Alfred Baker.

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

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the person he proposes to interview. He should look up
the individual's record in Who's Who, or some other work
of contemporary biography. He should then acquaint him-
self, as well as he can, with the particular matter on which
the conversation is to take place, and he should prepare a
number of questions to put to the person interviewed.
It does not follow that he will be able, or that it may prove
desirable, to ask all these questions, but they will prove most
useful as a basis for the conversation. Set questions cannot
always be put, because the answers of the persons inter-
viewed may render some of them either inopportune or

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90 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

needless. Other questions will occur to the interviewer which
he will desire to put instead, and ready resource in doing
this is one of the most valuable attainments which he can
possess.

Value of Shorthand Ability.

The trustworthy character of an interview depends, to a
large extent, on the skill with which the speaker's words are
transmitted to the public. It must have occurred to readers
that shorthand ability is an important qualification for an
interviewer, and this is, in our opinion, emphatically true.
Some acquaintance with the disputes which have arisen over
published interviews, and the disclaimers which the persons
interviewed have occasionally made, reveal the fact that
it is the work of the non-shorthand interviewer which is
most frequently complained about. There are, no doubt,
journalists possessing such a well-trained memory that they
can reproduce the substance of an interview without the aid
of notes. But, even with the assistance of a good memory,
it is not possible to reproduce the distinctive characteristics
of a person's utterance, and the interview will be in the
words and style of the interviewer rather than of the indi-
vidual interviewed. There is, further, a more serious blemish
in memory interviews. It is almost impossible for the inter-
viewer to express the views of another person without a
certain amount of bias, and, when the interviewer is one
who thinks strongly on the subject, he is apt to colour the
interview very largely with his own views. The ordinary
journalist who uses shorthand, and has had a considerable
experience in interviewing for reporting purposes, is usually-
free from these defects, and will always produce other things
being equal the best interviews.

Higher Qualifications for the Task.

On what may be termed the higher qualifications lor inter-
viewing, a few observations may be offered. A pleasant and
ingratiating manner, and one which inspires confidence, is



INTERVIEWING 91

of the greatest importance in the interviewer. We have
already mentioned the necessity for tact ; it is sometimes
needful to exercise patience and self-restraint in dealing with
the person interviewed. And much depends on securing an
interview in suitable environment. In his own par-,
ticular sanctum and enjoying his favourite " smoke," an
interviewed person will often furnish a far better story than
in unfamiliar surroundings. We remember on one occasion
being at the pains to board a vessel in the Channel on which
a distinguished Englishman was returning to his native land
after valuable experiences in one of our self-governing colonies.
When approached in his cabin, he was so irascible, and
expressed himself so freely on the subject of inopportune
newspaper enterprise, that the prospect of any interview
at all for publication appeared remote ; but, an hour later,
when seated in the smoking-room of an hotel on shore, and
surrounded by congenial friends, this gentleman, while
puffing his familiar " briar," furnished an admirable
interview, which was widely copied by various newspapers
after its appearance in the journal to which it was contri-
buted. This anecdote will serve to illustrate one of the
special difficulties of interviewing. In order to be successful,
the interviewer himself must be gifted with ready resource
and stenographic skill above the average. He needs to be
able to take notes and watch his subject at the same time.
He must possess a ready eye for taking in surroundings and
literary skill for conveying a pen-picture of the scene of the
interview. It is well, when time permits, to submit a proof
to the person interviewed ; but, if this is not possible, it is
a wise precaution to read over one's notes with a view to
having their accuracy confirmed before the interview closes.



CHAPTER XV

SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE AND TELEGRAPHIC REPORTING

" OUR Special Correspondent " was once a phrase to
conjure with in association with journalistic enterprise ;
but, to-day, the special correspondent, whether at home or
abroad, does not appear to occupy the position he once did
in the newspaper world. Without question, men of as much
ability as any who preceded them are sent out to represent
the great newspapers, but they do not now have the oppor-
tunity of being the first to transmit exclusive intelligence
which thrills the whole country or even the world. Two
causes have mainly contributed to lessen the prestige of the
special correspondent. The first is the very strict control
now exercised by governments, engaged in warlike operations,
over the various methods of electrical communication, whether
by cable or wireless. The commanders in the field take
especial care that their own official messages have precedence
of all others when news of importance is given to the world.
Archibald Forbes would no longer be able to send to his
paper the result of the battle of Ulundi long before any other
news of the event reached this country ; nor would Bennet
Burleigh be able to repeat his famous coup after the victory
of Tel-el-Kebir. Since those days, the Military Censor, the
closing of field telegraph offices during an action, and exclu-
sion from the front, have done much to check the enterprise
of the war correspondent. In the fields of exploration and
discovery, a second cause has operated against the prestige
of the special correspondent. Explorers in the present day
act as their own chroniclers. Of this, the recent expeditions
to the South Pole are illustrations. The whole of the thrilling
story of the two expeditions to the South Pole reached the
world through the accounts transmitted by the exploring
parties. It does not seem likely that any special corre-
spondent of the future will have the magnificently good

92



SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE 93

fortune of Henry Stanley in giving to the world tidings of
the long-lost explorer Livingstone, as the result of an expedi-
tion to the heart of the Dark Continent projected by the

New York Herald.

