Mr. Mooney

May 8, 1918(C.P.J.) Mooney was a newspaperman’s newspaperman. He would, if necessary, throw out features and even advertisements to make room for news. Incidentally, under his editorship, the Commercial Appeal not only attained the biggest circulation in the South but it probably reached its all-time high for profits. News-room reports had it that, one year, the paper paid dividends of sixty-four percent! Maybe Mooney had the right idea after all  give the public a newspaper, thorough, fair and interesting, and all these other things, including profits, shall be added unto you.

People would buy a copy of the Memphis afternoon newspapers with their heavy headlines about some tragedy, read the story and then remark: “Well, let’s wait and see what the Commercial Appeal says in the morning.

Get the story first but get it right” was one of Mooney’s mottoes. On the wall of the office hung this:

“The three essentials of reporting: First, Accuracy; Second, Accuracy; Third, Accuracy.” — From “Cub Reporter” by Boyce House, 1947.

Charles Patrick Joseph Mooney is still regarded as the greatest editor of The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper of Memphis. He died in 1926, a full decade before the paper became a link in the Scripps chain. Mooney ran the newspaper, but he kept the title of managing editor. Nobody held the title of “editor” or “editor-in-chief.”

Filling in the blanks

anti-coon clubSeveral years ago, as I looked for coverage of a long-ago dairy show (I was helping a friend research a book), I spotted a brief article on page 4 of the Oct. 14, 1909 edition of The Missourian. It was a short report about a new campus organization.

Here’s the lede:

The ‘Anti-Coon Club’ is the latest at the University of Missouri. It was organized to keep negroes off the campus of the University of Missouri unless they have business there. The club was formed by thirty-two students who met in the smoking room of the law building yesterday morning. They object chiefly to the practice of negroes of carrying bundles of laundry, pushing wheel-barrows and riding bicycles through the campus.

The article listed the organization’s officers. Their plans: to post warning placards on campus and produce buttons for members to wear. “These buttons are to contain a picture of a negro standing on his head and above his feet the inscription, ‘I Belong to the Anti-Coon Club.’”

I was unable to find subsequent coverage. So I don’t know if the organization gained followers or lasted beyond the announcement of its formation. But it wasn’t difficult to track most of the individuals associated with the group’s leadership. Read more of this post

“We see evidence”

cookie-cutter lighthouseIt’s funny, and a little distressing, to watch clips of local television news personalities in different cities reading from the same canned script. It’s a reminder of just how inauthentic and goofy local TV coverage can be.

But cookie-cutter journalism began with newspapers, and was perfected by the first chain, founded by E.W. Scripps. More than a century later, the ethic of cut-and-paste is still alive there, even as the chain gets shorter and smaller and Scripps prepares to exit the newspaper business altogether. Here are editors (and one publisher) with E.W. Scripps papers telling readers about an upgrade in their digital presentation, including a website redesign:

xcookie-cutter lighthouseMichael Kelly, San Angelo, Texas, Standard-Times (July 12, 2014): “Across San Angelo we see evidence of new investments in our community’s future. Business is expanding, new housing developments are being built, our colleges are adding educational and training offerings and growth is evidence everywhere. … “

xcookie-cutter lighthouseTim Archuleta, Corpus Christi Caller-Times (June 8, 2014): “All across Corpus Christi we see evidence of new investments in our community’s future. Major industry is expanding, neighborhoods are growing, colleges are adding educational and training offerings, and even a favorite downtown coffeehouse is remodeling. …” Read more of this post

Hammer heads for hacks

garbage canWriting a snappy, provocative headline — one that accurately reflects the gist and tone of a story — isn’t easy. Not if it requires being original. In a pinch, time-pressed editors and designers turn to puns, movie titles and song lyrics. Those can work if there’s a broad-enough cultural reference, even if they’re derivative and lazy.  Then there’s the old reliable method: recycle. That explains why these headlines, among others, get used so often.

Grape expectations (regarding anything to do with wine) Example: “Grape Expectations: Until recently, few would have predicted that a winery would have the potential to bring tourists and their spending money to historically dry Edmonson County, let alone attempted to bring about that vision.” (Bowling Green, Ky., Daily News, June 29, 2011)

Dead dogs walking (regarding anything to do with stray animals, pet rescue) Examples: “Dead dog walking: Michigan Rottweiler survives botched euthanasia attempt.” (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14, 2010) Others:  Orlando Weekly 1999; Riverfront Times (St. Louis) 1999; Illinois Times (Springfield) 2014  Read more of this post

Hard-working Americans

WPAWhen U.S. politicians talk about “hard-working Americans” instead of “Americans,” who are they describing? Americans with jobs? Americans with difficult jobs? Americans with jobs that don’t pay much? Americans who like to think of themselves as hard workers?

