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   Chapter 9 GLIMMERINGS

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 18997

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Ignorance within one's self is a mist which, upon closer approach, proves a mountain. To the new editor of the "Clarion" the things he did not know about this enterprise of which he had suddenly become the master loomed to the skies. Together with the rest of the outer world, he had comfortably and vaguely regarded a newspaper as a sort of automatic mill which, by virtue of having a certain amount of grain in the shape of information dumped into it, worked upon this with an esoteric type-mechanism, and, in due and exact time, delivered a definite grist of news. Of the refined and articulated processes of acquisition, selection, and elimination which went to the turning-out of the final product, he was wholly unwitting. He could as well have manipulated a linotype machine as have given out a quiet Sunday's assignment list: as readily have built a multiple press as made up an edition.

So much he admitted to McGuire Ellis late in the afternoon of the day after the Willard party. Fascinated, he had watched that expert journalist go through page after page of copy, with what seemed superhuman rapidity and address, distribute the finished product variously upon hooks, boxes, and copy-boys, and, the immediate task being finished, lapse upon his desk and fall asleep. Meantime, the owner himself faced the unpleasant prospect of being smothered under the downfall of proofs, queries, and scribbled sheets which descended upon his desk from all sides. For a time he struggled manfully: for a time thereafter he wallowed desperately. Then he sent out a far cry for help. The cry smote upon the ear of McGuire Ellis, "Hoong!" ejaculated that somnolent toiler, coming up out of deep waters. "Did you speak?"

"I want to know what I'm to do with all of these things," replied his boss, indicating the augmenting drifts.

"Throw 'em on the floor, is my advice," said the employee drowsily. "The more stuff you throw away, the better paper you get out. That's a proverb of the business."

"In other words, you think the paper would get along better without me than with me?"

"But you're enjoying yourself, aren't you?" queried his employee. Heaving himself out of his chair, he ambled over to Hal's desk and evolved out of the chaos some semblance of order. "Don't find it as easy as your enthusiasm painted it," he suggested.

"Oh, I've still got the enthusiasm. If only I knew where to begin."

Ellis rubbed his ear thoughtfully and remarked: "Once I knew a man from Phoenix, Arizona, who was so excited the first time he saw the ocean that he borrowed a uniform from an absent friend, shinned aboard a five-thousand-ton brigantine, and ordered all hands to put out to sea immediately in the teeth of a whooping gale. But he," added the narrator in the judicial tone of one who cites mitigating circumstances, "was drunk at the time."

"Thanks for the parallel. I don't like it. But never mind that. The question is, What am I going to do?"

"That's the question all right. Are you putting it to me?"

"I am."

"Well, I was just going to put it to you."

"No use. I don't know."

The two men looked each other in the eye, long and steadily. Ellis's harsh face relaxed to a sort of grin.

"You want me to tell you?"

"Yes."

"What do you think you're hiring, a Professor of Journalism in the infant class?" The tone of the question offset any apparent ill-nature in the wording.

"It might be made worth your while."

"All right; I'm hired."

"That's good," said Hal heartily. "I think you'll find I'm not hard to get along with."

"I think you'll find I am," replied the other with some grimness. "But I know the game. Well, let's get down to cases. What do you want to do with the 'Clarion'?"

"Make it the cleanest, decentest newspaper in the city."

"Then you don't think it's that, now."

"No. I know it isn't."

"Did you get that from Dr. Surtaine?"

"Partly."

"What's the other part?"

"First-hand impressions. I've been going through the files."

"When?"

"Since nine o'clock this morning."

"With what idea?"

"Why, having bought a piece of property, I naturally want to know about it."

"Been through the plant yet? That's your property, too."

"No. I thought I'd find out more from the files. I've bought a newspaper, not a building."

The characteristic grunt with which Ellis favored his employer in reply to this seemed to have a note of approval in it.

"Well; now that you own the 'Clarion,'" he said after a pause, "what do you think of it?"

"It's yellow, and it's sensational, and-it's vulgar."

There was nothing complimentary in the other's snort this time.

