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It depends on the particular branch of the profession selected; and it
depends upon the character, mental, moral and physical, of the person
concerned. Instead, then, of answering the question myself, I propose to
supply some materials which may enable other persons to answer it for
themselves. And I do not know that I can do better than arrange my
remarks under two heads, and discourse first, on the discomforts, and
secondly, on the attractions of the reporting profession.

Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

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And firstly, as the clergyman says, as to the discomforts. Under this
head I propose to enumerate all the disagreeable features I can think of
in connection with our profession. This will be somewhat contrary alike
to my inclination and my principles. If there is one thing for which I am
specially thankful in my mental constitution, it is a tendency to look on
the bright side of things, which I would not exchange for all the gold of
all the Rothschilds ; and it will therefore require an effort to set myself
deliberately to work to ferret out and describe the unpleasant and disa-

I mention then, not as the most disagreeable feature of a reporter's oc-
cupation, but as the first that occurs to me, the uncertainty of the hours
of labor. To the well -worked reporter a comfortable post in a Govern-
ment office from 10 till 4, with an hour for lunch and another hour to read
the papers, a month's holiday in the summer, and occasional half-holidays
besides, is simply an Elysium. To be "a gentleman at large" after
4 o'clock to have one's evenings at one's own disposal it is a dream of
bliss too bright to indulge in ; such a lot must surely be reserved for mor-

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession ?


tals of altogether another stamp ! Why, if a reporter is invited out to
dinner, to a ball, or an " at home," he can only accept the invitation sous
touies reserves. Like a doctor, he has no time that he can call his own.
He is at his office, where he has been all day writing out the speeches
delivered at a long meeting held the night before ; and has just put on his
hat to start home and enjoy a quiet pipe, or a book, or both, when he learns
that a train has been inconsiderate enough to run off the line, or a house
to allow itself to be set on fire, and his dream of just one quiet evening is
at once dispelled. Even when in the bosom of his family (if he has one) he
is liable to De summoned no one knows whither it may be to report the
weak inanities of some tenth-rate orator, or to write a paragraph about. a
trumpery conjuring performance, or (worse than all) to attend a school
recitation, and write a laudatory notice of the performance. Even his
Sundays are not his own. The vicar is going to preach a sermon on some
topic of special interest, and the editor thinks that it would be as well to

go Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

give half-a-column of it. The paper is opposed to him in politics, and a
delicacy is felt in asking for the loan of his manuscript ; consequently
"our reporter," who has asked a brother scribe to come and spend an
hour with him, is requested to attend. Or some wretched political agita-
tor has announced a Sunday afternoon address, which must be reported,
however briefly. Or if the Sunday is not occupied in actual note-taking,
it is sometimes necessary to write out, say, a Saturday night's meeting on
that day.

With the great majority of reporters, night-work forms a considerable
part of their labor. Meetings, lectures, concerts, entertainments of all
kinds are more frequently held in the evening than at any other time ; and
not only is it necessary to take notes of them, but the notes have not sel-
dom to be transcribed in the " wee short hours ayont the twal " for publi-
cation in the next morning's paper. Most papers of any importance have
more than one reporter, and are able to send two or three hands to a heavy
meeting, the report of which has to be published next morning ; so that

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f 91

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the work of transcription is thus considerably lightened. I do not think that
a reporter is now often required to work all night. This was a more fre-
quent occurrence in former days than it is now. As I write, the recollection
comes to me of long and weary nights spent in transcribing notes of
speeches or lectures taken single-handed. I have sat down at my desk at
ten or eleven o'clock at night, and written continually till eight in the
morning to satisfy the craving demands of those terrible compositors. On
one of those occasions I wrote by the light of a naphtha lamp, and the
consequences were very nearly being disastrous. As the lamp was fading
I took up the naphtha flask, and intending to replenish it, was proceeding
to pour the spirit over the flame. I believe it was not an inch from it when
it suddenly occurred to me that I was doing a very foolish thing, and I
put down the flask a great deal more quickly than I had lifted it. But
for that sudden thought I should not, in all probability, be writing this
article. As I have said, these very long and laborious nights are not now
of frequent occurrence, but it is common enough for a reporter to be at

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work till one or two o'clock in the morning. The parliamentary reporters
work very late four days in a week, but then they do not begin till four in
the afternoon. There is much uncertainty as to the periods of labor, as
the House rises at all hours, and a " count out " may occur any evening.
This sort of irregularity may, and perhaps does, suit a certain class of
persons, who would find it irksome to have regular hours of labor. To the
restless Bohemian type of mind it doubtless has a certain attraction ; but
most quiet and steady-going people would, I think, other things being
equal, prefer day to night-work, and certain to uncertain hours of em-