When politicians as diverse as Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and John Boehner address the concerns of “hard-working Americans,” are they also suggesting there are Americans who aren’t working all that hard? If so, who are these other Americans? Who are these slackers, parasites, paper shufflers, goldbricks, layabouts and goof-offs?

Most Americans like to think of themselves as hard workers —  that is, productive, self-reliant members of society. Folks who deserve what they earn, and then some. It’s clever to appeal to them, but are they really hard workers?

Read more of this post

The Naked Truth

Preetorius-Schurz-Daenzer Memorial, 1914
This year marks the centennial of a St. Louis statue honoring – incredibly – newspaper editors. German newspaper editors at that.

Named “The Naked Truth,” the statue is located in Compton Hill Reservoir Park, just south of the famous water tower. Three men get props: Emil Preetorius, Carl Schurz and Carl Daenzer.

Daenzer publishedImage the Anzeiger des Westens (born 1835; combined with the Westliche Post in 1898). Schurz and Preetorius, at one time, owned the Westliche Post (1857-1938). All three men had been hellraisers in Germany; all three supported the Union cause in their new homeland. (The Westliche Post is where a young Hungarian immigrant named Joseph Pulitzer began his newspaper career. Pulitzer later founded the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

Beer baron Adolphus Busch picked up most of the tab for “The Naked Truth,” which was sculpted by W. Wilhelm Wandschneider in Berlin. Wandschneider was known for his monumental Otto von Bismarcks and kaisers, not naked women. Still, “The Naked Truth” was controversial in St. Louis because the figure was, well, naked and there didn’t seem to be much about journalism in the representation. Read more of this post

America Today

Tug Boats by I.J. SangerLand of Plenty by Lucienne BlochAnd Now Where by Rockwell KentSELECTED PRINTS from a 1936 book published by Dustbowl by Abromovitzthe American Artists’ Congress, a popular front group.

Traffic Control by Benton Spruance


Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) photographed St. Louis newsboys in 1910 for the National Child Labor Committee. His efforts are credited with helping change labor law. Find his portraits at the Library of Congress’s  National Child Labor Committee Collection site. 

1100 A. M . Monday, May 9th, 1910. Newsies at Skeeter's Branch, Jefferson near Franklin. They were all smoking. Location St. Louis, Missouri.Joe Manning, a retired social worker and journalist in Massachusetts, is identifying descendants of the newsboys and other child laborers photographed by Hine. Manning describes what he’s doing at his site, Mornings on Maple Street. He’s found names for some children that Hine didn’t identify. And he’s been able to say what became of some of them.  

One of Manning’s discoveries is the identity of a tough-looking newsie named Raymond Klose, one of three smokers in a Hine photo captioned “Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, Jefferson near Franklin.” In 2010, Manning was contacted by a relative of Raymond’s who helped make the identification; Matthew Hathaway of the Post-Dispatch wrote about the discovery in 2011.

Another look at Manning’s project, as well as a history of Father Dunne’s Newsboy Home and Protectorate (1906-2006), is here: Old Newsboys Day and Fr. Peter Dunne.

The Newsboys’ Home was started by Father Dunne a few months after he witnessed a conductor boot 10-year-old Jimmie Fleming off a street car because the boy was “too ragged.” The priest followed Jimmie and, according to a 1906 account in the Post-Dispatch, “made an appraisement of the little fellow’s worth.” The boy was indeed ragged, but Dunne also said he was a “bright boy and a good one, who wanted only a chance to develop into a useful citizen.” Read more here: Waif Benefactor of Boys Dying, an account of Jimmie at death’s door after a horse stepped on his head.

Reporter Tim O’Neil took a look at Father Dunne in his weekly “A Look Back” column on Feb. 1, 2014. Find it here: Rev. Dunne, former orphan, establishes Newsboys Homes in 1906

Burley's Branch Office, 23rd St. near Olive. Wednesday May 4th, 1910. 330 P.M. Location St. Louis, Missouri.

Young newsboy 6th and Pine Sts. May 10th, 1910. Location St. Louis, Missouri. Truants selling papers at Jefferson and Washington 11 A.M. Monday, May 9th, 1910. Smallest boy is Marvin Adams, 2637 Washington Ave. Said he got his papers off'n de other feller. Location St. Louis, Missouri. Truant newsboy, Broadway and Locust Sts. 11 A.M. Location St. Louis, Missouri.

