Alfred Baker.

Pitman's practical journalism; an introduction to every description of literary effort in association with newspaper production online

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will not make an artist^ .Similarly, a man may possess
academic degrees, and yet be an entire failure as a journalist,
compared with one who has a special aptitude for the work,
but has not had the advantage of University training. The
journalist who forms and controls public opinion by his
brilliant writing, can no more acquire his skill by the aid
of the pedagogue or the coach than can the poet, the novelist,
or the artist. But in insisting on this final point, we do not
desire to overlook the fact that the bulk of the journalistic
work in the country is capable of being performed by persons
of average ability, who have been trained in the various
methods of reporting and sub-editing, which form the greater
part of the daily round of newspaper duties.

Qualifications : Physical and Mental.

The qualifications for journalism, like those for most
avocations in life, may be considered, broadly, under two
heads : There is, in the first place, the physical fitness, which
is the more indispensable of the two. No one who is not
possessed of a good constitution and considerable powers
of endurance should seek to enter the newspaper office.
A large section of the work consists of attendance at public
proceedings of all kinds, with subsequent labour at the desk.
The hours are often long and irregular, and the work of a
tedious or troublesome description. It has to be done some-
times in crowded assemblages and at other times when
exposed to the rigours of the climate, conditions which can
only be successfully faced by those of robust constitution.


For many descriptions of work, good eyesight and a quick
ear are indispensable. Much of the reporting, and a greater
part of the sub-editing, are done at night, and the strain
of continuous night work often makes a serious demand on
the strength of the worker, especially where, as is frequently
the case, the unfortunate journalist is obliged to work both
by night and by day. But against these conditions must be
set the fact that there is a greater freedom about journalistic
work than exists in connection with employment of a clerical^
or tutorial description. Travelling by land or sea, and par-
ticipation in public events of all kinds, afford relief and
compensation for a good deal of the drudgery inseparable
from the journalistic life.

The essentials for newspaper work which have to be con-
sidered in the second place, are those which relate to the
mental powers and their development by education. Alert-
ness of mind and a prompt appreciation of the importance
of what is said and done in association with public events
are indispensable factors in journalistic success. Like other
people, a journalist may hold strong views on political or
religious questions, but for the bulk of his work he will find . /
it absolutely necessary to possess a mental impartiality
which will enable him to present, without bias, the news he
contributes to his paper. The lawyer is called upon to
devote his skill to the interests of one client alone in any
disputed matter ; but the journalist who is concerned in
supplying his paper with news is, as it were, a professional
man who has to look after the interests of the entire public.
.The modern journalist cannot be too highly educated for
his vocation. Even where he specialises, it is more than
probable that a considerable portion of his time will be
devoted to the ordinary everyday work of the craft. To dis-
charge such work satisfactorily, a thoroughly sound educa-
tion forms the best general equipment. But the pursuit of
journalism is an education in itself, and what is learned in
the school of experience is often more valuable than some
kinds of scholastic lore. We shall not attempt to define


what the embryo journalist should or should not have
acquired at school, but there are a few broad qualifications,
of an educational kind, on which it is of importance to dwell.

English, Handwriting-, and Typewriting.

Xo one can possibly succeed as a journalist who does not
possess a good knowledge of English. By this, we mean the
ability to compose in English with grammatical accuracy,
with clearness, and in a style which will be appreciated by
the newspaper reader. Accurate spelling and correct punctua-
tion are absolute essentials in work for the Press. These
qualifications are not possessed by all young people. There
are many, for example, who are excellent at mathematics,
but weak'in English. Unless, therefore, there is a pronounced
aptitude for writing English accurately and fluently, the tyro
is strongly advised not to seek to enter journalism. In spite
of the progress made in the use of the typewriter, it is probable
that a large portion of the matter from which newspapers are
produced will always be in the journalist's own handwriting.
The ability to write longhand readily and clearly must always
be an important asset in the journalist's equipment. He need
not aim at the tiresome regularity and neatness which the
writing master so highly esteems, and he should, of course,
absolutely avoid the flourishes and other ornaments of the
" school of penmanship." But the journalist should make
it his aim to cultivate a bold and perfectly clear hand, and,
if he is careful on this point at the outset, he will find that
speed will develop with the constant practice he obtains, and
that in time he will be able to produce reports at the rate
ot between 30 and 40 words per minute, which will be read
with quickness and accuracy by telegraphic clerks and lino-
type operators. In regard to handwriting, it should, in a
word, be the young journalist's aim to write with unmistak-
able legibility. We are aware, of course, that many gifted
journalists have written execrable hands, which only certain
expert compositors have been able to turn into print with
a fair approach to accuracy. But the average journalist


cannot afford to cultivate a peculiarity which means loss of
time and money in the printing office. At the earliest possible
moment, every young journalist who aspires to be up to date
should acquire the ability to manipulate the writing machine
with readiness. The greater ease and quickness with which
matter can be produced on the typewriter form an agreeable
relief to longhand writing in cases where the machine can
be utilised.