The Selection of the " Special Correspondent."

The " Special Correspondent " is invariably an eminent
journalist or author retained by one of the great London
or provincial daily newspapers to represent it on some occa-
sion of unusual importance, or to contribute to its columns
articles on some subject of public concern with which the
writer is specially qualified to deal. As a rule, the con-
ductors of newspapers make careful provision that their
special correspondents shall have full credentials and be
formally recognised by the authorities with which they will
come in contact. It has been said that the special corre-
spondent of a great daily newspaper is sent on his mission
with the pay of an ambassador, and that he exercises far
more influence than the diplomatist. This is undoubtedly
true, for the properly-equipped special correspondent, when
sent abroad, needs a retinue of interpreters and servants,
and is often obliged to have a travelling equipment of horses
or other beasts of burden. He has frequently to dispense
hospitality as lavishly as the surroundings permit, and, to
effect his mission, he has not only to create a favourable
impression, but to exercise great suavity and tact in securing
information relative to some historical event which is occur-
ring before him. It often happens that important news has
to be well paid for, and the special correspondent needs
to be liberally supplied with money or its equivalent. There
is a large amount of special correspondence which the
journalist must, of necessity, perform without being accre-
dited in any way. Suddenly arising events, and even events
which have been announced for some time, are often dealt
with by special correspondents under very short notice from
the editor. So suddenly have many special correspondents
left our shores for a foreign destination, that we can only



94 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

suppose that these versatile journalists keep their kit ready
packed to leave for the seat of war, or other centre of interest,
at a moment's notice.

Need of Resourcefulness.

The conditions under which the special correspondent is
called on to exercise his vocation are sometimes so difficult
that, in order to be successful, he needs to be a master of
strategy. We can best illustrate and enforce this statement
by a few anecdotes. A journalist was sent at very short
notice to supply a descriptive account of a marriage of a
Royal Princess at St. George's Chapel. He did not possess
a ticket oi admission and was, as a consequence, politely
turned back by the officials at the entrance. Wandering
disconsolately about the Castle Yard, he happened to meet
a chorister with whom he had been previously acquainted
in his own cathedral city. He explained to him his difficulty
in securing admission, and the chorister suggested that his
journalistic friend should don a surplice and enter the Chapel
with the choir. The idea was carried out, and the journalist
had a far better view of the ceremony than he could possibly
have obtained otherwise. When it was thought desirable to
throw the light of publicity on the casual wards of the
London workhouses, James Greenwood conceived the idea
of becoming an " Amateur Casual," and as such underwent
experiences which electrified the country. There was novelty
in the idea and this, quite as much as the revelations of the
special correspondent, accounted for the startling success of
this piece of journalistic enterprise. The special corre-
spondent who would steal a march on his fellows needs to be
extremely wily in order to succeed in hoodwinking colleagues
possessed of acute intellect and ready resource. In this
field of enterprise, subtlety is of little use without the com-
mand of money, and in the present day the newspaper's
cheque is the most potent medium for securing information
from those who have a story to tell. Archibald Forbes was
once commissioned to secure the details of a famous wreck,



SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE 95

and he set about the business in characteristic fashion.
He went down to the port and, fixing his quarters at a small
waterside tavern, where his journalistic colleagues would be
least likely to look for him, he chartered a steam tug. In
due course, the ship bringing home the survivors was signalled.
Forbes's tug, in defiance of the port regulations, got along-
side the ship in advance of the quarantine and Customs
officers, and Forbes scrambled aboard. He was successful
in getting a long narrative from the only survivor who could
tell the story, and, what was equally important, he closed the
man's mouth so that the group of Pressmen, who boarded the
ship from the regular tender, found the man absolutely silent.

Expert Knowledge often Necessary.

There is another class of special correspondence which
demands expert knowledge on some particular matter.
The land question, for example, has come to the front in
this country, and, as in other departments of human interest,
we find that the special correspondent does much to prepare
the way for legislation by a series of articles, of which those
contributed by Sir H. Rider Haggard to The Times may be
mentioned as a type.