Christmas in St. Louis

ClemensThe Inebriate Asylum. This institution, which is located on Cass avenue and Twenty-first street, in the old Clemens Mansion, has about fifteen inmates. A majority of them have gone home to remain during the holidays. Those who will remain will be provided with a splendid dinner.”  — From “Christmas. How the Day is to be Observed in St. Louis. The Local Atmosphere Redolent of Turkey and Plum Pudding. What Will Be Done in Many of the Public Institutions.Clemens Mansion 2013 The Programme at the City Jail, Work House, Refuge and Hospital. A Grand Ten-Cent Dinner at the Levee Bethel and Friendly Inn. Fun Ahead at the Orphan, Blind, Inebriate, Foundling and Other Asylums.” Post-Dispatch, Dec. 24, 1878. See Observing Christmas 1878

The Clemens House, 1849 Cass Avenue, was built in the late 1850s by James Clemens Jr., Mark Twain’s uncle.

For a free press

MandelaTruth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammeled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society. Indeed these are the devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth. …

A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.

It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. It is only such a free press that can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power. It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption on the part of government, state officials and other institutions that hold power in society.  From Nelson Mandela’s address to the International Press Institute Congress, Feb. 14, 1994, Cape Town

SLIn the late-1970s, the anti-apartheid movement swept across U.S. college campuses, and I had the opportunity to cover a part of it.

Joe Hill

imageExecuted by the state of Utah, Nov. 19, 1915.

From coverage by the Post-Dispatch (a link is here: Joseph Hillstrom):

“Gentlemen, I die with a clear conscience. I never did anything wrong in my life. I die fighting, not like a coward. …

“I will die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste anytime in mourning. Organize.”

Joe still has a following. Here’s a recent account of a recent celebration: Chicago remembers Joe Hill

Armistice Day

Bernhard und KarlBernhard Klose and Karl Bürtel

Bernhard (date of photograph unknown) fought on the losing side of the “War to End All Wars.”

Karl (photographed around 1943) was drafted to fight in the war that came later.

They never met, but their children married and moved to the United States.

Game plan

180px-Lighthouse“Across our footprint, we have about 550,000 home delivery subscribers. And so our approach is to cement our relationship with those folks and provide more value and then also receive value in exchange for that from that 550,000.

“So, if we can increase the amount of revenue coming from that 550,000, that’s an important piece of this whole strategy. And if although it’s not necessarily being realized right now, but if you can get an extra 50 cents a week or $1 a week from that group, that’s a pretty substantial increase in the revenue stream.

“The digital-only right now [is] at 20,000, we look at that as how good of a job are we doing penetrating the non-subscribers in our addressable markets. If we have 550,000 home delivery subscribers, the folks who are not subscribing number, about 1.5 million, and so the 20,000 is a small but important and growing number against that 1.5 million.

“So the opportunity for us is to ramp up that digital-only offering. Now that’s going to require a lot better job on the consumer marketing front engaging in digital marketing being much more sophisticated in the way that we look at analytics and data to help us target likely subscribers on our digital products and really start to drive that number, where the marginal cost of delivery once you have those folks is very, very low. …” — Timothy M. Wesolowski, senior vice president, chief financial officer, treasurer, The E.W. Scripps Co. [Q3 earnings call, Nov. 8, 2013]

E.W. Scripps on Nov. 8 said Q3 net loss was $8.9M, or 16 cents per share, down from net income of $12M, or 21 cents, in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue fell 14 percent to $190 million.

The end of the Globe

Globe-Democrat 1983

On Nov. 7, 1983, the Newhouse chain announced it was closing the Globe-Democrat, its morning daily in St. Louis.  Publisher G. Duncan Bauman broke the news to the staff.

At the time, I was managing editor and assistant bottle washer of the St. Louis Journalism Review, a small-but-scrappy monthly.

The end of the Globe-Democrat was a big story, and not just for us.  Many newspapers struggled during the first big recession of the Reagan era. But the loss of this reliable conservative voice, founded in 1852, hit many in St. Louis hard.

Read more of this post

School or cemetery

Augusta Lutheran cemetery“Journalism is not a career. It is either a school or a cemetery. A man may use it as a stepping-stone to something else. But if he sticks to it, he finds himself an old man, dead and done for to all intents and purposes years before he’s buried.” — From David Graham Phillips’s “The Great God Success” (1901), quoted in “Pulitzer” (2010) by James McGrath Morris. Phillips was shot and killed by a musician in 1911.