Outside the scope of an ordinary school education, there
is one acquirement which is absolutely indispensable for
every young journalist who hopes to make a living in news-
paper work. We refer, of course, to a knowledge of short-
hand writing and the skilled use of it. There are, no doubt,
certain members of newspaper staffs who do not know, and,
therefore, cannot use, shorthand. They are sometimes
inclined to make a virtue of their ignorance, and to assure
aspirants that they have never experienced any difficulty
from their lack of ability to take a note ; and, no doubt,
men of special attainments, as leader writers or sketch
writers, are able to discharge their duties without shorthand
skill. But the majority of journalists are of the all-round
description : men who have to use their pens in a score of
different kinds of journalistic work, and the great bulk must
always be engaged in the business of reporting speeches and
deliberations of all kinds. The young journalist cannot
afford to neglect shorthand ; indeed, without considerable
practical skill in the use of the art, he will often find it diffi-
cult either to obtain or retain a situation. As a matter of
fact, there is no practical newspaper editor with whom we
are acquainted who would think of adding to his staff a junior
assistant who was not an actual or prospective shorthand
writer. Instances could be given of men who found occupa-
tion in the lower walks of journalism solely through their
shorthand ability, and who became in time the most brilliant
of leader writers and special correspondents associated with


British journalism. It cannot be too often pointed out that
these men made a daily use of their stenographic skill down
to the end of their careers. In the present day, Pitman's
Shorthand is in universal use among English-speaking journal-
ists in all parts of the world. There was a time when writers
of older systems were found at the reporters' table, but these
have passed away, and their successors, with insignificant
exceptions, are Pitman writers.

In this chapter we have sought to treat only on the
broadest lines of the qualifications for journalism. We shall
discuss more closely this important theme in later pages.



THE youth who enters journalism finds himself in a new
sphere the world of public life. In many other kinds of
occupation into which he might find his way on leaving
school, it would be possible for him to spend his whole life-
time in a calling which might never afford him the oppor-
tunity of attending meetings, being present at ceremonies,
hearing trials, or of witnessing many of those scenes in the
drama of modern life with its startling mixture of comedy
and tragedy. But the young reporter has the opportunity
of gaining experience such as does not fall to the lot of those
engaged in any other occupation. The knowledge he has
the opportunity of acquiring of the movements of the time
in politics and religion, in the administration of the govern-
ment of the country, and in the customs and usages of society,
if rightly employed, may carry him very far. From the out-
set in his career in journalism, he will find in his work, if he
takes a proper interest in it, the opening for acquiring
knowledge and experience for a successful career in life.
Y Many who began on the lowest rung of the journalistic
ladder have steadily climbed to fame or fortune, and have
made their way into Parliament, to the Bar, to official posi-
tions of importance, or to a distinguished place in the realms
of literature. KQie knowledge that such things have been
possible to others should inspire every young journalist, who
has selected newspaper work as his vocation, with the wish
to secure that measure of success which his abilities and his
opportunities may render possible. To a greater extent than
in most other pursuits, success in journalism depends on the
personal ability and resource of the individual ; and if this
fact is overlooked, journalism will hardly be the field in
which the aspirant will be able to secure a living,



Elementary Duties of the Recruit.

From these important general considerations, we turn to
a discussion of the elementary duties of the young reporter
the alphabet, so to speak, of his calling. The majority of
recruits to newspaper work join the staffs of the provincial
daily and weekly newspapers, and it is to such that the
guidance we are giving more directly applies. First and
foremost, the young reporter should be a diligent reader
of his own newspaper. In some instances, of course, he may
have become acquainted with a considerable portion of its
contents by having to assist in the revision of proofs ; but
whether this be so or not, he should make it his business to
be perfectly acquainted with its contents. It may be part
of his duty to peruse rival newspapers in order to discover
whether these contain news or announcements of which his
own colleagues have been unaware. But, be that as it may,
he cannot afford to be ignorant of the intelligence presented
in the other papers issued in his own town. He will, in the
discharge of his duties for his own paper, come across refer-
ences to the work of rival journalists, and people will not
expect him to be without knowledge of it. As the junior
progresses in his calling, he can hardly fail to discover that
public speakers and officials make frequent reference to events
of the day of a general rather than a local character, which
cannot be thoroughly comprehended without some acquaint-
ance with the great London daily newspapers. The journalist
should, therefore, read a metropolitan daily paper, taking care
to select one which is distinguished for the wide scope and
solidity of its information, rather than for its sensational
and partisan treatment of the news of the day. He should,
indeed, seek to be better informed than people generally
concerning the events and movements of the time.

