News in 20th Century America; 12; Syndicated Column
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting services underground in aid from the Educational Television 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 the men and women who make news their business. I think the specialized columnist performs a great function and I think the specialized columnist in the technical field such as military high diplomacy economics performs and even more particular service because these are not fields that you can go out of a corner store and get a book and learn in a hurry. The voices that have Sylvia Porter whose column on economic matters is carried by newspapers throughout the United States today in addition to
Miss Porter you will hear from columnists Drew Pearson and Doris fleece and Marcus Childs and Roscoe Drummond as well as from Frank Angelo managing editor of The Detroit Free Press. All on the subject of the syndicated columnist. Today's edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host Ed Burroughs The columnist occupies a unique place in American journalism the written comments of a dozen or so leading columnist saw syndicated. That is they appear regularly week by week or day by day in newspapers coast to coast. Well their problems are similar. Each columnist differs from his fellow columnist in many important respects. In this program in the next we will examine the differences and similarities and the unique problems of the columnist. Is the columnist a rather recent and distinctive development in American journalism.
We began by asking this question of Drew Pearson. Actually the columnist came into being in the early part of the Roosevelt administration and in fact the closing days of the Hoover administration when there was a lot of news which was not being written out of Washington and during Hoover's day. And at that time Bob Allen and I started our column poem out and started a column to write the news which was not being written. Now that was a reporter's job we were not interprete in the news but we were reporting the news. Since that time a lot of other columnists have come along who are more interpreters and editorialize ors. I still claim and I hope it's true that we are reporting the news in my column because we dig up a lot of information and particularly And unfortunately corruption and inefficiency in
government which other newspaper men don't report. That is not interpretation that's reporting. Did the columnist arise first on the Washington scene. Well not entirely because in the old days there was odd MacIntyre Oh MacIntyre who interpreted New York. It was Walter Winchell who interpreted New York in the calmest as a sort of a future columnist he would win again. Phillips all started in New York and Walter Lippmann started in New York. But the columnist has moved to Washington as. The nation became more interested in national and political and Washington events. Drew Pearson makes the point that there are two types of columnists roughly grouped as interpreters and reporters. Why should there be a need for the reporter columnist donas Friesen Washington political columnist has an answer to this as well as their own definition of the columnist and his responsibility.
I think that the column was an eval. CARLSON The fact that. Newspapers tend to be fewer in number and. To maintain smaller staffs of specialists as the competition decreased between individual newspapers within the city and the column is an effort to lend personality to the newspaper which it began to lack as competition within the individual cities began to receive course Collum has the weakness that it intends that it. Over the country as a whole you tend to read the same column set in the city. I don't think there's any substitute for a newspaper maintaining its own excellent individual staff. I do think that columnists who are not dependent upon any one set of issues or
localities or any one editor tend to take. A more diversified and perhaps. Larger point of view about things they perhaps tend to be more independent and more aggressive in their thinking I think they should at least of course the columnist does what I call interpretive news reporting. That is you take today's event. And against a background of yesterday try to relate it to what you think will happen tomorrow. But that gap has been closing between the columnist and the newspaper reporter. In part due to the fact that radio. And to a degree television monopolize the headline news. After all by the time a man reaches for a newspaper he's perhaps already heard the headline news that the president has made a speech on the Colombo Plan. He knows that he doesn't have to be told again what he needs to learn is what. What did he really say in the speech what does it mean how much will it cost what will he ask Congress to do what chance
is there of it succeeding What is the reaction of other nations to it. Why did the president feel obliged to promise aid to the underdeveloped countries represented in the Colombo Plan and so on he needs back when he needs an explanation of why it seemed worthwhile for the president to go to Seattle make this speech and the news columns increasingly tend to give it to him. And I think it's the calmest sort of help to spur that development I think it would have been inevitable in the presence of really on television anyway. But I think that's something that the newspaper today do more than rather than less. Why do newspaper readers read columns. Do they pay more attention to columnists than to the regular news stories. Syndicated columnist Mark was trials interviewed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offices in Washington took a quite realistic position on these questions. In the first place I think you have to face the fact that the newspaper the newspaper reading habit of the habits of the public are apparently very lazy habits.