From what we have said, it will be readily apparent that
the special correspondent needs, in addition to a good all-
round acquaintance with the conditions of newspaper work,
to possess some special knowledge of the subject which
inspires his pen. A civilian, without some actual acquaint-
ance with military and naval work, would prove a failure as
a war correspondent, as some such have in the past. But
the special correspondent must, in many instances, read up
or otherwise prepare himself for the particular work assigned
to him, and, if he does this, he should be able, with the
assistance he may derive from interviewing, to furnish his
paper with special correspondence. Amid the exigencies of
newspaper work, the reporter, who has shown a capacity for
good descriptive work, may find himself at any time called
on to undertake the duties of a special correspondent. He



96 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

should gladly avail himself of such a chance of exhibiting
his ability in the higher walks of journalism.

The Dispatch of Special Correspondence.

The work of the special correspondent, in most cases,
demands the frequent dispatch of his copy by telegraph.
In order to do this effectively, especially from foreign
countries and the colonies, it will be absolutely necessary
for him to acquaint himself thoroughly with the regulations
and the cost per word of messages. All arrangements for
transmission must, of course, be carefully made with his
editor before he starts on his mission. There is a large
amount of special correspondence done within the area
served by the British Post Office Telegraphs, and in regard
to this a few suggestions may be of service. Every
journalist should make a careful study of the public circular
giving the regulations for " Press Messages," issued by com-
mand of the Postmaster-General. Particulars of this document
will be found at the end of this volume.

It should be the first duty of the special correspondent
or reporter, when dispatched to describe some catastrophe
which has suddenly arisen, to see that notice of the intended
sending of messages is given to the Secretary of the General
Post Office, London. Sometimes this notice is given by the
Editorial Department of a newspaper in the ordinary course,
but the reporter would always do well to make sure, as he
will thus avoid possible future trouble. On arriving at the
place from which he proposes to dispatch his telegraphic
news, he should, before doing anything else, pay a visit to
the local telegraph office, and discover from the officials in
charge the capacity of the instruments and wires, and, as
far as he can judge, of the transmitting staff. Arrangements
as to the time of dispatch and for enlisting the services of
messengers should also be made. It often happens that a
great calamity occurs where there is only a small telegraph
office with one or two clerks, and in such instances the
reporter will find it necessary to exercise some diplomacy



SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE 97

in order to get off adequate messages to his paper during
a great rush of work. As a general rule, he will find that
he owes a great deal to the courteous and willing labours
of the telegraph clerks under difficult circumstances. The
journalist should not forget that these men and women have
to carry out the duties prescribed for them by their official
superiors, and that it is on lines which concur with these
that he has the best chance of getting his copy through
to the newspaper office.

11 Our London Correspondent."

A journalistic appointment which falls within the category
of special correspondent, demands notice here. Many of
the large provincial dailies have a London office, usually
in Fleet Street, which is under the control of a member of
the staff known as " Our London Correspondent." The
best preparation for the duties of London Correspondent
is experience gained in the provincial office, which should
give a good knowledge of the interests of the district in rela-
tion to the Metropolis. The duties of the London Corre-
spondent are various. He usually has a seat in the Gallery
of the House of Commons, and furnishes his paper with what
is termed a " sketch " of the proceedings, which partakes
of the nature, partly of a summary, and partly of a
description of what occurs in the House. He also arranges
for, if he does not actually report, the speeches of local
Members. He is responsible, wholly or in part, for the
" London Letter " ; and when public men from the locality
served by his paper visit London on local business, it is the
vigilant London correspondent who sends a record of their
doings to his paper. In most cases, the large provincial
dailies rent a private telegraph wire, and throughout the
night the operator from the Post Office sits in the London
office and transmits over the private wire, direct to the
country office (where it is received by another telegraphic
operator), a vast amount of news, which has been either
written or arranged for by the London Correspondent.



CHAPTER XVI

SUB-EDITING

IN the domain of journalism, the sub-editor occupies a
singular position. His personality and work are practically
unknown to the public. Newspaper readers are familiar
enough with the appearance of the reporter, and can trace
his contributions in the columns of his paper. They know,
or imagine they know, for what portions of the contents of
their favourite journal the hand of the editor is responsible.
But they are ignorant of the functions and work of the sub-
editor. And yet it is to the labours of that hard-working
individual that the public is indebted for the style and
character of all that makes its appearance in print in the
news department of the daily or weekly journal. Sub-editing
work is done on every description of paper from the largest
to the smallest ; but there is, of course, a wide difference
in the personnel. The large and influential morning journal
has a corps of sub-editors arranged in departments ; on the
small weekly paper, the sub-editing duties are often per-
formed by the single individual, who is also editor, reporter,
proof-reader, and general literary factotum.

Qualifications for Sub-Editing.

