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put its funds to better uses; but for current expenses and capital purposes the men in the Scripps-Howard group supply all the money.
At the beginning of 1927 there were more than twelve hundred editors, reporters, copy-readers, advertising men, compositors and other employees as stockholders in ScrippsHoward investment companies. They owned shares with an approximate value of five million and an actual value of half as much again. The United Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association (the feature service) are operated quite independent of the papers, and the editor-in-chief of the "chain" has no jurisdiction over them and no connection with them. The ScrippsHoward investment companies are pools of stock in various newspapers of the chain, so grouped as to guard against decline in dividends when a single newspaper finds itself in financial difficulties. The plan is that such losses shall be more than offset by the success of other papers in the group. The investment companies do not influence the local policies of the papers, each of which has its distinct list of directors. They serve merely as a device to give employees a stable form of investment, and a share in the profits of the organization.
Shares in the investment companies sell for as little as ten dollars. No employee is urged to buy; no promises are made of fabulous profits. It so happens that six investment companies in all have been organized, and that they have paid dividends ranging as high as thirty-six per cent. The first was organized in 1905. All
have been oversubscribed. They are the most interesting because the most extensive evidence in the American newspaper world of the modern trend toward employee-partnership in business.
The Scripps papers have improved the standards and the news service in the afternoon field, beyond question; they have supplanted bulletins with compact news coverage, and their competitors have been compelled to follow suit in many instances. They enter with greatest joy that community where other newspapers are lax, and they have vitalized the press in more towns than one. They are the slaves of no journalistic convention. For many years, as an example, there has been a hide-bound conviction that New York newspapers were a thing apart, and that each man must be specially trained on the spot for service as a reporter or executive in Manhattan. When the "Telegram" changed hands, although the members of its old staff remained on the pay-roll, outsiders were brought in as editor, as news editor, city editor, sports editor and as columnist. To veteran New York newspaper men this was an astonishing, a revolutionary move. Yet the "Telegram" was sensibly brighter and livelier by reason of the presence on its staff of men who had not grown blasé, and who brought to the metropolis, a fresh viewpoint, unhampered by traditions.
The why of the Scripps-Howard newspapers should be somewhat clearer by now, but the question of chain ownership remains a little obscure. Granting that each editor has local autonomy, what of financial
overlordship? What of competition? What of the possibility that public opinion may be regimented through these great instruments?
The trend to chain ownership is unmistakable. In the four years, 192327, the number of chains doubled and the number of newspapers so controlled, increased by more than fifty per cent. There is an economic cause for this, and it is not far to seek. Large purchases of the principal raw material, newsprint; the higher executive salaries made possible by group management, and the economies in the production of entertainment features, give to this form of ownership distinct advantages. The advantages apply, it has been estimated, to about forty per cent of the budget. Now that journalism is recognized as a large business enterprise, it is inevitable that newspapers must seek a foundation more secure than the pyrotechnic personality of a Watterson or the eloquence of a Henry W. Grady. They have found security by grounding themselves on economic law.
The economic overlordship involved can be nothing but praiseworthy if the local publisher or editor is freed from the influence, the tyranny of local creditors.
Competition, then? There is Springfield, Massachusetts, where all the dailies are dominated by a single group. But in the case of the Scripps-Howard papers I have not found any instance where competition has been stifled. It cannot be said that in Denver or Knoxville or Indianapolis the community's freedom of expression has been in the least impaired, or as far as I can learn, in any city where a Scripps
Howard paper is published. Indeed, I fancy that these papers would be most unhappy amid the languor of an uncontested field. They thrive on competition. The fear that such growths may choke out all other publications seems, for the present at least, as little founded as was the fear that chain shops would do away with all the small individual shops.
There is standardization mechanically and physically. Chain newspapers must be of the same size and must use pretty much the same technical processes. This is the same kind of standardization that Secretary Hoover is putting into effect in the Department of Commerce.