"Of course it's vulgar. You can't sell a sweet-scented, prim old-maidy newspaper to enough people to pay for the z's in one font of type. People are vulgar. Don't forget that. And you've got to make a newspaper to suit them. Lesson Number One."

"It needn't be a muckraking paper, need it, forever smelling out something rotten, and exploiting it in big headlines?"

"Oh, that's all bluff," replied the journalist easily. "We never turn loose on anything but the surface of things. Why, if any one started in really to muckrake this old respectable burg, the smell would drive most of our best citizens to the woods."

"Frankly, Mr. Ellis, I don't like cheap cynicism."

"Prefer to be fed up on pleasant lies?" queried his employee, unmoved.

"Not that either. I can take an unpleasant truth as well as the next man. But it's got to be the truth."

"Do you know the nickname of this paper?"

"Yes. My father told me of it."

"It was his set that pinned it on us. 'The Daily Carrion,' they call us, and they said that our triumphal roosters ought to be vultures. Do you know why?"

"In plain English because of the paper's lies and blackguardism."

"In plainer English, because of its truth. Wait a minute, now. I'm not saying that the 'Clarion' doesn't lie. All papers do, I guess. They have to. But it's when we've cut loose on straight facts that we've got in wrong."

"Give me an instance."

"Well, the sewing-girls' strike."

"Engineered by a crooked labor leader and a notoriety-seeking woman."

"I see the bunch have got to you already, and have filled you up with their dope. Never mind that, now. We're supposed to be a sort of tribune of the common people. Rights of the ordinary citizen, and that sort of thing. So we took up the strike and printed the news pretty straight. No other paper touched it."

"Why not?"

"Didn't dare. We had to drop it, ourselves. Not until we'd lost ten thousand dollars in advertising, though, and gained an extra blot on our reputation as being socialistic and an enemy to capital and all that kind of rot."

"Wasn't it simply a case of currying favor with the working-classes?"

"According as you look at it." Apparently weary of looking at it at all, McGuire Ellis tipped back in his chair and contemplated the ceiling. When he spoke his voice floated up as softly as a ring of smoke. "How honest are you going to be, Mr. Surtaine?"

"What!"

"I asked you how honest you are going to be."

"It's a question I don't think you need to ask me."

"I do. How else will I find out?"

"I intend the 'Clarion' to be strictly and absolutely honest. That's all there is to that."

"Don't be so young," said McGuire Ellis wearily. "'Strictly and absol'-see here, did you ever read 'The Wrecker'?"

"More than once."

"Remember the chap who says, 'You seem to think honesty as simple as blindman's-buff. I don't. It's some difference of definition, I suppose'? Now, there's meat in that."

"Difference of definition be hanged. Honesty is honesty."

"And policy is policy. And bankruptcy is bankruptcy."

"I don't see the connection."

"It's there. Honesty for a newspaper isn't just a matter of good intentions. It's a matter of eternal watchfulness and care and expert figuring-out of things."

"You mean that we're likely to make mistakes about facts-"

"We're certain to. But that isn't what I mean at all. I mean that it's harder for a newspaper to be honest than it is for the pastor of a rich church."

"You can't make me believe that."

"Facts can. But I'm not doing my job. You want to learn the details of the business, and I'm wasting time trying to throw light into the deep places where it keeps what it has of conscience. That'll come later. Now where shall I begin?"

"With the structure of the business."

"All right. A newspaper is divided into three parts. News is the merchandise which it has to sell. Advertising is the by-product that pays the bills. The editorial page is a survival. At its best it analyzes and points out the significance of important news. At its worst, it is a mouthpiece for the prejudices or the projects of whoever runs it. Few people are influenced by it. Many are amused by it. It isn't very important nowadays."

"I intend to make it so on the 'Clarion.'"

Ellis turned upon him a regard which carried with it a verdict of the most abandoned juvenility, but made no comment. "News sways people more than editorials," he continued. "That's why there's so much tinkering with it. I'd like to give you a definition of news, but there isn't any. News is conventional. It's anything that interests the community. It isn't the same in any two places. In Arizona a shower is news. In New Orleans the boll-weevil is news. In Worthington anything about your father is news: in Denver the

y don't care a hoot about your father; so, unless he elopes or dies, or buys a fake Titian, or breaks the flying-machine record, or lectures on medical quackery, he isn't news away from home. If Mrs. Festus Willard is bitten by a mad dog, every dog-chase for the week following is news. When a martyred suffragette chews a chunk out of the King of England, the local meetings of the Votes-for-Women Sorority become a live topic. If ever you get to the point where you can say with certainty, 'This is news; that isn't,' you'll have no further need for me. You'll be graduated."

