News in 20th Century America; 5; The Wire Services
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant in aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters news in 20th century America. A series of radio documents on the gathering writing and dissemination of news compiled from interviews with men and women who make news their business. I. Think that it's. Patently simple that there is no place and no thing going on in the world today that we do not need to have accurate information about. When our town is twenty two minutes from the launching pad of a Russian ICBM. The. Problem for these operations is that the Associated Press or the United Press or writers. Find that their operations are enormously expensive. And so as a result of this they not only gather news
abroad for American readers but they gather American news and news in country X and distributed to the newspapers in country X. This means that INS in say India. One Press Association may have a fairly adequate report. This is because they can afford it because they have a number of Indian newspapers who are their clients. Another press service may have a very inadequate Indian report. Because they have no clients in India. And therefore they do not have the revenue coming from India to justify it. This results in a rather spotty coverage of the world's news. The voice is that of William Stephens editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune one of the people whom you will hear today speaking about the wire services. On this edition of News and 20th century America.
And now here is your host Glenn Philips the prime objective for the Press Association is to provide the American people on the local level with the factual news about any event in the world. To do this there are maintained huge staffs and a million miles of cable to every point on the globe from whence the news flows into the offices of the Associated Press United Press International the north america newspaper Alliance the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service and many others. The two major service is the AP and the UPI alone supply daily coverage to 13000 outlets including newspapers radio television stations news magazines schools of journalism and some private organization. Why have wire services assume such an important role in the field of journalism. Frank Stossel general manager of the Associated Press answered this by delving into the original reason. There had been experience by many of these publishers
with dependence upon a purely commercial organisation controlled by individuals whose primary objectives at least were other than necessarily providing an unbiased objective news report. At the very best there was inherent in the arrangement a grave danger that these individuals could control or manipulate the news for their own benefit. Therefore the publishers joined together in the Associated Press and submerged their own personal or editorial policies into an organization dedicated to honest reporting. They did not change their editorial policies of course. It's fair to say that no 5 percent of the members of the
Associated Press originally or even today could conceivably agree on any large number of major issues confronting the country. They were able to agree however on the principle that the news columns should be devoid of editorial slant or of editorial opinion and therefore they wanted a news organization which was directly under their control and. Under their control collectively which would operate on there was fundamental principle unless it is man. To this day. Just what is the job of a presence and how does it obtain its huge coverage. You obtain news coverage by having people in the right places having arrangements made
for transmission and distribution of the news by having alliances perhaps with other news gatherers as sensually. It is a human enterprise. It is a professional job and the professional newsman must have an intimate knowledge of the immediate event and of the background of the immediate event may be relatively meaningless or even misleading unless it is properly backgrounded and put into the proper perspective. That is the real job of the newsman. A difficult task particularly in times such as leaks when we have highly complex issues often issues
with a highly emotional content. Mr. Starr's OHL has mentioned alliances with other news gatherers. We ask him how this was accomplished we have an exchange arrangement with. A number of agencies abroad. It is known as the home and home arrangement. For example the Press Association of London is the newsgathering instrumentality of the newspapers of the United Kingdom as we receive the Press Association report in London and in time a representative of the Press Association through the right or agency receives our domestic news report in New York. We do not exchange world news reports only domestic.
We have similar alliances in a number of other countries. We depend upon our allies for what we regard as routine for official documents. For market data. And that type of relatively noncontroversial matter. Many times there may be only one man covering a story for a news agency and there arise problems of getting the whole story. Howard K. Smith CBS Washington reporter and himself or European correspondent for 20 years gave us these observations on the wire services. I think most foreign correspondents have some tie to some wire service. It's essential. One man simply cannot cover the ground that a large organization can. But he does his own reporting and I think he does a very conscientious job of it in general. For example at a big conference like the Geneva conference there will be four or five press
conferences after every meeting of the big men. It will be a Russian press conference to be a british an American a French press conference. Well if I'm working for CBS I'm probably alone. And so I have to just pick up the one I think I can get most out of. But I cannot neglect what the others have done. So I have to have some tied to the AP the UPI or Reuters or someone to find out what they've been writing. And it's and it's a necessary supplement. Mr Stevens said in his opening remarks that there wasn't any event in the world about which we didn't need accurate information. The question often arises as to whether this information should be only the factual straight objective reporting or should be expanded to include the interpretive commentary type writing. Again Mr. Starr's own that is man the man behind the wire services. Ever since World War Two and perhaps even earlier but particularly in the last 20 years
for the expansion of that sort of writing is not necessarily mean longer writing because the competition for public time is more intense than ever due to various factors. The public reading time is presumed to be reduced. Unfortunate if true but perhaps true. What is needed today is. Up the line think peace or necessarily a comprehensive analytical dispatch. What is needed is an expert touch which takes. Sometimes only in a few words a phrase or a sentence and in the proper place and dispatch and makes that dispatch intelligent and meaningful to the reader
it is the business of answering the logical questions that arise in the readers or listeners mind can't always answer but at least you can give him or her the benefit of the available information on the subject. Pregnant and. Explanatory objectivity is there really a true objective record at any time. The problem of distance rewrite human error. All have an important bearing on this question. Mr. Starr's all supplied this answer when asked directly if there could be such a thing as a true objective report. If the question were that there is absolute objectivity. I would have to agree that it cannot be achieved any more than
absolute perfection can be achieved in any profession or any human activity. Perhaps when we achieve perpetual motion we can achieve. Absolute objectivity. But and I think that there is a direct parallel where we achieve objectivity in the sense at least that we endeavor and I think succeed in large measure making a fair and honest breeze and Taisha from which any interested reader or listener can draw. Fire and reasonable conclusions. Attempts can be made by the wire service personnel. The final result can only be judged However by the recipients of those results to find out whether or not the wire services were actually doing the best job they could.
