Whitelaw Reid.

Some newspaper tendencies; an address delivered before the editorial associations of New York and Ohio online

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I am to speak to you of our common work
of its needs, its tendencies, its possibili-

It may well happen thit this may lead to a
mention of some faults of which we are all
guilty, and of some standards by which we
might all profitably try ourselves. No doubt
it would be easy for any critic that cared, to
show that I do not live up to these standards
myself. 1 do not pretend to. No man's work
is so good as his ideal ; must he, therefore,
have no ideal toward which to work "? No
man can wholly control his circumstances ;
must he, therefore, wholly surrender to them?
Growth is but a succession of partial failures.
You, whose purpose is the highest, you must
perforce fail the most conspicuously. Yet, all

the same, your arrow, even though it miss
its aim, carries further if aimed at the stars.

Every now and then some Magnus Apollo
of an earlier day returns to our profession.
We all give him most respectful salutation;
felicitate ourselves on the great gain we shall
have from his experience, judgment, skill ;
and wait. Eegularly, decisively, and at the
outset, he fails.

The reason of this monotonous disappoint-
ment has come to be recognized. The business
of making a newspaper is in a state of con-
stant growth and change. You might almost say
that it is revolutionized once every ten years.
The veteran returns to find the old methods
useless, the old weapons out of date, the old
plans of action out of relation to the present
arrangement of the forces. Nor is this to be
thought in the least unnatural. Abolish the
old forms of procedure ; adopt an entirely
new code, as our Albary pests are per-
petually proposing ; and Charles O'Conor,
returuing to the profession of which he was
so long an ornament and glory, and attempt-

ing his own office business, might break down
in a police court, under the onset of a Tombs

No doubt there is progress in the other pro-
fessions, too ; at least we helpless victims of
the lawyer and the doctor hope so. But these
absolute revolutions have, in this century,

been the distinctive mark of our own.

The cylinder press made one. Before that


the circulation of a daily newspaper was im-
peratively limited by the number of pulls one
pair of arms could give a Washington press
within the hour or two which shut m the life,
for publication purposes, of any day's news.
Four hundred was large, a thousand enor-
mous, beyond fifteen hundred an impossibility.
The railroads made another revolution.
They doubled, trebled, quadrupled the area of

The fast printing press made another. It
is not too much to say that one man, still
going about the streets of New-York, modest,
genial, busy on new notions, gave a new birth
to the journalism not merely of his own coun-


try but of the world. When Richard M. Hoe
showed how types could be placed on a revolving
cylinder instead of a flat bed he did as much
for the profession that now rules the world
as the inventor of gun-powder did for the one
that ruled it last. From that moment came
the possibility of addressing millions, at the
instant of their readiest attention, from a sin-
gle desk, within a single hour, on the events
of the hour.

And now came another revolution as start-
ling as any. The conduct of newspapers
ceased to be the work of journeymen printers,
of propagandists, needy politicians, starveling
lawyers, or adventurers. Its new devel-
opments compelled the use of large capital, and
thus the modern metropolitan daily journal
became a great business enterprise, as legiti-
mate as a railroad or a line of steamships,
and as rigidly demanding the best business

Thus stimulated, its growth again outran its
facilities. No printing-press ever devised
could print in the required time as many

newspapers as there were eager buyers. The
discovery of a way to stereotype the whole
paper in half an hour, and thus put as many
pr eses as you needed at wcik on the san e
paper at the same time, solved that difficulty,
and the business underwent another change,
amounting to revolution. Then came the
enormous extension of telegraph lines and
ocean cables. The old-fashioned letter-writer
was almost abolished. The Washington cor-
respondence came by telegraph. The account
of a great battle fought yesterday east of
Paris was read in detail this morning in New-
York. The journalist, at one leap, took the
whole world for his province every morning.