"Where does a paper get its news?"

"Through mechanical channels, mostly. If you read all the papers in town,-and you'll have to do it,-you'll see that they've got just about the same stuff. Why shouldn't they have? The big, clumsy news-mill grinds pretty impartially for all of them. There's one news source at Police Headquarters, another at the City Hall, another in the financial department, another at the political headquarters, another in the railroad offices, another at the theaters, another in society, and so on. At each of these a reporter is stationed. He knows his own kind of news as it comes to him, ready-made, and, usually, not much else. Then there's the general, unclassified news of the city that drifts in partly by luck, partly by favor, partly through the personal connections of the staff. One paper is differentiated from another principally by getting or missing this sort of stuff. For instance, the 'Banner' yesterday had a 'beat' about you. It said that you had come back and were going to settle down and go into your father's business."

"That's not true."

"Glad to hear it. Your hands will be full with this job. But it was news. Everybody is interested in the son of our leading citizen. The 'Banner' is strong on that sort of local stuff. I think I'll jack up our boys in the city room by hinting that there may be a shake-up coming under the new owner. Knowing they're on probation will make 'em ambitious."

"And the news of the outside world?"

"Much the same principle as the local matter and just as machine-like. The 'Clarion' is a unit in a big system, the National News Exchange Bureau. Not only has the bureau its correspondents in every city and town of any size, but it covers the national sources of news with special reporters. Also the international. Theoretically it gives only the plainest facts, uncolored by any bias. As a matter of fact, it's pretty crooked. It suppresses news, and even distorts it. It's got a secret financial propaganda dictated by Wall Street, and its policies are always open to suspicion."

"Why doesn't it get honest reporters?"

"Oh, its reporters are honest enough. The funny business is done higher up, in the executive offices."

"Isn't there some other association we can get into?"

"Not very well, just now. The Exchange franchise is worth a lot of money. Besides," he concluded, yawning, "I don't know that they're any worse than we are."

Hal got to his feet and walked the length of the office and back, five times. At the end of this exercise he stood, looking down at his assistant.

"Ellis, are you trying to plant an impression in my mind?"

"No."

"You're doing it."

"Of what sort?"

"I hardly know. Something subtle, and lurking and underhanded in the business. I feel as if you had your hands on a curtain that you might pull aside if you would, but that you don't want to shock my-my youthfulness."

"Plain facts are what you want, aren't they?"

"Exactly."

"Well, I'm giving them to you as plain as you can understand them. I don't want to tell you more than you're ready to believe."

"Try it, as an experiment."

"Who do you suppose runs the newspapers of this town?"

"Why, Mr. Vane runs the 'Banner.' Mr. Ford owns the 'Press.' The 'Telegram'-let me see-"

"No; no; no," cried Ellis, waving his hands in front of his face. "I don't mean the different papers. I mean all of 'em. The 'Clarion,' with the others."

"Nobody runs them all, surely."

"Three men run them all; Pierce, Gibbs, and Hollenbeck."

"E.M. Pierce?"

"Elias Middleton Pierce."

"I had luncheon with him yesterday, and with Mr. Gibbs-"

"Ah! That's where you got your notions about the strike."

"-and neither of them spoke of any newspaper interests."

"Catch them at it! They're the Publication Committee of the Retail Dry Goods Union."

"What is that?"

"The combination of local department stores. And, as such, they can dictate to every Worthington newspaper what it shall or shall not print."

"Nonsense!"

"Including the 'Clarion.'"

"There you're wrong, anyway."

"The department stores are the biggest users of advertising space in the city. No paper in town could get along without them. If they want a piece of news kept out of print, they tell the editor so, and you bet it's kept out. Otherwise that paper loses the advertising."

