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The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 15: Journalism — Authorship

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 24, 2011

For background and links to chapters in this series, see here

LESSON XV

JOURNALISM – AUTHORSHIP

The Power of the Press

This is the day of the newspaper. All people are not readers of books, but in civilized countries there are very few indeed who do not read the papers regularly. The country paper is probably the most potent factor in moulding public opinion 8in rural districts, while the great city dailies have their influence the country over. That the pen is mightier than the sword has been recognized by such military readers as Napoleon, who said he would rather have an important newspaper on his side than an army of men.

Some papers adopt the policy of simply giving the news without color or comment, while others use almost all items as a means of furthering the ambitions and ends of the ones who own them. The newspaper is also frequently used as an instrument to further political ideas.


The Function of a Newspaper

“So common an object as a newspaper,” says Dibble in his book entitled The Newspaper, “is seldom the subject of serious reflection. If any one of us should stop to consider what it is and why it is made, it is odd that he would think of one aspect of it to the general exclusion of the others. The curious man might reflect in surprise on the vast amount of mere reading matter turned out regularly every morning with perhaps only half a dozen literal mistakes, on the variety of typesetting and the amount of printing, often more than sufficient to make a large sized book. The manufacturer would direct his imagination to the efficient machinery to produce perhaps 3,000 copies a minute or to the practiced organization, able to distribute them as fast as theya re printed. The business man would think chiefly of a newspaper as a vehicle for prices and a medium for advertising. Cooks, butchers, clerks, and governesses look upon it as a daily registry office.

“The solicitor sells houses and lands through it. Housewives through it sometimes buy their soap and more often their hats. Actors, singers, authors, artists, and musicians each read their special column and wonder when the editor intends to engage some one really acquainted with the only subject worth reading. The politician will read its leading articles with smirking assent or explosive repudiation. Last of all comes the general reader, and he asks nothing more of his newspaper than all the news of everywhere, collected at great cost, transcribed with finished skill, and presented to him just the way which pleases and flatters him most. All of them are not scrupulously satisfied.”

The Newspaper Man

“Newspaper reporting,” says William Drysdale, “is an ever-open door for the young men who are fitted for it. Whoa re fitted for it, mark you; and it is the requisite of fitness that keeps the door constantly open. The thousands of newspapers require tens of thousands of reporters, and there is always a chance for good ones. But with equal certainty good ones must be ready to give way to better ones, and better to best. It is the best reporters only who can hope for permanent positions.

“In no other calling does the young man find his level so rapidly. In a month often, sometimes in a week, a new reporter may be ranked among the dullards who do drudgery for small pay, or among the crack men who do the best work and make more money than most of the editors. This [possibility of immediate success is one of the great attractions of the work, almost as great as the opportunity to see life, to take part in passing events, to make the acquaintance of famous people.

“Many a new reporter has sprung at a bound to what seemed to be the very top of the ladder by writing unusually brilliant or witty articles, and at the end of a few weeks has been dropped incontinently because he was not trustworthy, because he could not be depended upon. No brilliancy, no rapidity or activity on the part of a reporter can make up for want of integrity and care.”

Charles A. Dana, in his great lecture on “The Making of a Newspaper Man,” gives the following advice to the young man beginning the business:

“1. Get the news, get all the news and nothing but the news.

“2. Copy nothing from another publication without perfect credit.

“3. Never print an interview without the knowledge and consent of the party interviewed.

“4. Never print a paid advertisement as news matter. Let every advertisement appear as an advertisement; no sailing under false colors.

“5. Never attack the weak or defenseless, either by argument, by invective, or by ridicule, unless there is some absolute public necessity for doing so.

“6. Fight for your opinions, but do not believe them to contain the whole truth or the only truth.

“7. Support your party if you have one, but do not think that all the good men are in it or that the bad ones are outside of it.

“8. Above all, believe and know that humanity is advancing; that there is progress in human life and human affairs, and that as sure as God lives the future will be greater than the past or present.”

Opportunities and Training

There are about two hundred thousand persons engaged in various phases of newspaper work and the number iis gradually increasing. Newspaper work is strenuous and confining. There is no chance to shirk without being detected. In order to be successful one must be “a live wire,” or get out of the game.

In newspaper work a person must have a “nose for news” and know how to sift out of the thousands of daily happenings the comparatively few which will be of a general interest. Some newspaper man said that if a dog bit a man the item would have little news value since it is so commonplace, whereas, if a man should bite a dog the story would call for a big headline. The ability to see what is going on, to separate the important form the commonplace, to write the material interestingly and rapidly, assures a certain success in newspaper work, and there is always an opportunity for such a person to rise rapidly.

On a country paper, a person must learn every phase of the work from printer’s devil to editor. He should have experience in the mechanical, the news, and the editorial departments. The boy entering the printing department may, if he is ambitious, work up through the business and become editor or manager, or he may develop into an author. The work on a city paper is more specialized from the first. A young man may begin in one department and work on for years without learning much about the others.

There is a wonderful opportunity in journalistic work for a person to do a great deal of good. He can get a message before the public as in no other way. He is in a position to expose sham, and to censure corrupt practice as well as commend the good.