With each of these revolutions the sphere of
the daily newspaper has broadened. It has
commanded wider and more varied ability. It
has been able to draft talent from any quar-
ter, to command the best business sagacity,
unlimited capital, the widest enterprise. As
the result of all this we see to-day

Daily papers that sell you every morning,
for three or four pennies, matter equalling the


contents of a thick book, often procured at a
cost tenfold, a hundred-fold what the book's
contents cost;

Papers that add to this mass of informa-
tion as many, sometimes twice or three times
as many, pages of advertisements, on every
conceivable subject, classified and indexed;

Papers that give you yesterday's news, from
every quarter of the habitable globe, and on
every conceivable subject, the downfall of an
Empire, the conclusions of a European con-
ference, the result of a horse-race, the verdict
of a Presbytery, the secret proceedings of a
hermetically sealed caucus, the robbing of
Patrick O'Donovan's till, the game of base-
ball some college boys have played, what Edi-
son thinks he is going to discover, what the
Leadville enthusiasts say they have discov-
ered, and a veto message from the President
an infinite variety of things worthy and
worthless ;

And, finally, daily papers that give you all
this with such multiplicity of detail, and
in such masses that, unless from morn till


dewy eve you give your whole time to it,
you carmot read them through.

To that complexion have these successive
and rapid revolutions in journalism brought
us. What is to be the next great changed
Will the growth in the size of our papers
continue, so as to make room for increasing
advertisements and yet wider and fuller news?
Or shall we presently find the greatest news-
papers too big already and too crowded with
news to admit any advertisements at all ?
Shall we have cheaper papers'? Shall we in-
crease the quantity or the variety of news we
print in anything like the ratio of the last
decade ?

Certainly there must be great changes in
the matter of advertising. I doubt if, in
most cases, the volume is to be much in-
creased, and in some it is pretty sure to be
diminished.- The business of issuing supple-
mental sheets to carry off the surplus of ad-
vertising, is self-limited, and in some cases it
is already carried on at a loss. You issue a


paper of a certain grade at, let us say, 4
cents, and you so adjust your scale of expen-
diture that your receipts on the circulation of
so many copies will about balance it,
leaving the advertisements to furnish
the profit. But you fill the paper with news,
and crowd these advertisements into an extra
sheet. Here now enters another element in
your problem. Your advertisements can no
longer be counted as profit, because out of
them must first be paid the cost for the extra
papor on which they are printed. Your cir-
culation is necessarily large, or you could not
depend on it to pay the expenses of procur-
ing the news and making the paper.
But the larger it is, the larger becomes
the drain for the extra paper on which
you now print your advertisements. With a
circulation of 50,000, the cost of this paper
might be taken from the gross receipts for
advertising and still leave you a handsome
margin for profits. Double the circulation,
and you have doubled the cost of your extra
paper for printing the same number of adver-


tisements ; yet you sell the two sheets at the
same 4 cents for which you once sold the
one. This may leave the margin on the
wrong side.

A few actual figures may make it plainer.
You undertake to furnish an eight-page news-
paper for 4 cents. As the circulation in-
creases, and the business management learns
to take advantage of it, the advertisements
flow in and crowd out the news. Your readers
would resent this, and your rivals would
have you at a disadvantage. Either you
must raise the price of the advertising
so as to get the same revenue from a smaller
amount of it, and exclude the rest, or you
must carry it off in an extra sheet for which
you will receive no extra pay, and the entire
cost of which must be deducted [from the
profit you rightfully expect on your advertise-
ments. With the present system of fast print-
ing-presses, you can make this sheet one-
quarter, one-half or the whole size of the
regular issue, but one of these three it must
be. Suppose you content yourself with a sup-


plemeDt one-fourth the size of the regular
issue.. This gives you two pages, and,
at a low but safe estimate, 1,000 pay-
ing lines of advertising to the page.
Now, say you print and give away
with the regular issue 100,000 of this
supplemental sheet. Your white paper for it
costs you $250. Your agate composition for
it costs you $50 more. You have made an
outlay of $300 in order to print 2,000 lines
of advertising. How much must you get for
that advertising to repay you the actual out-
lay ? A moment's figuring brings you the
approximate price of fifteen cents per
line. Recollect, this involves no profit.
It does not even meet the expenses, for I
have counted the bare cost of the white paper,
the 'composition and the proof-reading. There
are a thousand and one incidentals, the re-
ceiving of the advertisements, the transmis-
sion, collections, waste paper, extra post-
age, extra press-work, extra cost in
mailing, etc., etc. Does it take much
study to show that these advertisements