Another disadvantage of a reporter's calling is, that he is exposed to all
sorts of atmospheres in the discharge of his professional duties. Sitting
all day in a crowded, ill-ventilated court is neither pleasant nor wholesome,
but it is a thing that cannot be avoided. At Assize times it is usual for the
courts to sit from nine or ten o'clock in the morning till six or seven in the
evening, and on special occasions the sittings are extended to eight or

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nine or ten o'clock at night. They are almost always crowded; and if
anything like ventilation is attempted there is no escaping the draughts
that everywhere prevail. It is the same at Quarter Sessions, and often at
police courts. The latter indeed are at times positively offensive. The
hours are not so long, but the people that ordinarily compose the audience
are not agreeable to any of the senses. Add to this the fact that the courts
are not seldom small and inconvenient, and it will then be seen that con-
stant attendance at these places is the reverse of agreeable. But perhaps
the most trying thing in this respect is attendance at crowded public meet-
ings at night, when the heat of hundreds of gaslights is added to that gener-
ated by compact masses of human beings. The reporter has constantly to
attend such gatherings ; and after sitting for hours in a stifling atmosphere
he has to go out in the rain, snow, or hail, not to muffle himself up and
rush home as fast as he can, but to trudge off to the newspaper office and
write out his notes. The chances are that here, too, he has to work under
similar difficulties. Few printing offices are pleasant to write in ; and

94 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.


some are absolutely abominable. The heat in some reporters' rooms that
I have seen (even recently) is almost intolerable ; and long continued work
in them cannot be otherwise than injurious to the health.

Then the reporter is often exposed to the vicissitudes of the weather in
all sorts of expeditions that he has to undertake. I am not, of course,
speaking of the travels of special correspondents. Not every reporter has
to start off with his note-book to Central Africa, fight with the nativi-s,
explore a lake, and then report the speeches of a king Mtesa ; or to join an
Arctic expedition and chronicle its movements. Rut most reporters have
at times to attend open-air ceremonials, demonstrations and meetings in
all weathers. The hustings is now a thing of the past ; but I have little
doubt that many a constitution has been undermined by a severe cold
taken while sitting for hours in the open air on a cold day, perhaps in a
pelting shower, taking notes of nomination speeches. Attendance at the
laying of a foundation stone, "turning the first sod " of a railway, or un-
veiling a statue, is often a. trying ordeal for a delicate constitution. The

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reporter must be in attendance in good time if a great crowd is expected
he may have to be in his seat (should such a luxury be provided) an hour
or more before the commencement f the proceedings, and if the day is
wet or cold, or both, and the ceremony is a long one, he has a miserable
time of it.

Now thai, the railways are spread over the entire country, coach and
gig traveling is not so common as it was twenty or thirty years ago. I
have a vivid recollection of dreary midnight drives along unknown country
roads, after attending say some agricultural dinner, when it has been so
cold that I could hardly hold the reins ; and of sitting for many hours to-
gether on the outside of a coach in a pitiless rain, to go to some political
meeting at a distance, and having no opportunity of getting a change of
garments before sitting for some hours longer to take notes. This does
not often fall to the lot of the reporter now-a-days ; but it does sometimes.
Cross country roads have to be traversed, and long journeys to be made
in all weathers, and at all hours of the night ; and if the constitution be at
all delicate the results of exposure may be very serious.

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Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

But besides the fatigue and exposure incident to the reporter's calling-,
there are many positive desagrements which he cannot always avoid. A
sensitive man will often be shocked at the scenes which he is called upon
to witness. Custom, no doubt, enables him to steel himself against the
painful impressions which they are calculated to produce ; but even the
most stolid will sometimes shrink from the duties which their profession
imposes upon them. Perhaps the most painful task which the reporter
hastofulhl is that of attending a public execution. I am thankful that
this has never fallen to my own lot, but I have narrowly escaped it. To
see a fellow creature "judicially strangled" must be, to say the least, a
horrible experience that most men of feeling would gladly be spared.

Again, the scene of a railway or other accident may have to be visited
by the reporter in the course of his daily duties, and if he is on the spot
soon after its occurrence he may witness sights that he would gladly be
spared. To see dead and dying men dragged from the debris of a railway
carriage, or from the remains of an explosion ; to witness the agony of

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f 97

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surviving friends, the suspense of a mother, for example, as she watches the
mouth of a pit, uncertain whether her boy will be brought up alive or dead ;
sights such as these are painful in the extreme, yet many reporters are
familiar enough with them. For myself. I have naturally a great shrinking
from sights and sounds of pain, but I have more than once in my profes-
sional experience had to be present at surgical operations of a very serious
character. These are painful duties, and if they come in one's way they
must be faithfully discharged.