"Has it ever been done here?"

"Has it? Get Veltman down to tell you about the Store Employees' Federation."

"Veltman? What does he know of it? He's in the printing-department, isn't he?"

"Composing-room; yes. Outside he's a labor agitator and organizer. A bit of a fanatic, too. But an A1 man all right. Get the composing-room," he directed through the telephone, "and ask Mr. Veltman to come to Mr. Surtaine's office."

As the printer entered, Hal was struck again with his physical beauty.

"Did you want to see me?" he asked, looking at the "new boss" with somber eyes.

"Tell Mr. Surtaine about the newspapers and the Store Federation, Max," said Ellis.

The German shook his head. "Nothing new in that," he said, with the very slightest of accents. "We can't organize them unless the newspapers give us a little publicity."

"Explain it to me, please. I know nothing about it," said Hal.

"For years we've been trying to organize a union of department store employees."

"Aren't they well treated?"

"Not quite as well as hogs," returned the other in an impassive voice. "The girls wanted shorter hours and extra pay for overtime at holiday time and Old Home Week. Every time we've tried it the stores fire the organizers among their employees."

"Hardly fair, that."

"This year we tried to get up a public meeting. Reverend Norman Hale helped us, and Dr. Merritt, the health officer, and a number of women. It was a good news feature, and that was what we wanted, to get the movement started. But do you think any paper in town touched it? Not one."

"But why?"

"E.M. Pierce's orders. He and his crowd."

"Even the 'Clarion,' which is supposed to have labor sympathies?"

"The 'Clarion'!" There was a profundity of contempt in Veltman's voice; and a deeper bitterness when he snapped his teeth upon a word which sounded to Hal suspiciously like the Biblical characterization of an undesirable citizeness of Babylon.

"In any case, they won't give the 'Clarion' any more orders."

"Oh, yes, they will," said Veltman stolidly.

"Then they'll learn something distinctly to their disadvantage."

The splendid, animal-like eyes of the compositor gleamed suddenly. "Do you mean you're going to run the paper honestly?"

Hal almost recoiled before the impassioned and incredulous surprise in the question.

"What is 'honestly'?"

"Give the people who buy your paper the straight news they pay for?"

"Certainly, the paper will be run that way."

"As easy as rolling off a log," put in McGuire Ellis, with suspicious smoothness.

Veltman looked from one to the other. "Yes," he said: and again "Yes-s-s." But the life had gone from his voice. "Anything more?"

"Nothing, thank you," answered Hal.

"Brains, fire, ambition, energy, skill, everything but balance," said Ellis, as the door closed. "He's the stuff that martyrs are made of-or lunatics. Same thing, I guess."

"Isn't he a trouble-maker among the men?"

"No. He's a good workman. Something more, too. Sometimes he writes paragraphs for the editorial page; and when they're not too radical, I use 'em. He's brought us in one good feature, that 'Kitty the Cutie' stuff."

"I'd thought of dropping that. It's so cheap and chewing-gummy."

"Catches on, though. We really ought to run it every day. But the girl hasn't got time to do it."

"Who is she?"

"Some kid in your father's factory, I understand. Protégée of Veltman's, He brought her stuff in and we took it right off the bat."

"Well, I'll tell you one thing that is going."

"What?"

"The 'Clarion's' motto. 'We Lead: Let Those Who Can Follow.'" Hal pointed to the "black-face" legend at the top of the first editorial column.

"Got anything in its place?"

"I thought of 'With Malice Toward None: With Charity for All.'"

"Worked to death. But I've never seen it on a newspaper. Shall I tell Veltman to set it up in several styles so you may take your pick?"

"Yes. Let's start it in to-morrow."

That night Harrington Surtaine went to bed pondering on the strange attitude of the newspaper mind toward so matter-of-fact a quality as honesty; and he dreamed of a roomful of advertisers listening in sodden silence to his own grandiloquent announcement, "Gentlemen: honesty is the best policy," while, in a corner, McGuire Ellis and Max Veltman clasped each other in an apoplectic agony of laughter.

On the following day the blatant cocks of the shrill "Clarion" stood guard at either end of the paper's new golden text.

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