must bring a good price, or the publication of
them must be continued for purely philan-
thropic purposes, and at a loss ? Yet there are
newspapers which print them for nothing, and
there are others, of great circulation, too,
which print many of them at 5 cents a line.
Years ago the younger Bennett said to me,
" The growth of this advertising troubles me.
Whole columns of it I print now at a loss,
and I would gladly throw part of it out, if it
were not that some of you fellows would pick
it up."

Of course, one point must not be lost sight
of. There is a certain element of news in
some of this advertising, and that newspaper
is more welcome to some of its readers which
has a moderate amount and variety of it.
But one question must be settled before
deciding to publish it at a loss, or to
publish it for nothing. Is this the most
interesting news with which this space can be
filled'? Will this cause more readers to buy
the paper than anything else we could get to
put in its place*?


The upshot of it all seems to be that, in the
long run, cheap advertising must seek
cheap mediums. The paper of the larg-
est circulation cannot afford to culti-
vate it. The advertisers most likely to
afford appearing in the great newspapers
of the future will be those appealing to large
classes, and able, therefore, to pay for the
widest publicity. The chambermaid that
wants a place at $15 a month cannot long
afford to ask 100,000 readers for it. She
can better go to an employment agency. The
man who has a horse to sell will not
talk to 100,000 readers about its points ; he
will go to a sales-stable. The man who wants
a cook will not advertise for her any more
than he will for his Winter's supply of coal.

In London, there is a curious paper, as big
as The London Times, devoted solely to
the publication of cheap advertisements
about individual wants, matters of sale or
barter. One man has a shot-gun and wants to
trade it for Blackstone's Commentaries. An-
other has a guitar and would like to get for


it a set of shirt studs ; a third waiits to trade a
ring for old clothes. A myriad of petty things
make their appearance here at an insignifi-
cant cost, but the paper is published
solely as an adjunct to a great sales and bar-
ter bureau. Its circulation is trifling, the
cost of manufacture little beyond the
bare cost of composition, and the prof-
its are derived from the commissions
on the sales and trades which the bureau culti-
vates. This is an entirely legitimate busi-
ness and a convenient one; but it is
not the business of journalism. No great
newspaper could afford to bother with it itself ;
far less could it afford to bother its readers
with it. They already complain of being
forced to grope through too many pages to
find what they want. The experiment of giv-
ing them still more would only result in driv-
ing them to the smaller and handier papers.

If, then, the greatest newspapers of the
future will not be filled with masses of small
and comparatively cheap advertising, as to a


considerable extent they are now, will they go
to the other extreme? The daring idea has
sometimes been advanced that the coming
newspaper would publish no advertisements
at all. It is not impossible, though just now
quite improbable. The old theory of selling
the paper to the purchaser for the bare
cost of the white sheet on which it
is printed, leaving the advertisements
to pay the expenses of making
it a newspaper, has been pretty well ex-
ploded. The colossal expenses of the modern
daily are no longer risked upon an income so
uncertain, and at the best so fluctuating. It
happens, too, by a curious law which is often
found working in business affairs, that the
less you need advertisements the more you
are likely to get them while the more you
depend upon them as an absolute necessity
for the continuance of your publication the
less likely they are to come.

It seems chimerical to expect printing paper
to fall to a still lower price, and at its pres-
ent price and with their present circulations


none of the great newspapers could exclude
advertisements. There is no sufficient reason
to believe that the insertion of attractive
news and miscellany in the place the adver-
tisements now occupy would draw in enough
more readers to make the profit on the in-
creased circulation compensate for the loss on
the advertising.