Work on a local newspaper necessarily involves a good
knowledge of the town in which it is published, and of the
district, and an acquaintance, if by name only, with the
principal residents. If the junior reporter is exercising his


craft in his native place, such knowledge will come to him
by intuition, as it were. But, at any rate, he would do well
to extend his acquaintance with local topography, and make
himself thoroughly conversant with the railway, the tram-
way, and other means by which he will be able to get to any
given place in the shortest possible time. In this associa-
tion, it should be noted that ability to use a bicycle is now
expected of most reporters for the Press to an even greater
extent than in the old days they were expected to be able
to drive a horse and trap to distant assignments. The
telephone is playing such an important and growing part in
newspaper enterprise, that every junior reporter speedily
discovers to how large an extent telephone inquiries and the
receipt of items of news spoken over the wire, enter into his
daily work. Many of the inquiries which the junior had in
former times to make by a personal visit to offices and institu-
tions are now more expeditiously done by telephone. The
arrangements for Press telegrams are comparatively simple,
but the junior should make it his business to find out all
about them, in order to be able to get through important
items of news with the utmost promptitude.

Junior Reporting Work.

^The actual reporting work with which the young journalist
will be first entrusted will make no great demands on either
his note-taking or his descriptive skill. Under the direction
of the senior members of the staff, he will be employed in
the collection or verification of some of those innumerable
small items of news, which, in the aggregate, form a con-
siderable portion of the intelligence of the day or week, and
are usually known in the office as " local paragraphs." Such
paragraphs deal with occurrences of the most varied kind :
from the mad career of a runaway horse to a public tea-
party. Small meetings, which it is impossible to attend, are
the subjects of subsequent inquiry with a view to printing
a paragraph concerning them. For accidents of all kinds,


members of the police force are the most trustworthy sources
of information ; while for a proportion of casualties which
may not come under the notice of the police, the porters at
the hospitals furnish the needful facts. The young reporter,
therefore, will obtain the information for his earliest contribu-
tions by access to the records of the police station and the
hospital. For items of interest regarding occurrences, he
will be indebted to the assistance of a number of officials,
some salaried, and others honorary. In approaching such
a variety of people, the young journalist will speedily dis-
cover how great are the differences of personal temperament
in those who occupy positions of responsibility, when invited
to assist him by disclosing information in their possession.
It is a pleasure to make inquiries of some persons in authority.
They are courteous and willing to give such news as may
be properly communicated to the Press. Others are, unfortu-
nately, quite the reverse, and for various reasons some of
them possibly not very creditable ones their reception of the
innocent young journalist is churlish in the extreme, while
the amount of information they are willing to furnish is some-
times so meagre that it will need to be supplemented from
other sources. But the junior reporter should never lose
either heart or temper in the exercise of these simple inter-
viewing duties. He should remember that, after all, the
Press is a talisman which very few can withstand, and that
even a disagreeable official may be softened and rendered
more useful, from a journalistic point of view, by a compli-
mentary reference in the local newspaper to his courtesy and
efficiency. It is the duty of the young reporter to get the
news he is directed to obtain by ah 1 legitimate means, and
he should, from the outset, strive to be all things to all men.
Having obtained his information, his next duty is to com-
pose a paragraph containing a concise narrative of the
occurrence. He should be careful, in the first place, that
the names of the persons and places, and the facts generally,
are as accurate as possible ; a little inquiry is often needed
to secure these things with correctness from an off-hand


informant. The paragraph should record them without
exaggeration, and the writer should avoid being either flip-
pant or ponderous. The best paragraph is that in which
the largest number of interesting facts are packed in the
shortest possible space. Speaking generally, the young
reporter should endeavour to follow the style of treatment
adopted in his paper ; if he does not, trouble with the
superior powers in the newspaper office is almost certain.

The novice should endeavour, from the first, to do his
work, as far as possible, without reliance on the assistance
of other members of the craft, and with the help only of the
official information to which all newspaper representatives
have an equal right. The novice who enters upon his
reporting duties in an unassuming and diligent fashion, will
find the representatives of other journals quite willing to
extend the hand of good fellowship to the new-comer, and
to afford, as occasion arises, such aid as their greater know-
ledge of the public men and officials, and the procedure of
the court or meeting, enables them to furnish. Reporters,
as a rule, work very harmoniously, and without occasional
aid from a colleague in supplying a missing word or fact,
some kinds of reporting would prove very difficult to the
tyro ; but he should learn early in his career to produce his
own reports by his independent efforts, as no colleagues,
however amiable, will be inclined to allow him to make a
custom of copying their reports. In a word, the junior
should have the good sense to avoid a practice which has
nothing to recommend it from the point of view of the
attainment of useful reporting ability.