Whether more interpretive reporting was needed or wanted what more could be done. We talked with many men throughout the country in radio television news department and in newspaper offices. These were their answers. First Mr. Wallace limo of the Milwaukee Journal. Yes I think generally we get pretty adequate coverage although we have two others that we cherish. We have a New York Times as American is very different quite a bit American. But I was out of that I would say for for the average pay for the service and do a pretty good job up to this point I think it's been quite a week action and the possibilities of where news coverage and some of your guy has happened to you Pete. I saw him get at the Donald of the Des Moines Register tribute. There is considerably more interpretation. And they. Are service reports now than there was a few years ago.
And in general I think that's been a good thing. But I think it's rather difficult for the wire services to move any faster than they have been moving on that field. I think that something in the individual papers will have to do more out of the wire services have as their primary responsibility for the coverage of the. Important day to day developments abroad. Now they say they can do. A considerable amount of explanation of the meaning of the use of outside as they're reporting them but. It's difficult for them to do that. I'm also deeply into the interpretive or explanatory type of writing.
Dave Milstein of KLIF Radio News in Dallas Texas. I don't think they are. Again I say I don't think that anyone is doing the best job. I think they are faced with a saleable product and the wire services are trying to meet the demand. A recent Associated Press study for instance pointed out that they were more or less caught with the demands of two divergent groups of clients those who wanted news in depth. Those who wanted short items many short items and that someday soon they were going to have to resolve it apparently one way or the other. Bob gamble of W.K. of television in Oklahoma City. If they're not it's because the television in the broadcast stations don't want them to because war policy of both wires is determined in the last analysis by the membership. If the radio stations and television stations don't get the kind of
service they want the wire service will change it to conform. Howard K. Smith in Washington once again. Well it is a matter of fact the Press Association to do supply analyses and they are rather good. A man like Hightower the Associated Press and some of the other analysts on the Associated Press do a very good job of informing the American people so it's available if they want to print basal Walters who is chief of The Chicago Daily News Foreign Service and also editor of that paper compares his service to the two major services that wire covers 13000 miles a day. And the editors receiving that wire are using it more intelligently than I've ever seen them use it before. No this foreign service is unique in that it does not compete with the AP or the UPC we get the AP and the UPI here the same US most of our
client papers do. But we specialize in background news and telling the why a Frank editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal here I think is an area where we can improve. Here is an area where I think the wire service is good. Give the reader a little more background. As an aside I think there's too much assumption on the part of the wire services that the reader read yesterday's paper therefore I know it's the advents that transpired and is ready for the weather report today. I think they should be more attention paid to background if you want to call it that on any developing story right. And then I believe that there should be more of a professional pride.
What are the problems a y o service is likely to be confronted with this form of background analysis were started on the wide basis. Robert Stirling Washington radio bureau manager for the UPI answered. I think the best way to answer it is that a wire service reporter. Has drilled into him from the time he comes to the company. That he is not there to take sides. He writes what people say. If it's a particularly controversial question. He goes to the other side and ask their comments to bounce the story out. We've got to remember that a wire service sells its news. To every conceivable type of paper. We may serve to pass the Russian news agency. We may serve thee a conservative paper like The New York Times our copy is identical for both we can't slant it.
For one or the other. All we can do is report the facts what people say what things are happening. We can interpret or take sides or even imply that a congressman is all wet when he says something or. A politician isn't telling the truth all we can do is report what he says. Let's say you had a mythical administration and they obviously pulled a blue book. And some kind of foreign policy issue. And under. The wire service would write a commentary. Denouncing the administration for its move. Now. I don't think it's the job of UPI. To denounce anybody for anything. We can quote. The opposition congressman has been asking them for the book. We can write factually what the administration did and some of the criticism being voiced but it still isn't our. Position because you've got to remember we serve
only over 2000 radio stations in the United States alone. Some of them are owned by Democrats some are more than with by Republicans some are conservative some of them are labor favorable towards labor. They have every shade of political opinion and economic pain. The minute we start taking sides on any controversial issue we alienate a certain chunk of the people buying news from us and I don't think we can get into the business of editorializing. Whether or not wire services can or will supply more interpretation and analysis of the news or whether there is a need for it must then for knowledge remain unanswered. The question is still are the wire services supplying enough factual news to their clients and through them to the public. This question is first answered by Mr. Starr's own. You know almost any city or town you can get knows at almost any hour of the day or night that you wish.