The usual way to get into newspaper work is to get a job with a newspaper and gradually work up. It is always an advantage to have at least a fair education and a person is much more likely to rise faster and ultimately to reach a higher mark fi he has an opportunity to take a regular course of journalism in a school.

Dr. Talcott Williams, Director of the School of Journalism at Columbia university, has the following to say:

“For thirty-five years journalists have watched the successive attempts to provide courses in newspaper work and establish professional training for journalism, in grave doubt whether the same measure of preparation could be provided for a calling which is at bottom an art as is furnished for callings like law and medicine, which are at bottom professions. The difference is clear. An art can not be imparted without actual practice in it. In a profession the principles, knowledge, and method can be successfully imparted and the practice can come later. There is no way of learning to report, but to report, has been the conviction of nearly every journalist who has been a reporter and remained a reporter, as every journalist should, to the end of his days.

“Work in a school cannot and does not turn a man into a journalist. A law school does not make a lawyer. A school does not make a physician. Bur every newspaper man who has trodden the hard and sterile path of the city room in undergoing his training, can judge for himself the value of this practical work in bringing a man to the newspaper office, ready for his tasks, knowing how to avoid mistakes and knowing, too, how to obey the orders of his superiors and to do the assignments on which they send him.”

Authorship

No young man who looks toward literature as a career need be discouraged by the great number of writers. If there are many writers there are also many publishers and many readers. The opportunities have never been better than today for those who can write well.

Writing is not confined to the use of good English, although this is important. It is the message to be conveyed that counts. If a person has something to say to the public, he should not hesitate on account of language, but should write it down in the best possible way; he can then correct until as many as possible of the imperfections are eliminated. After the first few attempts composition will be much easier.

The young writer should not be discouraged if his manuscripts are rejected by publishers. The best writers have had the same experience. Look through the rejected article or story and improve it and profit by the mistakes you have made in the past.

It is a great pity that more of the young men of M.I.A. age do not write for publication. Many of them have talent that remains forever hidden because the possessors are over-modest or do not want to pt forth the necessary effort. Even if one does not wish to make a business of literature, ability to write is useful in connection with almost any activity, and writing is a great stimulator to one’s mentality. Clear, accurate thinking is one of the results of composition. A good beginning can be made by contributing articles to local papers and magazines, then, as more confidence is gained, more difficult literary tasks may be undertaken.

SUGGESTED QUESTIONS

1. Why is the press so powerful in moulding public opinion?
2. Discuss the many types of activities in which a newspaper is engaged.
3. How is it that a newspaper can be sold for five cents, whereas a book of the same number of words often costs two or three dollars?
4. What are some of the desirable qualities in a good newspaper man?
5. Name a number of the great newspaper men that the country has produced.
6. Outline what you think to be the best training for a prospective newspaper man.
7. What opportunities are open in the line of authorship?
8. Who are your favorite authors and why do you like them?



6 Comments »

  1. “This is the day of the newspaper.”

    My how things have changed in less than a century.

    A tangential quote that used to be on the wall of the newsroom at the Daily Universe at BYU, illustrating the tension between print and broadcast media: “Television is called a medium because it’s neither rare nor well-done.”

    And to finish this wandering comment, over the weekend my family and I watched Foreign Correspondent, an Alfred Hitchcock mystery about (what else?) a foreign correspondent. I know being a newspaper man in that era wasn’t all mystery and suspense — my great grandfather was a newspaperman through and through — but there is some romance associated with the profession.

    Comment by Researcher — October 24, 2011 @ 7:09 am

  2. “Some papers adopt the policy of simply giving the news without color or comment . . . ”

    Humbug. I don’t know what’s worse–those who feign impartiality (and therefore hide their biases) or those who trumpet their biases. At least in the latter case, we know where they’re coming from.

    On another topic, it is altogether appropriate for the writer to begin this piece with a bit of sloppy writing (which suggests sloppy thinking, doesn’t it?): “All people are not readers of books” doesn’t really mean “Not all people are readers of books”–but, as I say, it’s appropriate since this is the kind of writing that shows up even in our day of the non-newspaper.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 24, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  3. My great grandfather worked for the Deseret News at about this time. I don’t think he wrote anything that was printed. I’m pretty sure he operated the machinery. I wonder what he thought of the reporters.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — October 24, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

  4. I moved from newspaper journalism to magazines about 10 years ago, as the hours and deadlines weren’t quite so insane.

    There will always be a need for reporters to find newsworthy events and write about them in such a way that it gets the public’s attention. It’s just the medium that is changing.

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 25, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  5. One of the lowest-paying, yet more enjoyable jobs that I’ve had was the (sole) reporter for a weekly small-town newspaper, covering local government, high school sports, and plenty of community events of greater and lesser import.

    Unfortunately I couldn’t provide for my family’s future on those wages, so I moved back to a larger city and back into my previous career (software engineering).

    Comment by Lee C. — October 27, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  6. This is obviously a pre-Fox and MSNBC era, but the comments about newspapers at that time, seem very relevent to all kinds of news sources, including blogs.

    “In taking up research work there are a few requirements that must be kept in mind. Probably the foremost necessity for the man of science is absolute honesty.”

    Comment by Julia — September 1, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

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