Sub-editing work is similar in character, whether a news-
paper be large or small ; but it demands very varied ability,
attainments, and experience in its many departments. It is
the duty of the sub-editor to receive and peruse all news
copy which reaches the office from every source. Where
such copy is not in a form suitable for publication, it is his
function to make it so ; where it is defective or incorrect,
it is his duty to correct it to the best of his ability from any
information at his command ; and where the news is either
too long or altogether trivial, it is his duty to re- write



SUB-EDITING 99

in acceptable form, to condense, or to reject. There
are many pitfalls in the path of the sub-editor, due to
either accident or design, and his judgment is severely
tested by his having to decide, without delay, on the bond
fides of some striking item which is offered to the paper
through one of the many agencies by which news reaches his
desk. If the sub-editor is over-cautious, he becomes alive
to the disagreeable fact that some item which he turned
down as apocryphal is, after all, a true statement of facts
in the publication of which a contemporary journal is enjoy-
ing what is known as a " scoop," that is, exclusive publicity.
But if the sub-editor errs on the side of rashness, and with-
out making such inquiries as may be possible, he may find
that some over-zealous journalist has contributed news which
is not trustworthy, and the insertion of a disclaimer becomes
necessary a thing which is always repugnant to the news-
paper man. To the difficulties arising from mistakes, acci-
dental errors, and imperfect information, there is one other
which is not unknown in most newspaper offices. There are
incorrigible practical jokers who consider the newspaper a
suitable butt for their misdirected ingenuity. The wary
sub-editor has to be on his guard against innocent-looking
items which have a double meaning. These usually take the
form of some fictitious archaeological discovery, with an
inscription of the famous " Bill Stumps " variety. In addi-
tion to the cares and responsibilities which attach to the
revision of copy for the Press, the sub-editor is called upon
to exercise good management in handling the copy destined
for the composing room. He needs the ability acquired
only in actual practice of being able to estimate the amount
of the copy he is sending through to the printers ; and he
needs also to be able to supply that copy in an even flow
throughout the time occupied in putting the next day's
or week's newspaper in type. If he does not keep a close
check on the amount of copy he is giving out by asking
for reports from the composing room from time to time as
to the number of columns set hew ill probably get the



100 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

unpleasant announcement from an agonized foreman printer,
just before the paper is made up, that there are so many
columns too much matter for the available space. And if
he does not so arrange things that copy goes to the printers
with promptitude, he may create an awkward congestion
which will throw the mechanical arrangements for the pro-
duction of the newspaper quite out of gear, and cause the
losing of early trains and other troubles, of which he will
be likely to hear very speedily from an irate publisher.

Correction of Printers' Proofs.

It is absolutely essential that the sub-editor should be
able to revise proofs submitted by the printer. Such ability
is also a material qualification for all kinds of journalistic
work from that of the junior reporter to the leader writer.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, it should be explained
that newspaper proofs take the form of impressions of type
of the width of a single column of a newspaper, the type being
placed in a tray, known to the printer as a galley. Hence
the printed impression from this type on narrow slips of
paper is known as a " galley slip " or a " galley proof." The
type is printed in the middle of the slip, leaving a margin
on both sides for corrections. Reporters, and contributors
in some instances, but not in all, have the opportunity of
reading and revising such proofs before the matter is made
up in the pages of the newspaper. The sub-editor, on the
other hand, passes in review proofs of all the matter set for
the newspaper, and thus has the opportunity of making any
corrections which later intelligence has rendered necessary,
or of striking out passages which, for any reason, it is
considered undesirable to print.

There is, fortunately, a uniform and universal method of
correcting a printer's proof, and the young journalist would
do well to master the method and memorise the symbols
employed, very early in his career. Amateur methods of
correcting proofs may lead to serious errors and trouble ;
therefore only the orthodox style should be followed. We



SUB-EDITING 101

give on the next page a facsimile of an incorrect passage
revised for the Press. All the signs used are introduced, but
it should be explained that typographical matter does not
usually show more than a fraction of the errors which are
concentrated in this short passage.

Departments of Sub-Editing.

There is more variety than might be imagined in sub-
editorial work. It has been already mentioned, indeed, that
it is arranged in departments on the larger journals. A brief
survey of the various kinds of sub-editing follows, in which
is included information derived from experience in the work.
Speaking generally, there is one important maxim which no
sub-editor should forget. It is embodied in the sentence :
" When in doubt, strike out." This precept has obviously
a very wide application, and should never be forgotten
by the sub-editor as the final and absolutely safe solution
when a serious difficulty arises. The sub-editor's weapon in
dealing with copy is familiar to the public as the " blue
pencil " ; and, in truth, a good blue pencil is best suited for
deleting from the copy which passes under the sub-editor's
eye the verbiage, redundancies, statements in bad taste,
and uninteresting details, which detract from the value of
the news item.

Sub-Editing Telegraphic Copy.

In present-day newspaper production, in relation at least
to the daily morning and evening papers, a very consider-
able proportion of the news is sent by telegraph. The chief
trouble to the sub-editor in dealing with telegraphic copy
arises from the fragmentary and irregular way in which it
reaches the newspaper office. Occasionally the middle of
a news item or report, or even the end, may come to hand


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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 8 of 14)