But, preposterous as it now seems, I look
for the day when printing paper will sell far
below its present price ; and I rest this faith
on the simple proposition that a manufactured
article, the process of manufacturing which is
easy and comparatively cheap, cannot long
continue to be sold at six cents per pound,
when the bulk of the raw material entering
into it grows in the forest, on every hill-side,
and can be bought at $2 a cord. The dispro-
portion between the cost of the faw
material and the cost of the manufactured
article is too great to be permanently main-
tained. It is true enough that paper-makers
have only the narrowest margin of profit
now ; but better processes for making wood-


pulp and improved machinery for converting
it into paper must surely come. So simple a
manufacture will not continue forever add-
ing a thousand per cent to the cost of the
raw material it uses. When the happy day
of really cheap paper comes, the greatest
newspapers may fairly consider the problem of
excluding everything from their columns but
that which is of universal rather than of par-
tially private and partially public interest.

Are we likely soon to have cheaper newspa-
pers? You have all been confronted, of late
years, by an occasional growl like this:
"Everybody has to take lower prices nowa-
days. Wages are down, the cost of living is
down, everything else has come down to
what it was before the war ; why don't you
put down the price of your paper f But the
newspapers' have not come down to the
prices before the war, and I make
bold to say that the sagacious ones will not.
The Philadelphia Ledger before tbe war was
sold at one cent. I venture to predict that if


it is ever again sold at that price it will be
many years hence. The New- York quarto
dailies used to be furnished at two cents.
Who thinks of seeing papers like those of
to-day sold at two cents again ?

A short answer to the inquiring growler
may be readily given : " We will come down
to ante- war prices whenever you are ready to
accept an ante-war newspaper."

What that was few really remember. Look-
ing over the files of the journal with which
I am most familiar I have found that on the
busiest days, and under the crowning excite-
ments that preceded the rebellion, it was in
the habit of receiving an average of be-
tween one and two columns of news
by telegraph from all quarters, exclu-
sive only of the reports of Congres-
sional proceedings. News from Europe all
came by steamer. News from all the consid-
erable cities of our own continent came mainly
by post, when it came at all. Clippings from
the exchanges were the chief source of sup-
ply. Even a great National Nominating


Convention called for only something
like two columns of telegraphing, and
this was so spread out by profuse para-
graphs and other cheap typographical tricks
as to occupy double the space we should give
it now. To-day your foreign news comes ex-
clusively by the cable ; your domestic news
too comes exclusively by telegraph. A
news letter from Chicago or St. Louis
is almost unheard of, for the simple
reason that the news has been told by tele-
graph before the letter could start. For the
two columns of dispatches from all quarters in
1859, we now have page after page printed,
and sometimes as much more remorselessly
thrown into the waste basket sent by tele-
graph and paid for, but not used, merely be-
cause the columns will not contain it.

I have mentioned the transmission of news
by telegraph instead of the mails as one item
in the increased cost of making the
metropolitan daily newspaper of to-day.
A dozen 'more might be enumerated.
On no single one does any great news-


paper dare to undertake material re-
trenchment. To do so would be to abandon
the field to its rivals. The public have been
educated up to what they now receive, and
would no more be put off with the newspaper
of 1860 than they would tolerate again the
slow mails, or the antiquated railroad accom-
modations of 3860.

But figures are after all more convincing:
than mere description. I have selected as the
year affording the fairest data for a compari-
son with the present times, the year before
the election which precipitated the Civil War ;
and, going back again to the records of
the metropolitan newspaper with which I
am most familiar, have extracted a few entries
which tell the whole story.

In 1859 the total outlay for news, editing,
type-setting, printing and publishing, includ-
ing the accounts of the editorial department,
composing room, press room, publisher's de-
partment, correspondence and telegraph, was
$130,198. On the 13th of January, 1879,
the outlay for the past .Tear in the same de-


partments was reported at $377,510. Yet
this is, with many of the accounts, sub-
divided, so that a part of the outlay is
charged under other heads ; with all the econ-
omies of the period since the panic, in full
force ; with expenses at the lowest point in
nearly every department they have touched
for several years ; with the cost of telegraph-
ing from Washington lower than it has ever
been before, and out of sight of any price
any telegraph company has ever named a
cost in fact of less than two mills per
word as against the old rate of from one and
a half cents per word upward ; with compo-
sition almost one-third lower than under the
old spoliation system of the Printers' Union,
and with salaries in every department made
in some measure to correspond with the ten-
dencies of the times.