I'm afraid they don't read very much news of any kind. One reason may be because a great many papers newspapers print so little new is actual hard news. Perhaps the answer to your question is if they want to get in the simplist boiled down form what the news is and how it is you would buy a particular interpreter. I think personality has something to do with it. Take someone who has long since passed from the scene take Heywood Broun while his column had a lot of opinion in it it was also a very lively interpretive column that was a very good reading. So I think Agreed there are a great many factors that enter into but to perhaps the habit or the desire to get the new simply in a sense in capsule form may have a lot to do with. What does this mean we asked Mr. trials that if newspapers could give adequate
coverage to an interpretation of the news the columnist would become obsolete. Well it may be what I'm saying. Certainly the news columnist is in a sense a supplement to the news in the newspaper. I don't want to do away business desire my living by it. But there may be something to this. The New York Times as you know runs only two writers who could be classified as columnists. They also run the greatest value of new of any newspaper in the country. I don't know. I would guess it might be any newspaper in the world. So be a porter whose syndicated column on economic affairs originates in New York gave us an interesting answer to this question of reader interest. We hazarded the guess that columns were read in their entirety more often than the news stories on which they were based. When this is so it is the highest tribute that can be paid to the
newspaper columnist syndicated or otherwise. And a reason why when it is so editors of course it explains why I am syndicated The way I am. The newspapers aren't giving me the space because I haven't anything else to fill with it when it is so it is because that columnist is explaining an event a development a news quick news story in a way that the reader comes away from this is now I understand what it's all about. Now I will guarantee you that in. A vast majority of cases and major page one news story on an economic angle will be as you have just said read only superficially. And if it's a very long story very few readers will get down to the end of it and won't break break the page to readable length but they will read an explanation of that event. If it's not too long and if it is simply put and if it is assumed as I said
earlier that the individual is intelligent but not necessarily highly expert in the field. I myself run from my front page story on a new international crisis I use the word crisis because that's all we seem to have to as a columnist who I respect in the field of international affairs to read what that columnist tells me this is all about. Otherwise many of these names that I hear that a sudden new outbreak occurs and they are new names to me. And although I know they exist the spots on the map the reason why we are at a brink off a Brink is not clear to me. Still some columnist for whom I have respect tells me why we are either on a prig or off the brink. Frank Angelo is managing editor of The Detroit Free Press starting as a copy boy with the Detroit News. Mr. Angelo served for a time as a foreign correspondent for The Chicago Daily News Service. He has worked on the free press as makeup
editor woman's editor feature editor. What opinions did he have about reader interest in the syndicated columns printed in his newspaper. I would say that that question I would answer it this way. Some of the top columnists and I would include in that group person for example a wife we know is quite well read. So give Porter the ol sob Joe Alsop among the three top. I rad better than most people reading most news stories. That may sound complicated but the point is that in general we find that the level of rigor or interest of major news stories
is not as high as we would like to see it. Whether that's on page one or inside and and also whether we make a very hard effort to present these stories in an interesting fashion. By that I mean and use of makeup techniques and etc. we find that that the level of interest on our list is pretty consistent and I would say roughly that about 40 percent. I have our readership is interested and some of those columns columnists in my mansion on a fairly regular basis. What do you think we asked Mr. Angelo that people read columnists because of the
attraction of the name or because they are getting more coverage of the news in depth and more interpretation than is contained in the regular news story. My feeling on that is that people read columnists essential way for the name. As soon as as soon as a particular columnist has a refutation or builds a reputation you find that people well. Move to that calmness. I drew person for example what I thought of as the publicity and all of the spotlight that has put been put on them attracts a tremendous number of readers. Essentially because he's good person and you find it interesting we honored that people are just handsome and
dedicated readers of yours and if you so much as touch a word in his column may think that you're trying to chop him down. Other readers of the person I'm sure who's rated will read him because ain't that why they he makes them so man I mean hey there's sort of a reverse English on the thing they say they know that they just Gatorade to see how far you'll go as some as some people put it and but I think that basically the reputation is very and for. With greater coverage and depth by the individual newspaper do away with the syndicated columnist. We were interested to have our opinion confirmed by a newspaper editor. I would agree completely with you. Yes if every newspaper in this country but afford to have a staff as big
as the New York Times to cover all the things that happen in the world the way the New York Times does there would be no columnist there would be no need. There's no question of it. People would rather read a local story and Evan and I would include as a local story a story written by a local reporter with whom they are acquainted. I buyouts and the story could be about something that happened in India but it still has sort of the local flavor because Joe Smith reporter only know wrote it and that story will have much greater readership generally speaking I would say than even some of the columns. But we get to the economic factor that all our papers can't afford to have that shows that size
staff. So the next best thing to do is to have enough facts. A group of men who are specialists or who are who have earned it. Detentions have been fairly interesting and informative commentators and you provide their reports to the readers just as you do for example stories that are written by a correspondent for The Associated Press Saddam for a line or someplace else. It's obvious from the remarks of Mr. Angelo that syndicated columnists will serve a valuable purpose on the American journalistic scene for a long time to come. But the work of columnists has had a great influence however on individual newspaper coverage in recent years is a point brought out by Roscoe Drummond New York Herald Tribune syndicated columnist stationed in Washington. We asked Mr. Drummond first what steps led to his becoming a columnist.