Police and Coroners' Courts.

The police court and the coroner's court are usually the
scenes of the earliest work of the young journalist. Neither
of them makes any demand on whatever shorthand skill he
may possess at this early stage of his career, but a few notes
on the work in each will not be without value. There is


usually a reporters' box in every police court, provided with
a desk and seats ; and if the inquiry is conducted at the
office of the magistrates' clerk, a table is supplied for the
accommodation of the Press. The young reporter will find
it a very useful practice to reach the court a few minutes
before the investigation commences, when he can obtain,
from the superintendent or inspector of police in charge,
particulars of the cases to be heard, including the name and
other personal details about the accused, and the charge
preferred against him. The tyro should note that police
court cases fall, broadly, into two groups : One of these
consists of charges for which a person is arrested under
warrant, and is most correctly described as " the accused,"
while the police witnesses will speak of him as the " prisoner."
The other class of cases is that in which a person appears
before the magistrates under a summons, and in all such
instances those brought before the court are styled
" defendants." The reporter must take particular care to
place nothing in his report which is not actually given in
evidence (except unimportant descriptive details), and he
should give a fair amount of space to any explanation w 7 hich
the accused may make. If headings are given to the cases,
he must take care that these do not imply the guilt of the
accused, where the proceedings do not end in a conviction.
In such instances, he should be careful to introduce the
word " alleged."

In the coroner's court, the particulars of the name, occupa-
tion, and address of the subject of the inquiry can be obtained
from the coroner's officer. After some experience with
coroners' juries, the reporter will find little difficulty in
recording the verdict at which they arrive. But if he has
any doubt on the point, the coroner, or his officer, will readily
furnish him with the terms of the verdict which is recorded
on the depositions. The guidance furnished above relates
only to the everyday work in the courts named. When
cases of importance arise, in which solicitors or barristers make
speeches and question witnesses, the reporting is undertaken


by a more experienced member of the staff than the
junior. But in the small cases, the junior should cultivate
the habit of writing out his report as the case proceeds, and,
as the depositions are taken in longhand, this course is
comparatively easy.

Boards of Guardians.

Meetings of Boards of Guardians, entrusted with the
administration of the Poor Law, are usually open to the
Press, and, therefore, receive the attention of the local news-
papers. The proceedings are often of a humdrum descrip-
tion, and only afford material for a brief report or a para-
graph. Here again, however, the junior may find that, at
times, the work is entrusted to a senior reporter, when some
particular reason arises for reporting fully the speeches or
discussions. In different Poor Law Unions, the Guardians
perform their deliberative duties in various ways. There is,
as a matter of fact, a large amount of business which must
be dealt with by the entire Board that is of no interest what-
ever to the newspaper reader. And as the Guardians do not
arrange their proceedings for the convenience of the Press,
it happens that considerable time has often to be spent by
reporters, in order to secure items of interest sufficient to
make up a short report. There are three points on which
the young reporter should aim to inform the readers of his
paper these are : (1) the expenditure of the ratepayers'
money ; (2) the administration of the Workhouse ; and
(3) the relations of the Guardians with the Local Government
Board and its Inspectors. Matters which he will need to be
especially careful about are the disputes between the Board
and its officers, often involving serious allegations against the
character of the latter, and he should call the attention of
his chief to anything of this kind. Where a Board takes
action resulting in the dismissal of an official, a careful state-
ment of the facts is presented in the newspaper report, but
unsupported allegations made in heated debate are often
most unsuitable for newspaper publicity.


Religious Gatherings.

There is an innumerable variety of gatherings of religious
bodies which are reported briefly in the newspapers, such
reports taking the form of a concise statement of names and
facts, with the briefest possible record of the eloquence
which flows in great abundance on such occasions. The
young reporter will always find the lay officials interested
in the particular celebration most attentive to the duty of
furnishing him with facts of public interest. Sometimes the
clergy are very helpful, but in other cases the young reporter
will find them neither ready nor willing to assist him. A little
experience will, however, soon enable the junior to discover
the most suitable persons from whom information can be
obtained at proceedings of this kind.

Attitude to the Public.

When he enters upon his reporting duties, the junior
reporter will become aware that certain members of the
public appear to be specially interested in the reports he is
preparing for his newspaper. They will often go the length
of directing him to include this or to exclude that from his
report. He should be careful to give no undertaking of the
kind and, where such a course seems necessary, he should
explain, quite politely but firmly, that it is his duty to carry
out the instructions of his editor, and that his interrogator
should communicate his desires to that gentleman. In the

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Online LibraryAlfred BakerPitman's practical journalism; an introduction to every description of literary effort in association with newspaper production → online text (page 2 of 14)