In the Scripps-Howard group we have this picture: The dominating influence is editorial, as it should be, and the business office is subordinate; such private interests as might call for the coloring of news are eliminated; financial stability and independence are secured by reductions in the cost of management and editorial content; there is local autonomy and a fighting spirit. These are a heritage from Old Man Scripps. And it is plain that under the present management the legacy is not being dissipated. In the four years, 192024, the chain increased its business one hundred and fifty per cent, and its circulation since 1920 has risen from eight hundred thousand to more than two and a half millions. Plain speaking and hard hitting have cost dearly in particular places and at particular times, but in the long run they have made headway. Accuracy in news, liberalism without fanaticism and tolerance and independence in day-to-day journalism, appear to pay dividends.
The Picturesque Career of the Man Who Made Him
JOSEPH VAN RAALTE
OLONEL Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, author of Nick Carter, never achieved the wealth or distinction he merited. His career was a picturesque extreme of wrongheadedness and his death, like his life, was an absurd moral disaster.
Colonel Dey was not the originator of Nick Carter. There had been some desultory detective stories by that name before the Colonel came along. There have been some since. But Dey was Nick Carter.
It was Charles Agnew MacLean, genius of Street & Smith, publishers —a man with a cash register at one end of his soul, balanced at the other extreme by the discriminating vision of an editor-who first suggested to Colonel Dey that he take over the character of Nick Carter and make of it something worth while, in a story a week.
There is as great genius in the assignment as in its execution. No mean attainment is it to be able to fit the rôle to the actor; and if it had not been for Charlie MacLean, there would have been no Nick Carter, as we know him.
Colonel Dey began work on the tales back in 1899, and he lived up to his contract of a yarn a week, with two short intervals, for twenty years.
In all, he wrote 1078 stories, approximating five million words-with Nick Carter in every chapter.
No one but Colonel Dey could have handled the character in just the divinely ordinary way he did, because Nick Carter was Colonel Dey, and there never walked this earth another man quite like him.
He was a capable, refined craftsman-magnetic, brilliant, debonnair, imperturbable, thirsty, unreliable and wholly charming. He was the typical handsome hero of the nineties. He wore a Bret Harte mustache with a modified white Buffalo Bill goatee. A thin damp wisp of hair curled tantalizingly over his high, bulging, shiny forehead. It is difficult to dissociate him from wide, shot-silk sash-belts, chromatic shirts, an English tan box-coat, a gardenia in his lapel-the air distingué.
He hovers with ease and grace on the fringe of memories dealing with the old Hoffman House, the Albemarle on Broadway, Lipton's bar, whisky cocktails, the days of hansom-cabs, lobster palaces, real firstnights-when Childs's restaurants sold butter-cakes, three for a nickeljust about the time Mark Hanna made the startling discovery that this was a "billion-dollar country."
It was in Lipton's one afternoon that the Colonel sat in mellow conversation with Mickey Finn, genial word-juggler. The clinking of ice in crystal and silver made merry music. Fragrant smoke wreaths curled lazily about the heads of the idlers.
"I think a lot o' you, Mickey," sighed the Colonel, slipping down on his shoulder-blades into greater ease, his long thin white futile hands buried deep in his penniless pockets. "I think a lot o' you, too," replied Mickey, "and there isn't anything on earth I wouldn't do for you."
A bar of dusty sunlight piercing the smoke-drift, lighted the faintest hint of a smile that brushed the corners of the Colonel's lips before it was gone.
It was a moment fraught with possibilities.
"Yes," said Finn, after brief consideration that lent greater value to the concession-"anything."
"Well, if that's the case," replied the Colonel, "suppose you buy me a drink!"
That was Colonel Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey.
He hadn't the slightest knowledge of the value of money. He had difficulty in supporting his family. When he had slipped beyond the Last Milestone, his estate was found to consist solely of thousands of paper-back novels-his Nick Carter file that for years had been disintegrating in the dust and dark of storage warehouses.