I've been writing a column for approximately. 13 to 12 or 13 years I started a column called The State of the nation in the Christian Science Monitor which was a page one column out of Washington in 1946 and wrote that continuously until I went with the Herald Tribune in 1953. And I've been writing the this column called Washington for the Herald for building and its syndicate since 1953. I came to Washington because my newspaper sent me here although it was a most agreeable assignment. I think Washington is the last news capital of the world. And. And at that time I was chief of the Washington bureau of The Christian Science Monitor and in many ways experience on the monitor is a useful preparation for writing a column because
the martyrs horrible news file certainly out of Washington is an interpretive analytical new files more than spot news primarily because such a large percentage of the readers of the Monitor get the paper anywhere from a day to a week after you print it so that unless the content of monitor news is analytical and interpretive it is highly readable. Mr Drummond went on to explain what he believed to be the unique role of the columnist and the different methods employed by individual columnists. But I would say that the the the growth. And the wider acceptance of calmness itself. Represents. One of the reasons why you could say that more newspapers are going into the area of interpretive news. But for Temple. My prime objective and there are other different kinds of columns and I this is done I've used this phrase before to describe
what I for one try to do and that is my aim is to relate. Yesterday's fact. To today's events to produce tomorrow's me. Now that involves judgment. It involves the assembly of a person and information. It's an effort to acquire and convey inside. But the primary purpose of that. That column is not to say whether in a vent is good or bad whether I like you or whether I don't like it but it is rather to say what it adds up to where it heads what it means to the average reader now. In any such column there is bound to be opinion and I for one make an effort. To identify. Opinion and to differentiate and make it visible to the reader. When I am laying out the basic facts and when I'm expressing a judgement with respect to those facts. One more thought by me and that is that many people think of the word I or I think as being at the testicles.
Whether I'm right or wrong I think is a phrase that bespeaks modesty because when I say I think. I'm not saying this is the only thing to think I am saying to the reader. This is opinion. Now there are other kinds of columns like one let alone for example who only introduces a fact in order to expound and fortify an opinion. Laura Lippman writes great and useful and perceptive insight. But in the main he writes holy opinion. And. Does not devote himself primarily to exposition. That was Roscoe Drummond. What did Marcus trials feel about this problem of opinion versus analysis in the writing of columns. Well the question of the writing of columnists in their coverage of the new was get down to the effort of many columnists and I certainly put myself in this category to interpret the news or to try to tell what the news means.
Now of course there are columnists who are rely almost entirely on opinion who express their opinions. This is another category I am talking about columnists who undertake to interpret the news and occasionally to interpose their own opinions. I would compare this type of column writing to the kind of thing that Deborah morrow does on radio and on television when he says in the opinion of this observer this is a warning that interpretation is coming to an end and you're getting the opinion of the individual speaking or writing. I think this is a very important form of reporting for newspapers today you know I'm quite frank to admit that I speak ex-parte because it's my business and because I think that this is an important form of newspaper work today. But that is my considered view. In what ways does the columnist achieve the proper training and background to qualify as a
responsible interpreter of news. Particularly when the news is becoming more complex day by day. Political Reporter Doris Friesen on that subject. The most gifted writer in the world who doesn't really understand why politicians behave the way they do or doesn't understand the politics of the individual states is a loss they're writing superficially and shallow and I don't care how brilliant it is. It's very apt to be irrelevant. There's no depth. In it. And the only way to achieve a depth in reporting and I don't believe that interpretive reporting is is has any value at all unless it has real depth is really to know. The experience I had that was perhaps more valuable than any other. Was that Franklin Roosevelt. Traveled this country incessantly north south east and west. He was always on the road.
And. At it during those years I traveled as a reporter covering his activities. And it took me into every state and not once but a number of times. And. To me. The senator from the state is not just the name that appears on a Senate roll call he's the interests the policies the industries the agricultural and economic and social problems of that state. It's my only claim to being a columnist actually is that my experience is not confined to Washington. I own more of what I know. Aside from Washington outside of Washington. But I also really don't worship into the. Complexity of modern life has created the need for more specialists in all fields of human endeavor journalism is no exception. Sylvia Porter's column can be described as a specialized column. It deals
with only one phase of our domestic scene and a sufficiently broad and complex phase in itself economics. What in Miss Porter's opinion is the importance of specialization. Increasingly important. There has been a recognition ever since the start of World War 2 when the Military Analyst became came into his own and her own because we were all hearing of countries and places that unless we were devoted to a geography book and started our atlases all the time we were most ignorant about and so the specialist came in in that field. In the case of the specialist in my own field I feel that I am performing a a service in that I am taking a specialized background in addition to a general newspaper reporters background. I don't post anything you know but with less knowledge and
taking the specialized knowledge and because of it being able to say to a reader my faceless image I go back this is what this means and the specifics of it from the IT within the framework of my own special knowledge of it. I think the specialized columnist performs a great function. And I think they specialize commonness in the technical field such as military high diplomacy economics performs and even more particular service because these are not fields that you can go to a corner store and get a book and learn in a hurry. The I suppose the same thing could be said also about a left wing economist because they are too much a specialized field in these days of tonight or that knowledge of psychiatry and all kinds of subjects which also take many many years of graduate study. Next week we continue this discussion of the columnist with particular reference to
public pressures on the writer and his publishers and the overall effects of syndication on the writing of columns. You have been listening to the syndicated columnist one of a series of programs on news in 20th century America. In this series we explore all facets of the gathering writing and dissemination of news in this country today by means of recorded interviews with leading news men and women. Heard on today's program we're Drew Pearson. Sylvia Porter Doris Felice and Mark was Charles Roscoe Drummond and Frank Angelo. Interviewers for the series are Glen Phillips and Ed Burroughs consulted on today's program was Professor Kenneth Stewart of the University of Michigan Department of journalism news in 20th century America is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant in aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center
- News in 20th Century America
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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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