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cised in catching him up by a variety of short cuts with which long
experience has made you familiar. Little words judiciously dropped here
and there ; a line left for a whole phrase which you know you will remem-
ber ; and other contrivances of that kind, bring you, sometimes at a bound,
close to the speaker's heels without the disagreeable reflection that any-
thing of importance has escaped you. You feel that you are running a
race, and the slight risk which you run of losing it does but give zest to
your efforts. No doubt there are circumstances :n which note-taking is a
little trying, as when a speaker does nothing but mumble, or when the
subject is so fearfully technical that it is hopelessly out of your reach ; but
these occurrences are not frequent ; and when they do happen the adequate
nature of your excuse is almost always recognised. On the whole I con-
sider the actual work of following a speaker a fairly pleasant occupation,
agreeably combining manual dexterity with a moderate amount of intel-
lectual exertion. To say that it has its difficulties and embarrassments is

io8 Leaves from the Note- Book of T. A. Reed.


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only saying what is equally true of every other occupation in which men
can engage.

The variety of subjects and of speakers with which the reporter has to
deal is very great. Politics, national and local, of course, supply a con-
siderable part of the material that he has to manipulate ; but there are
many other topics that come before him from day to day. I am not now
speaking of his descriptive work, but merely of the subjects on which he
has to " report" in the ordinary newspaper sense of the word, that is, take
shorthand notes. There are numerous business meetings to be reported,
meetings for instance of public companies, and in the course of these the
reporter becomes acquainted with financial and commercial affairs, of
which, perhaps, in other situations he may have remained ignorant. Then
there are legal proceedings to be reported either in full or in a summary
form. I have spoken of the discomforts attending this kind of work ; but
there- can be no doubt that it is often of an interesting and instructive
character. It is impossible to attend law courts for any length of time
without picking up more or less knowledge not only of the forms but of

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession 1 109

the substance of English law; and if law is, as it has been described, "the

Eerfection of human reasoning," any acquirements in this direction cannot
e otherwise than useful. There is a good deal of indifferent speaking in
the courts ; but there are many speakers, both on the bench and at the bar,
whom it is a pleasure to report. To listen to a summing up, say by the late
Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, was a high intellectual treat, not only for the
felicitous language employed, but for the masterly way in which conflicting
evidence was sifted and contrasted, and the facts of the case laid before
the jury for their decision. If the proceedings are sometimes dull, they are
not seldom enlivened by the witticisms and drolleries of witnesses or
counsel, or even of the grave occupants of the bench itself; also by the
occasional "sparring" which goes on between the contending parties or
their advocates. Nor is it without interest in after years to remember that
you have attended and reported important trials which live in the memory
of most men, and perhaps form notable incidents in the history of the

Then as to meetings of societies and institutions for the promotion o'
science, religion, philanthropy, literature, art, and the rest, they are in-

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


numerable, and afford an infinite variety of topics for the reporter's pen ;
some dull enough in all conscience, but others entertaining and useful.
The same may be said of lectures and addresses of various kinds, which
often contain matter well worth listening to ; and it is impossible for a
reporter to attend them frequently without getting some benefit from them
in the way of additions to his stock of general knowledge.

Hitherto I have dwelt almost exclusively upon that part of a reporter's
duties which is connected with the exercise of his ability to write short-
hand, and I have endeavored to show that in the various fields of note-
taking over which he rambles he may find much that is at once pleasant
and profitable. Hut his duties commonly have a much wider range. He
is not, like the professional shorthand writer, tied down to his note-book
and his shorthand. Nothing of a public character takes place in his
locality in which he does not take a part. He is a witness of every kind of
ceremonial, from the reception of royalty to the opening of a drinking-
fountain. If a ship is to be launched he is there ; a monster gun cannot
be experimented upon without his presence; nor can a statue be unveiled,


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or a church or a new railway opened, or a race run, or a foundation stone
laid, at which he does not "assist." Engagements of this varied charac-
ter form a pleasant interlude between the more monotonous labors con-
nected with public meetings and the like, and they are by no means of
infrequent occurrence. Then there are flower shows, agricultural shows,
dog shows, exhibitions of every kind, at which he makes his appearance,
and to a certain extent acts the part of a. connoisseur. It may be that he is
now and then puzzled in discoursing on the merits of a prize pig, or the
petals of the last new chrysanthemum ; but if he be tolerably skilled in his
craft he will soon find easy methods of "cramming," and charming ex-

Eedients for airinif his little knowledge in the columns of his paper. Some-
ody was amazed at the thought of how little wisdom was required in the
government of the world; and newspaper readers, I think, would be
astonished if they did but know the small amount of actual knowledge
that goes to the formation of many a paragraph which, from its ex cathedra
style, might have been penned by an expert of the first water. In some
cases, indeed, the reporter assumes the functions of an art critic. Ihe

