place a limit upon what it should know.
What does a newspaper ever print that is worse than what the public does? It is not the thief, the murderer, the forger, the speculator, the eloper, or the corporation lawyer! It is a plain recorder of events, good or evil, not the creator or adjuster of them!
Certain types of popular journals have come under criticism for the use of huge headlines, red ink and large pictures. There is a real reason behind all three. Most minds are rudimentary and where the foreign Ian guage element is great a few words in big type, with pictorial accompaniment make for quick comprehension. The critic should look at the old primers where the familiar ax was depicted to emphasize the first letter of the alphabet upon the juvenile mind, or the common cat to render " c "intelligible. No child ever yet liked to read a book that failed to contain pictures. As for red it is the most popular of colors and strikes the eye as does no other!
It is easy to understand, therefore, why a sheet, seemingly " loud " in tone because of headlines and make-up, will be found quite mild in contents when subjected to analysis. Some of the publications most lurid in headlines have a very meek assemblage of reading matter, and a high moral tone in thought. They are made for the simpler strata and succeed in proportion. That they graduate readers to the conservative and better mannered papers is an undoubted fact, but the evolution upward is slow. The " best newspapers have the smallest circulations !
The paper produced for the rudimentary minds is a valuable connecting link, too, between the foreigners groping for know- ledge and the thorough-going American press. The circulation of foreign language newspapers in this country is very great. In New York it is formidable. There are not less than 1,200,000 copies of issues in alien tongues produced each day in that city-600,000 Jewish ; 250,000 German ; 200,000 Italian and at least 150,000 in other tongues, ranging from Greek to Croatian, These papers will flourish for a generation at least, perhaps longer, particularly those in the Yiddish text where for racial and religious reasons their readers keep themselves apart in the community. The easily read papers in English are the best mediums for beating down the hold of the foreign language papers, supplying as they do a readily understood expression of events. They flux the melting pot!
Following the complaint against the brisk, but lightly made sheets is the clamor against the popular Sunday papers and their varied components, particularly the comic supplements ! As the inventor of the Sunday comic and so incidentally the parent of " yellow " journalism I may be pardoned a line of history. In 1893 the New York World had installed the first color press in America adapted to newspaper printing. It was built by the Walter Scott Company, of Plainfield, New Jersey, and was an excellent machine., It lacked, or was thought to lack, capacity for large editions, and another machine, constructed by R. Hoe & Company, was in-stalled. The latter lay idle for months and the former was used usually to daub bits of color on the face of a local supplement—little city scenes like the flower market in Union Square. No results were visible in circulation and the cost was considerable. Coming into the mechanical and business departments, after a ten-year journey through the reportorial and editorial side, I had often noted the popular craving for amusement, the almost pathetic desire to see something funny, and I urged that the color presses be set to producing a " comic " sheet. Mr. Pulitzer, absent in Europe, cabled the single word " experiment," so, with an equipment consisting of Frederick A. Duneka, for long and now the head of Harper & Brothers, a pair of shears, and Walt McDougall, the cartoonist, the "experiment" began. The immediate effect was to send the paper from the quarter million class, where it had long lodged, into the half million, where it has since remained, in the teeth of tremendous competition.
The " yellow " phase developed when William J. Kelly, the pressman, whose knowledge of color printing had been obtained printing specimen books for George Mather's Sons, the ink Makers, complained that he could get no results from the wishy-washy tints turned out by the art department and begged for some solid colors. About this time R. F. Outcault, a clever youth from Sandusky, Ohio, who had recently invaded New York, turned in to the Sunday editor, then Arthur Brisbane, several black and white drawings, depicting child-life in a tenement district called " Hogan's Alley." I carried Kelly's kick to C. W. Saalburg, the colorist who was painting the key plate of the "Alley," and being of quick understanding said: " All right, I'll make that kid's dress solid yellow!" ,Suiting the action to the word he dipped his brush in yellow pigment and " washed " the " kid." For once Kelly was right. The " solid color " stood out above all the colors in the comic. The " yellow kid " arrived. The success of the series led to the capture of Mr. Outcault by the rival Journal newly revived by William R. Hearst, and to a for tune for the artist. The rivalry resulting, for the World's " kid " was long continued by George B. Luks, since a notable American painter, and stamped " yellow " on an enterprise that is now common to all news-papers. The wide use of Sunday cones has vindicated the inventor's idea that there was an intense desire for amusement in the land —whatever the Sunday-school teachers may think.
The idle chance that opened the door of success for Outcault had a parallel in the New York Herald office, where Carl Schultze, " Bunny," a Kentucky artist, presented himself with a comic series showing the antics of two small boys in playing tricks on Grandpa. William J. Guard, editor of the supplement, said that if the artist would reverse the idea he would try it out. Schultze did so. When the first plate came to the form no caption had been sent up with it. Called upon suddenly, to furnish a " line Mr. Guard, inspired by the presence in a local theatre of Jerome Sykes as " Foxy Quiller," wrote " Foxy Grandpa." Fame followed for " Bunny," with a comfortable financial reward and much circulation for the Herald. Bought for the Journal by Mr. 'Hearst the idea had extended success in a wider circle.
The Sunday paper is a sort of department store in journalism. Its large circulation enforces size, because it must cover many things to interest so great a constituency with its vast variations in taste. Curiously, the attacks on the Sunday papers had little or no effect on circulation, but the outdoor habit brought on by the bicycle and continued by the automobile and the golf course, affected it greatly. Before the bicycle came a rainy Sunday meant a poor sale. After the wheel craze began, a rainy Sun-day meant an increase of perhaps 50,000 circulation to all the Sunday papers in New York and a bright day a corresponding falling off. People who may buy entertainment in bad weather, head for out o'doors in fair. The old-fashioned editor tried to be loyal to the subscriber and catered to his feelings instead of compelling him to be loyal to the editor. Fear of the subscriber was a grievous editorial weakness. Incidentally, here is a good story in point:
When Robert H. Davis, the editor and playwright, was a boy he served as printer's devil in the office of the Carson, Nevada, Appeal, of which his brother Sam was editor. Late one night as they were rattling the modest edition off on the Washington hand-press, a shabby little man crept in and' asked if there were any old clothes about that feller" might have. The hooks in the rear office were full of garments discarded by tramp printers after picking up a couple of weeks' pay. He was told to help himself. Shortly he came back to the press side comparatively transformed and watched the operations of the clumsy machine curiously.
"-What does the paper cost? " he asked.
" Eight dollars a year."
He dug $8 out of his pants pocket and started to leave.
Hold on," said the foreman, " where do you want it sent? "
" I'll let you know," he replied, " when I git settled. I'm travelling."
He stepped out into the moonlight. In half an hour there was a clatter of hoofs and rattling of arms outside. In came the Sheriff of Carson and a brace of deputies. Had the printers seen anything of a little man, half dressed and unshaven?
Little Bob was prompt to make reply:
" Yes. He was here half an hour ago.
" Which way did he go?
Bob started to reply, giving the correct information.
" Shut up," said the foreman in his ear, " I'll attend to this."
He went on glibly to lay out a route for the stranger, just opposite to the one he had taken—down the main road to the Canyon.
The sheriff made it known that the visitor was Black Bart, an eminent highwayman who had just escaped from the Nevada penitentiary, and rode away with his deputies—on the wrong trail.
" What did you lie to them for, Jim? "Bob asked the foreman. " Hell! " he said. " You wouldn't go back on a subscriber, would you?