That is in the form usually of a news somebody. And newspapers no longer issue extras when there are extraordinary news developments. He never issued extras because it was a great profit and it is a public service. Losing on my way of getting information to the public quickly. They seems to show extras because radio and television can do it much faster. Without. Their art. I am of course must be aware that the raw breaking news the bulletin on some event. Will be of no news to most of his readers by the time newspapers delivered. That is not to say that the public need on that particular news event has been
satisfied. Big public is still interested in a broader present Taisha. And the average radio or television news program gives the broadcast media feel a need to a certain extent in commentary. And do very well. But the newspaper still has an even brighter feel partly because of the more prominent character the printed word than newspaper. Reporting has greatly increased in depth I might say in the process and stature in not being satisfied with the bare facts but putting those into the framework into the context of the entire situation explaining what it means explaining the background
and sometimes by simply thereby forecasting the future. So they the news break product has become my judge a more intelligent one. Now an opinion from a newspaper man. Here is William Stephens executive editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune with his views on the subject. The. Problem for these operations is that the Associated Press or the United Press or writers. Find that their operations are enormously expensive. And so as a result of this they not only gather news abroad for American readers but they gather American news and news in country X and distribute it to the newspapers in country X. This means that in in say India. One Press Association may have a fairly adequate report.
This is because they can afford it because they have a number of Indian newspapers who are their clients. Another press service may have a very inadequate Indian report. Because they have no clients in India. And therefore they do not have the revenue coming from India to justify it. This results in a rather spotty coverage of the world's news. It isn't as even or is equal. And it isn't pushed exclusively with the idea of informing the American newspaper reader. And I think there's any deficiency in the covering of foreign news that falls into this kind of a pattern. How for example you find that the press services all have very large staffs in Japan. Once a couple of years ago when I was in Japan however. 10 men from one of the press services were all tied up covering the international table tennis tournament.
Now this was because this service also had a great many customers all through South America where Table tennis is a very hot sport. And they want to know what was happening in the table international table tennis tournament in Tokyo. If the fellows playing had been from Minneapolis we would have understood this completely. But as it was. The Japanese Parliament could practically have fallen apart that week and short of abandoning the coverage of the table tennis tournament this press service would not have been giving the news of a Japanese political crisis to American readers in perhaps the way it should. At the same time you see we have only one only one out of the three major press services has a man inside of communist China. Now this is a startling thing here a quarter of the world's peoples. And there is one English speaking Press Association reporter there and he is with writers. And writers service is generally not
available to most American newspapers because they don't buy it. Neither the Associated Press know the United Press can get a man into Red China. This is a matter of national policy. And as far as I am concerned it is a matter of very great stupidity because we should know. What is going on in every part of the world. By the same token you will find that there are many countries in Southeast Asia. Countries like those mentioned in this searing book The Ugly American. Where we have no I say no American trained reporters. Now it is true that the press services do have nationals in these countries who gather news. But I submit that you cannot write for American newspapers without knowing what American journalistic traditions really are. And I
think it is of vital importance that the quality of the press services be improved all the way around the world. You just don't realize what tremendous distances are involved in these kinds of things. Now there may not be more than. Two good stories a year out of Saudi Arabia but the nearest American trained newspaper correspondent. To Saudi Arabia today would be in Cairo or Beirut. And I can't tell you offhand how far that is but it's fifteen hundred or eighteen hundred miles and you still have to get a Saudi Arabian visa to get into Saudi Arabia if you're in Cairo or Beirut and that is not easy. So therefore you find that here is a country. Arabia which is half the size of the continental United States. And shore most of it is desert. But the third world war could start there too.
We can see then that even with a million miles of cable there are still areas of the earth from which we do not have adequate information. If the warning of Mr. Stevens is heeded. It will be the job of every American. To see that we are informed understandably and properly. This then is one of the challenges that confronts the wire services. You have been listening to the wire services one in a series of programs on news in 20th century America in the series we explore all facets of the gathering writing and dissemination of news in the country today by means of recorded interviews with leading men and women who make news their business the voices heard today were those of William Stevens Frank Starr's old Howard K. Smith. WALLACE lol. Kenneth McDonald Dave Milstein Bob gamble baseball Walters and Robert Serling. Consultant for this program was Professor Kenneth Stewart of the department of journalism
- News in 20th Century America
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- The Wire Services
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- News in 20th Century America is a radio series on the gathering, writing, and dissemination of news. Each episode addresses a specific topic in the news industry, and features interviews with men and women who make news their business. This program is produced by the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-48-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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