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

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metropolitan and the principal provincial papers usually delegate this
office to someone specially qualified ; but in many smaller towns the
reporter must discharge the duty, whether he is qualified or not. He has
therefore a free pass to the theatre ; and the doors of all the concert
rooms are open to him. Nobody thinks of giving a public entertainment
without sending him a ticket ; and he is located where he can best see and

Another feature ot a reporter s lite which is not without attractions is
the number of substantial, not to say sumptuous, repasts of which he is
invited to partake in the discharge of his professional duties. In many
districts scarcely a week passes in which he does not attend a dinner, or a
collation of some kind, and sometimes several of these entertainments
come in a single week. It has been said that every man of sense enjoys

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f 113

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the good things of the table; and certainly at a well-appointed public
dinner these good things are provided in abundance, wine being often
supplied ad libitum. A writer in the Aihenieum my old friend, Mr
Hepworth Dixon, I think once threw out the suggestion that these
creature comforts formed one of the principal inducements to young men
to enter the reporting profession. I do not for a moment believe it. At
the same time there is no denying that reporters, like other people who
have good appetites, know how to appreciate these material blessings, and
have considerable satisfaction in sitting down to a good dinner, especially
if they can compress the speeches, as is sometimes the case, into the com-
pass of a short paragraph. At these public entertainments "mine host"
not unfrequently pays special attention to the " gentlemen of the press,"
and occasionally sends them a bottle or two of choire old port, or cham-
pagne of unexceptionable brand an attention which is commonly acknow-
ledged by a line or two of commendation in the report. Some reporters,
I know, take undue advantage of this kind of hospitality, very much to
the detriment of their reports : but these are very exceptional cases.

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

Though teetotalism is not common among the reporting fraternity, I be-
lieve they are as little given to excess as the members of any other

I have not yet mentioned the frequent occasions on which many report-
ers are required to travel in fulfilling their engagements This, to some, is
a decidedly attractive feature of the profession, and probably there are
very few who object to it. It has always seemed to me an agreeable
change in the daily routine. A distant journey may be at times fatiguing,
but traveling presents many attractions that more than compensate for
its discomforts. There is a certain satisfaction in taking a seat in a com-
fortable railway carriage, and starting, it may be, for a long journey to a
place you have never seen, where you may be engaged, say, for a week in
some reporting work of a light character, which will leave you some hours
daily to explore the neighborhood. Many such journeys have fallen to my
lot, and I daresay most reporters are familiar with them. I must have
visited most, if not all, of the English counties in this way; not always
having light duties to discharge, but rarely missing the opportunity of

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f 115

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making myself acquainted with some new bit of scenery or some noted
work of art. If I say that I have traveled sixty or seventy thousand miles
in connection with my reporting engagements, I think I shall be under
the mark ; and some of my travels have been of the most agreeable char-
acter. My fishing- rod is a frequent companion in these excursions,
especially when I know that some pleasant streams will be accessible ;
and I can assure those of my readers who do not indulge in the Waltonian
pastime that few things are pleasanter, after a day's work, than two or
three hours' stroll on a summer evening, with a rod and basket, by the
river bank, even if the trout won't rise, or the perch are less voracious than
is their wont. I know several " press-men " who are as ardent anglers as
old Izaak himself, and who rarely take a trip into the country on business,
if circumstances are at all favorable, without packing up the fishing tackle
together with the note book ; and many a basket of fish has been brought
home for family or friends after the reporting work has been done. Others

Il6 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

I know who, with perhaps more refined tastes, take their sketch-books
with them, which they bring home enriched with another landscape or
sketch of an old ruin. Some, having no artistic ability, amuse themselves,
say, by a trip to the nearest watering place, inhaling the sea breezes
for a few hours, or to any noteworthy object of art within reach; while
others have no higher aim than to get the hour's work done, and spend the
evening in the smoking room. Tastes differ, and so do habits. But what-
ever may be the inclination of the reporter, he can rarely be absent for any
time on professional business without having opportunities of gratifying
them. No doubt it occasionally happens that the work monopolises all
the time at his disposal, leaving him none for personal enjoyment. This
is likely enough to be the case with short journeys, or when a single speech
or meeting is to be reported, after which the reporter has to hasten home
with all speed, and without thinking of fishing rod, sketch-book, or even
the smoking room. I am rather thinking of such occaions as conferences,
congresses, and prolonged meetings of such bodies as the British Asso-