I have not yet come to an end of the discomforts of reporting, for I have
not yet mentioned the unpleasant rebuffs which the reporter now and then
meets with when fulfilling the duties of his office. To call on a person,
say of some position, for the purpose of obtaining a piece of information
which you want to work into a paragraph, and to be not only refused, but
unmistakeably snubbed, is, to say the least, anything but agreeable. lo
go to a meeting and be kept waiting in a passage or an anteroom while the
authorities are considering whether reporters are to be admitted or " ex-

Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.


eluded " that is the way the alternative is described is far from contrib-
uting to one's sense of professional dignity. I say nothing of being
smuggled into a meeting by a ruse, or having recourse to stratagem and
backstairs' influence to procure information that cannot be otherwise ob-
tained. Now that the press is a tolerably well recognised institution, these
arts are rarely resorted to ; but with every effort to maintain the dignity
of the press, the reporter now and then finds himself in a humiliating
position from which he would be only too thankful to escape. In this, as
in many other occupations, a pachydermatous constitution is unquestion-
ably an advantage, but it is not everyone who has the cuticle of a. rhi-

Hitherto I have looked only at the social and physical sides of this ques-
tion ; I ought not to overlook its intellectual and moral aspects.

With regard to the former I am, of course, not insensible to the intel-
lectual advantages which a reporter's life presents, but I must not speak
of them now. At present I hold a brief for the other side, and my business
is to point out the disadvantages and dangers that beset the reporter's

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path in reference to his mental culture. It is said, and truly, that the
reporter deals with a very wide range of subjects : the result naturally is
that the knowledge which he manages to pick up is of a superficial char-
acter. He runs the risk of knowing a little about everything, and not much
about anything. His daily calling makes him familiar with the ordinary
topics of the day, and gives him, perhaps, a smattering of science, or the-
ology, and the rest; but unless he is a reading as well as a writing man,
that is, unless he studies like ordinary mortals, his intellectual culture
will be worth very little.

Many a young reporter is quite contented with the knowledge thus
acquired, and never gives a moment's thought to serious study. Ihis
danger of superficiality of knowledge is a real, not an imaginary, one.
For ordinary reporting purposes nothing more, perhaps, is required ; but
no one should be satisfied with a mere minimum of attainments just suffi-
cient for his daily duties. It may be said that there is nothing peculiar in
a reporter's life in reference to this matter that those who follow any

Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

other calling are just as likely to neglect their opportunities, and be con-
tent with a mere school routine of education. But I think there ts some-
thing- peculiar in it. A reporter's occupation is, to some extent, a literary
one, and the very fact that he is pursuing a literary career is apt to lead
the reporter to think that he is doing all that is necessary in the way of
culture, and to neglect opportunities of acquiring knowledge of which,
perhaps, if he followed some other calling, he might avail himself.

With regard to the moral aspect of the question, there are certainly
features in a reporter's calling which are not favorable to the development
of high moral principles. In saying this I am, perhaps, only saying what
is equally true of almost every other occupation. Kach trade and profes-
sion has, no doubt, its special temptations. It is my business to allude
only to those which beset the reporter.

In the first place, the irregular hours, the frequent night-work, and the
kindof companionship into which the reporter is often unavoidably thrown,
donot conduce to the formation of steady habits ; and it needs some resolu-
tion to resist the natural effect of these influences. Drinking and smoking

Reporting a Desirable Profession f

habits are easily acquired, and not easily relinquished. There are numer-
ous occasions in the reporter's daily life on which he finds himself supplied
with wine ad libitum. Public dinners and other entertainments of that
kind offer a great temptation to one who has any weakness in this direc-
tion. I am bound to say that I have not often seen reporters the worse
for liquor on these occasions, but I have at times. Happily they have
duties to fulfil, and the consciousness of that fact doubtless has a restrain-
ing effect upon some who might otherwise yield to the seductive influences
of the decanter. I am not a teetotaler ; but I rarely allow myself more
than a glass or two of wine when I have to take notes at a public enter-
tainment. I may add, though I am afraid that the fact is not a profoundly
interesting one, that I never smoke. When, as a very young man, I
entered upon the reporting profession, my brother scribes told me I should
not be six months in my new occupation without smoking, but I am glad
to say that they proved false prophets. I find no fault with those who
have not adopted the same course ; but I think they would have acted
more wisely to do so. This only in parentheses/