Money to the Colonel was a temporary convenience rather than a personal possession.
expansion, eight-cylinder variety. On a foundation of fact no larger than the point of a pin, he could erect a fictional skyscraper that made the Woolworth Building look like a flagman's shack at a grade crossing. His fancy was keyed to the final note of the last octave that separates the Land of Topsyturvy from Bedlam.
He lived in what may be described as a "perpetual state of temporary honesty." The whimsical goal was always so real and legitimate to his twisted perception that he never lacked justification for his frequent incursions into the by-paths of dissimulation. Always he was deadcenter in the circle of another existence. His invincible belief in the reality of the unreal was one of the most tragic things imaginable.
It was not his custom to pause for bearings along the course. “Calculation," says Newman, "never made a hero," and in that sense the Colonel may be said to have qualified. Had it not been for his illusions there would have been no standing-room on this earth for his feet; yet, while desperately reckless in impulse, he was always rigidly restrained by what to him was “honor.”
He was given to writing letters that bore the merest suggestion of the Micawber flourish. He remembered dates, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, special occasions.
He had a way of placing his hand on your shoulder, with his head cocked ever so slightly and solicitously inquiring after "mother's health." The rising inflection was his by divine right. You realized, of
His imagination was of the triple- course, that way down in his soul he
didn't give a cold smooth clam about "mother's health"-but that was part of his make-up.
He would have made an excellent salesman in a new territory. It would not have done to send him back over the same ground; but on the first visit he would have been what the vaudeville folk term a "knock-out." Colonel Dey was continually "purchasing" estates and never completing any one of the transactions.
Once he found himself with $200 in his possession-probably all he owned on earth at the time. It never occurred to him to use the money to liquidate his numerous outstanding debts. Instead, he journeyed to the Erie Basin in Brooklyn and after inspecting a number of yachts found his choice resting on a pretentious craft worth somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand dollars. Before coming away he tendered the head of the concern his $200, "to clinch the option, pending the adjustment of certain additional details."
To the vender of yachts that was a new side-light on the aberrations or predilections of millionaires. He tried to laugh off the offer, meeting the Colonel's negligent masterfulness of tone and pose with the hearty assurance that indeed, in a deal of that nature, several hundred dollars as an "evidence of good faith" was entirely uncalled for.
Colonel Dey remained silent for a brief instant during which he lowered his chin, regarding the yacht salesman over his sparkling nose-glasses with all the tigerish ferocity of a field-mouse.
Thus, the whim of the "eccentric plutocrat" was gratified and the $200
changed hands-accepted with the indulgent reluctance of a man taking a half-worn lollypop from the sticky, proffered fist of an insistently generous baby.
It was worth $200 to the old dreamer to be regarded for just those few minutes, as a prospective yacht purchaser; but the incident ended as the long train of similar incidents that made up his life, invariably ended. He attempted a theatrical excellence at every point and all he ever really achieved was a profound simplicity of deception.
The suffering he endured in the periods of temporary moral lucidity that followed his fantastic emotional excesses, must have been overwhelming.
"Conscience," we are told, "is a coward; and those faults it has not strength enough to prevent, it seldom has justice enough to accuse."
But there were occasions when, by himself, old Colonel Dey had a pretty rough time of it. Among his papers, after his death, his friends came across a prayer he had written -not a prayer in prose, but in verse; for even in his occasional lapses into self-debasement, he was unable to resist the impulse to embroider the effort, ever so slightly.
In this prayer he faces his Creator in a series of wistful mea culpa's, pointing to the mountain of his mistakes as the measure of his trust, and pleading for grace to see the light and strength to follow it.
These sporadic recognitions of oblique tendencies, however, were easily surmounted; and the old "somnambulist of an eternal dream" was soon up and away again on his sophomore search for the joy of life,