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession ? 117

ciation, and numerous other peripatetic societies, scientific, social, and
religious, whose deliberations are always reported by the press. In con-
nection with many of these gatherings pleasant excursions are organized,
which are commonly attended by the members of the press. They do not
usually involve much work in the way of reporting; and if the weather is
fine, and the company agreeable, a country excursion of this kind is
attractive enough. You start perhaps by train ; then you are met at a
little country station by a miscellaneous assortment of vehicles, in which
you are driven through some delightful scenery, over sweeping downs or
along some lovely valley, until you arrive at an old ruin, or perhaps at a
nobleman's country seat. You alight, and are conducted over the ruin,
or the old mansion, as the case maybe, and having seen and duly admired
its many objects of interest, you are invited to lunch, which as often as not
turns out to be a substantial dinner that reflects the greatest credit on the
host's cuisine, and is most acceptable after your appetising journey.
After a few complimentary words have been exchanged, you again take
your seats in the carriages, coaches, phaetons and the like, and are driven

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

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by another road to the station, stopping, perhaps, at some tower, or castle,
or church, and finding another entertainer, who has provided coffee,
liquors, cigars, and what not. You reach home at eight or nine o'clock,
having had as pleasant a day's excursion as you could well desire. An
hour at your desk will suffice for your account of the trip, and this is all
the real work which the day has brought with it. I can call to mind many
such excursions as this, some of which are associated with very pleasant
memories. Assuredly I am entitled to put these experiences of a reporter's
life on the credit and not on the debit side of the account.

Not many reporters except the professional "special correspondent"
are called upon to go abroad ; but now and then even this duty falls to
their lot. I have seen several continental countries that I might never
have visited if I had not gone in connection with professional work, and I
have no doubt that others can tell of the like experience.

It will hardly be doubted that all this variety of occupation of which I

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f 119

have spoken has a considerable educational value. In the earlier part of
these sketches I endeavored to point out the danger of extreme superficial-
ity which the reporter runs who does nothing more than allow himself to
be the machine through which the utterances he reports are communicated
to the public. But assuming that the reporter reads as well as writes, and
gives a reasonable portion of his leisure hours to stud}', his daily work will
prove to be a real help towards his mental culture, and a valuable ex-
perience in view of any more distinctly literary work in which he may
desire to engage.

And this leads me to say a few words, before bringing my rather long
story to a close, about the reporting profession as a stepping-stone to others.
Perhaps the most natural step which the reporter can take is into the chair
of the sub-editor or editor. In many instances the position of sub-editor
is by no means higher than that of the reporter, nor the remuneration
greater ; but in other cases the change from one to the other would be a
decided step in advance. Many a reporter acts also as sub-editor. This
is especially the case on small country papers where meetings are few, and

I2o Leaves from the Note- Book of T. A. Reed.

the paragraph work is light. In some instances one person combines in
himself the offices of reporter, editor, and sub-editor ; but this is only in
the case of comparatively insignificant papers. I have known many
reporters, after a few years' experience, advance to the editorial office on
well-to-do and important papers. I suspect that a very large number of
provincial editors have served a longer or shorter apprenticeship as re-
porters; and their experience must have served them in good turn, not
only in affording them opportunities of seeing and hearing public men of
all shades of politics, but in giving them an insight into the practical
details of reporting so as to enable them to make suitable arrangements
with any reporters who might act under their instructions. I know per-
sonally one or two editors on very high -class provincial journals who began
life in this way. One especially comes to my mind, as I write, who owes
his present position, an important and lucrative one, to his practice of
Phonography in early life, and his subsequent experience as a reporter.
The opportunity of displaying any ability as a writer is rarely wanting to
the reporter. It will be sure to come out if it exists ; and the proprietor

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession f 121

of his paper will be glad to encourage it. It may sometimes happen that the
editor is ill or absent ; and if the reporter can sit down to write a leader
in his stead, his services will be gjladly accepted. Or he may possess some
special knowledge on certain topics of local or general interest, which he
may now and then be called upon, if he is able, to throw into the form of
a special article. In this and in other ways his knowledge ar.d abilities
will find expression ; and if he displays a reasonable, amount of intelligence
and capacity for work, the transition from he reporter's to the editor's
room will not prove a difficult one.

I nerd not say how often the reporter's pencil and note-book have been
laid aside for the wig and gown. The Bar offers many attractions to
reporters who desire to better their position ; and the salary earned in the
Gallery of the House of Commons has, in not a few instances, paid the
term fees and other expenses incident to a legal training. An industrious
man " without encumbrances " finds but little difficulty in doing his daily
reporting work, and carrying on his legal studies in his hours of leisure.