Let us take another year for a fairer com-
parison. Against the $11,679 telegraphic ex-
penses of 1859 set the $51,728 88 in 1874;
against the composing-room bills in 1859,
amounting to $42,256, set those for 1874,


amounting to $125,883 28. And finally, con-
trast the total expenses of the editorial de-
partment, including correspondence, in 1859,
$43,125, with the sum of $188,829 45 spent
for the same accounts in 1874.

Trifling as the expenditures of those early
days seem to us, we come now and then upon
signs of alarm already inspired in the minds
of the sagacious metropolitan publishers at
the evident tendency to make a better paper
than the people paid for, to give more every
morning than the money's worth, and thus to
keep steadily approaching the time when the
amount spent in making the paper would, more
than overbalance all that the subscribers and
advertisers were willing to give for it. Thus,
in 1864 I find a curious passage in a publisher's
report, complaining of the extravagance in
the outlay for editorial work, correspondence,
composition, special telegraphing and supple-
ments. The feeling would seem to have been
general. Afc any rate there had been a com-
parison of figures between different offices,
and the prudent publisher of THE TRIBUNE


was worried because in the five principal
items of expense which he enumerated, THE
TRIBUNE had spent in the previous year $28,-
116 more than The Times. Here are the con-
trasted items which he reported :






Editors and correspondence, not Tvar..
War correspondence.,


Special telegraphing

Supplements, TRIBUNE 21, Times Til..

The expenses we have been considering
have been taken from ordinary years. Let us
now see what they are in extraordinary
times. When a great war is raging in Euro-
pean countries with which \ve have close re-
lations, through trade, travel and immigra-
tion, the New- York reader demands as prompt
and complete, if not as detailed, news as does
the London reader, and a great journal can-
not afford to disappoint its constituency by
failing to meet this demand.' See now what
it costs, remembering that in 1859 tele-


graphic expenses were thought enormous
when they had reached an annual total of
$li,679. In the Franco-Prussian war, THE
TRIBUNE'S telegraphic bill, largely payable in
gold, was $85,303 51. Its additional bill for cor-
respondence, also mostly payable in gold, was
$43,263 46. Other journals quite possibly
spent more ; those that did not suffered by it.

Now take another mode of estimating what
it costs to try to meet the demand for the
kind of newspaper to which' readers have
been educated. From a table of comparisons
covering a series of years I select a few sam-
ple figures.

You have seen that in 1859 the entire edi-
torial expenses, including all correspond-
ence, amounted to $43,125. In 1866 the
editorial expenses alone amounted to $81,-
775, and the correspondence to $49,-
300 more. In 1867 the editorial alone had
swollen to $84,778 ; two years later to $96,-
182; two years later to $107,525; two years
later to $133,854; two years later still to
$148,234. Meanwhile the correspondence had


run up in the same fashion, until in one year
it reached $70,038.

Not only was this news procured and
handled in more costly ways, but there was a
vast mass more of it. Note how tne cost of
putting it in type ran up. In 1859 you have
seen that the entire expenses of the com-
posing-room were $42,256. Now take a
few later years. In 1866 they amounted to
$86,609 ; in 1867 to $91,008 ; in 1868 to
$94,388 ; in 1869 to $100,769 ; in 1870 to
$105,492; in 1871 to $107,827; in 1872 to
$113,518.; in 1873 to $117,180; in 1874 to
$125,883 ; and in 1875 to 8154,788.

Something has been said of the enormous
increase in editorial expenses, but a few fig-
ures of individual salaries will ' make it
clearer. From an old salary-book; containing
the weekly payments from 1848 to 1859, I
extract from the first page some items that
have now a curious sound. The first entry is
Mr. Sinclair, bookkeeper, $15 ; the next Mr.
Strebeigh, assistant- bookkeeper, $10. Then
follow Mr. Dana, assistant editor, $14 ; Mr.

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Online LibraryWhitelaw ReidSome newspaper tendencies; an address delivered before the editorial associations of New York and Ohio → online text (page 1 of 4)