IO2 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

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In the next place, I am disposed to think that reporters are apt to fall
into an unamiable state of cynicism. They see so much behind the scenes
that many pleasant illusions get dispelled, and the "hollow mockeries"
that come constantly in their way tend to generate a suspicion that nothing
genuine exists. An eloquent speaker has perhaps made a speech brimful
of benevolence, philanthropy, patriotism, and what not ; and the reporter
may have ample means of knowing that it is a mareadcaptandiim oration.
The speaker comes to the office to correct the "proof," and takes the
opportunity of smuggling in a few extra " cheers " and " hear, hears," and
evinces a nervous anxiety about the report hardly compatible with the
character he assumes. Or a popular preacher delivers a powerful exhor-
tation to his hearers, and knowing that it has been reported, makes every
effort to prevent its publication, though he knows perfectly well that it will
carry his appeal to as many thousands as he addressed hundreds. Or a
paragraph of a very laudatory character appears in the paper, and the
reporter, who is familiar with the "secrets of the prison-house," knows
something of the inspiration of the said paragraph, which does not raise

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession t


the object of it in his estimation. These things, which are common enough
in newspaper life, are not flattering to human nature, and, as 1 have said,
they tend to beget a general distrust of everybody and a disbelief in
genuine disinterestedness.

Lastly, the reporter is sometimes expected to give a tinge to his reports
according to the politics of the paper which he represents. I do not mean
simply that he is to report the favorite speakers of the paper, that is, the
speakers representing its own politics, more fully than others there is
nothing wrong or unnatural in that but that he is tempted, if he wishes
to please his employers, to report the other side in such a way as to brmi
ridicule or discredit upon it. The habit of "writing up" or "writing
down," to order, is hardly consistent with high moral rectitude. I do not
say that every reporter is called upon to do it, but there are few who find
themselves able to give absolutely colorless or impartial reports under all
circumstances. I do not refer to the mere reports of speeches so much as
to the descriptive matter which usually accompanies them. This often
takes its color from the politics of the paper, and has little or nothing to

IO4 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.


.do with the predilections of the reporter himself. It is, perhaps, as well
that a reporter should have no very pronounced political views, so that he
may the more readily adapt himself, without doing violence to his feel-
ings, to the particular paper on which he may be employed ; if he happen
to entertain strong opinions on political questions he may have to smother
them to an extent that will be anything but pleasant. It may be said that
in what he writes he is but acting as the instrument ftf those who employ
him, and that he has no right to take his own personal views into consid-
eration. The same thing is urged in extenuation of the conduct of an
editor who fs alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, Conservative
and Liberal, and writes strictly to order. It is said that he is doing no
more than a barrister does every day in accepting briefs without any re-
gard to his opinion on the legality of the proposition he is expected
to maintain. This specious kind of argument will hardly reconcile the
conscientious man to writing, whether as editor or reporter, in opposition
to his own views, and I cannot help thinking that the habit of writing one
thing while thinking another, or even without thinking at all, has a demor-


Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f

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alizing tendency. I know that there are many situations where this risk
is not run, where there is only reporting pure and simple to be done ; but
there are certainly many in which it is difficult to steer clear ot this em-

I think 1 have now come to an end of my complaints. It has not been a
pleasant task to lay bare the disagreeable features of a profession with
which I have been more or less connected now for many years, and I thank-
fully lay down my pen, with the intention of taking it up on another
occasion to say what I can on the other side of the question. My readers
will therefore kindly suspend their judgment till they have heard the
advantages of the case.

Having pointed out the various objections that maybe urged to the
reporting profession, I now proceed to fulfil my promise of bringing to-
gether as many of its pleasant and attractive features as I can think of a
far more congenial task than that of depicting its less agreeable charac-

The first attractive feature of the reporter's calling to which I will allude

IO6 Leaves from the Note- Book of T. A. Reed.

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U the great variety of occupation which it involves. The transcribing of
long and dreary speeches may now and then be a trifle monotonous, but it
is not the dull monotony of a mere mechanical employment. Its tedium
is relieved by the intellectual exertion which it requires. But transcribing
notes is only a part, and not always the larger part, of a reporter's labors.
The actual taking of the notes must, of course, precede the transcription,
and this is, if not too long continued, a pleasant occupation enough :
indeed, to a skilful writer it has attractions of its own. A skilled laborer
always has a certain satisfaction in the exercise of his craft, and note-
taking is no exception to the rule. It is pleasant to feel that as a speaker's
words are flowing from his lips you are faithfully recording them on the
paper before you. If the sentences are well-worded you appreciate the
jood composition, and have, the satisfaction of knowing that your work of
iranscribing will thereby be lightened. If the sentences are loosely con-
structed the greater the skill required on the part of th reporter and the
less mechanical becomes his task. If the speaker is very rapid there is a

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certain pleasure in knowing that he is not outstripping you ; or if he should
happen to leave you in the rear, your ingenuity is not unpleasantly exer-

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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedLeaves from the note-book of Thomas Allen Reed (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 10)