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

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Some of the most successful barristers have begun life in this way; and
the Bench itself has had not a few occupants who have been engaged in
reporting in their early days. Perhaps I was wrong in saying that in
taking to the wig and gown the reporter resigned his note-book. This is
not always the case. Not every young barrister finds briefs left at his
chambers. One who has been a reporter has an advantage over others,
since he can bridge over the months or years during which no briefs come
in, by pursuing his old calling, while he is attending the courts and gaining
the experience which is to qualify him for practice. A good deal of the
law reporting is done by barristers who, in regard to legal practice, are
like the men from Manchester, and " have got no work to do." The
reports for the law journals are all supplied by members of the Bar; and
most of The Times reporters in the law courts belong to the same frater-
nity. I have in my mind's eye a very rising young barrister who, not
many years since, was quietly sitting in the reporters' box of the very

Is Reporting a Desirable Profession? 123

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court where now he has a large and lucrative practice. I also call to mind
more than one member of the Bar who, while pursuing their legal studies,
were glad to assist me in my own reporting work, in order to obtain addi-
tional means to defray the expenses of their education.

I do not know any case in which reporters have been drafted off to the
Church ; but I have heard of a few such instances. And I am not aware
that the medical profession has attracted many reporters to its ranks.
Personally I only know of one such case, that of Dr Norman Kerr, the
well-known temperance advocate. Literature has many well-known re-
presentatives who began their career as reporters for the press. The
transition is a very natural one. As I have said before, the reporting pro-
fession is, to some slight extent, a literary one. The constant habit of
writing for the press, though only recording the opinions and utterances of
others, naturally gives a certain facility in composition which a literary
man requires. It will not perhaps give ideas. A reporter may be all his

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

life allowing the ideas of others to distil through his pen, and yet be very
deficient in originality of composition ; and where this is absent, no mere
facility in putting sentences together will avail him tor a literary career,
l.ut where there is any real literary genius, the daily practice of the re-
porter cannot fail to aid it. As in the case of leading articles so in the
case of literary sketches : if the reporter exhibits any special talent in that
direction the columns of his pnper will, in most casi-s. be freely open to
him. Many a reporter has found it an advantage to try his hand at some
local sketches say the description of antiquities in the neighborhood, the
ferreting out of the origin of some old local customs or sayings, the col-
lection of trade statistics, and the like : and when he has written a scries
of articles on these subjects, he is induced to give them a more permanent
embodiment in the shape of a book. Thus he becomes an author. The
habit grows upon him : and in the course of time he finds, perhaps, more
congenial and profitable employment in giving the world the results of
his own thoughts and researches than he has found in recording the ideas
of his neighbors.


Is Reporting a Desirable Profession

I have now, according- to promise, given the other and brighter side of
the picture, and I trust, enabled my readers to judge for themselves
whether reporting is or is not a desirable profession. I havo no doubt
that to some it will appear anything but an attractive occupation ; but I
am quite sure that there are many who will not he deterred from embracing
it by any of its disagreeable features, believing that they are far outweighed
by its more pleasant aspects. If I am asked what is my own opinion I
can truly say that I owe to my professional experience a great deal that I
should not like to relinquish ; and that on the whole I have found the oc-
cupation a pleasant and profitable one. My practice has been very varied,
not only as a reporter, but as a professional shorthand writer ; and I do
not know that if I had selected any other profession I should have met with
less to harrass, or with more to please me.

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




Nothing 1 is more common than for a bad writer to lay the blame of an
illegible scrawl on an unoffending pen. "Excuse the writing" so runs
many a postscript "this pen is an abomination." Even orthographical
blunders have been traced to the same source. It is said that a bad
speller, when reminded that he was spelling some word incorrectly, testily
threw down the instrument with which he was writing, and exclaimed,
" Hang it ! why don't you give me a pen that will spell ? " When quills
were the only pens in use, there might be some excnse for a little impa-
tience in regard to their writing qualities. The attempt to mend a bad
quill with a blunt penknife is of itself a trial to the most equable temper ;
and the effort to write a long letter with a pen that persists in blotting or
spluttering is a severe strain upon one's powers of endurance. But in
these days of Gillott and Perry and Mordan, when metalic pens of every
shape and size abound, from the twenty shilling gold "everlasting" to the
humble steel " commercial " at sixpence a gross, writing should be as easy

My Reporting Pen.

as walking, and even the complaint of tools which the proverb attributes
to the unskilful workman should be impossible. There is no style of
writing which has not a pen specially adapted to it. The fine, delicate
lady's hand, abounding in hair strokes; the heavy dashing hand of the
professiona-1 man: the round, unmistakeable hand of the lawyer's clerk,

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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedLeaves from the note-book of Thomas Allen Reed (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 10)