So be it

Ending Poverty“… the aim of economic policy is not narrowly economic. The aim of policy is to assure that the economic prerequisites for sustaining the civil and civilized standards of an open liberal society exist.

“If amplified uncertainty, extremes of income distribution, and social inequality attenuate the economic underpinnings of democracy, then the market behavior that creates these conditions should be constrained.

“If it is necessary to give up a bit of market efficiency, or a bit of aggregate income, in order to contain democracy-threatening uncertainty, then so be it. In particular, there is need to supplement private incomes with socially provided incomes so that civility and civic responsibility are promoted.” — Hyman Minsky, Uncertainty and The Institutional Structure Of Capitalist Economies, June 1996

“Nothing is too good for our readers”

Mooney“Mooney’s theory of how to put out a newspaper was illustrated on the occasion of Commander Peary’s discovery of the North Pole. The New York Times had exclusive rights to the famous explorer’s own story of his discovery, wirelessed from the Far North, and offered The Commercial Appeal the story at a high price. Bill Adler, telegraph editor, received the telegram containing the offer and took it to his chief.

“‘Go ahead and order it, Bill,’ said Mr. Mooney, ‘it’s great stuff.’

“‘But chief,’ demurred Adler, ‘look at this price they’re asking — ‘

“‘Never mind about the cost, Bill,’ replied Mr. Mooney. ‘Go ahead and buy it. Nothing is too good for our readers. Put out a good newspaper and expenses will take care of themselves.’

— One Hundred Years of The Commercial Appeal, 1840-1940.

Remembering the Fourth on the Fourth

bill-of-rightsThe right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Sustainable newspapering

James Gordon Bennett Sr.“A newspaper can only attain a sterling character by a sustained and sustaining intellect.”

— James Gordon Bennett, Sr.

On editors

photo121“I recognized that not only a little knowledge is a dangerous thing but a great deal of knowledge is dangerous, at least for a journalist. A great deal of knowledge on the part of an editor is not a good thing for the newspaper business!” — E.W. Scripps, “A blind leader of the blind” (1921)

Light of heaven

locke“… inquiries into matters of fact … should be free as the mountain air and unchartered as the light of heaven.”

— Richard Adams Locke

Tour back in time

WeatherbirdClick here — A Tour Of The Post-Dispatch — to see the way things were at 900 North Tucker Boulevard* in the early 1960s.

Here’s an excerpt: “The character of news has changed and the old saying ‘when a man bites a dog, that’s news’ is not enough for a modern newspaper like the Post-Dispatch. An unusual event, of course, is still news, but so are the conquest of space, the development of a new vaccine, and the problems of automation. Post-Dispatch staff members keep up with the latest developments in many fields including science, economics, sociology, and politics, so they can give readers clear, concise information about our ever-changing and complex world.”

* Pulitzer, then the owner of the Post-Dispatch, bought the Globe-Democrat building at 12th and Franklin from Newhouse in 1959; the address at the time was 1133 Franklin Ave. In 1972, Franklin was renamed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so Pulitzer changed the newspaper’s mailing address to 900 N. 12th St. Then, in 1979, 12th was renamed to honor Raymond Tucker, a former mayor.

1139 Olive (from 1918)The newspaper’s previous addresses were 111 North Broadway (1878-1882), 513-515 Market Street (1882-1888), 513 Olive Street (1888-1902), 210-212 North Broadway (1902-1917) and 1139 Olive Street (1917-1959).

Here’s a tour of the 1139 Olive Street property, pictured on the left: 1918 tour , That building is still standing.

Sponsored and independent?

providence-typographical-unionHistorians are looking back for future models for labor. Among ideas: reviving labor-sponsored general circulation media.

From a post on the site: “Today’s labor movement needs to create and fund professional labor media.  The AFL-CIO and its affiliates should not just be active on social networks and blogs (although that too), but create a cadre of reporters who cover workers and workers’ issues.  These professional reporters should be within the movement but still independent.”

Chinua Achebe’s legacy

Chinua-Achebe“If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all.” 

“I’m empty inside”


Romenesko (@romenesko)
Warren Buffett: “Skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership” of newspapers.

Counting the incarcerated

Similarly, the conventional data sources suggest that the gap in the employment rate between young whites and blacks has stayed about the same since 1980. But when prisoners are included, Pettit writes, it’s clear the gap has widened.

“You don’t need us” | Proof TV “news is scripted”

Courage to resist

Truthdig (@Truthdig)
The Courage to Resist: Germans seeking to topple Hitler faced powerful forces, vilification and, fre… @Truthdig

Twitter kills Posterous