News in 20th Century America; 13; Pressures and Problems
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant 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 the men and women who make do their business. The first pressure on a columnist is to decide whether his whole objective is. To have the last and greatest number of papers or whether he has a different professional objective. Another pressure is that he a columnist has got to be interesting and or else he isn't going to appear because whitespace isn't going to be given to him to write something that nobody reads. The voice is that of Roscoe Drummond syndicated columnist speaking on the
variety of pressures exerted on journalists like himself in the day to day routine of writing columns. Today in addition to Mr. Drummond you will hear the columnist Sylvia Porter and Drew Pearson and we will hear from managing editor Frank Angelo of the Detroit Free Press. This program is called the columnist pressures and problems. Today's edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host at Burroughs. Last week we talked about the different kinds of columnists writing in American newspapers today. Our guests in the main agreed that the columnist owes his existence to the fact that most newspapers are unable or unwilling to report the news in depth. And as newspapers become more impressive owe readers feel a need to identify themselves with an individual. The necessity of increasing specialization in the writing of columns was a topic discussed with Sylvia Porter who writes on economic affairs. How does Miss Porter approach this
specialized subject and make it interesting and intelligible to the average reader. Well the way I start is I think first to myself Who are you. This is to myself I say I am a faceless image of the person to whom I am directing this column. I don't have a name for myself as such but I almost think of as Mrs. John Doe on this merry go. I'm writing to her or to Mr. John Doe. MR. Whatever his age bracket is this is a baseless image of an individual. What do I want to know about the subject. I'm not talking about me as two people. That I am discussing I say well what I would like to know. First of all is what's the background of a why are you discussing a subject as for instance right this minute I'm talking about the latest move of the Federal Reserve Board to raise margin requirements which is to cut the amount of credit that you can use when you buy stocks on the cuff.
And I'm taking for granted that this faceless image person wants to know first what our marching requirements. Why should a person which are the Federal Reserve Board our central bank decide now to make it harder for me to buy stocks on credit. Why does Sylvia decide to write this column now. So the my techniques are first of all to place myself in the position of the person to whom I am writing this column. Secondly to imagine what that person would want to know about the subject. And then third I try terribly hard to say it write it in words which I would use if you and I were talking about that subject right now. I purposely avoided. Multi-syllabic words unless they are words which would ordinarily be used in the course of a conversation over a dinner table. I purposely avoid it and I'm very conscious about that jargon.
Sometimes and mostly when I'm talking to these men or in Washington when I'm talking to top my top experts we will go off into the kind of jargon that sports writers use when they're in a I suppose a locker room but which To the outsider is utterly without understanding of why we're going to the locker room I suppose at a baseball game after a baseball game might be lost. So I assume that this jargon is lost. My average reader this is just the beginning of the techniques. After I've written a column once. And I write it very fast the first time I go over it and try to make it as down to earth as I would like to read it. If I were that faceless image of myself. We can assume man we asked Miss Porter that you do not consider your reader in any sense an expert in the field of economics. Depends upon what you how you define the word expert. The studies which had been made indicate that the ignorance in this
field is abysmal and frightening. The average high school graduate has not even been exposed to the words definitions which are constantly used in The Economist. We'll have the latest estimate made by one of the top educational societies of the country was that less than 5 percent. Even the high school graduates of this country have had even one course in economics much less consume. And so I assume that the reader does not know what G and P means which is gross national product the sum total of all the goods and services that this country puts out. So when I say we are now as of right now approaching an economy of 450 billion dollars that is the sum total of all the goods all the services even down to laundry.
Barber to service and to goods such as an automobile. The sum total value of all we produce. I assume that the individual to whom I am writing does not know what GNP gross national product means I assume that this person is not an expert. I assume however that he and she are intelligent people. I assume that they are not only intelligent people I assume also that they are people who will detest and resent being talked down to and who will appreciate. A simple explanation. So the word expert is a difficult one it's an intelligent audience but not necessarily an audience who will not necessarily study the way but an audience who with very few exceptions would not know the jargon and therefore should not be exposed to it. The problem of special jargon is one constantly facing the columnists like Sylvia Porter. But it's a problem any journalist may have to face in reporting events in our complex
society or other not direct pressure is exerted on columnists by readers by advertisers by newspaper editors. Miss Porter Well of course there are how naive of anybody to deny it. There always are pressures there are pressures from on every news in every newspaper except the ideal. There are pressures but what we call the business side and there are always the pressures of newspapers where where there's a strong strong feeling in any particular city on an aspect I for one have been relatively fortunate. But I use the word relatively. I've had the pressures. What are the evidences of such pressures if they exist. Editing by a local newspaper which carries a syndicated column cancellation of a contract
dropping of a column we queried Roscoe Drummond a syndicated columnist with The New York Herald Tribune about this aspect of his writing. Like every other columnist with The New York Herald to be on in the Senate we have a contract. Which. Which stipulates that there shall be no end to. Their columns except. In the matter like. When a column can be withheld and not sent to the syndicate. I'm liable on that reason only it rarely happens. I have not had a single comma changed in anything that I have written. Every subscriber newspaper. Has the right not to use a column. And either has or exercises a right to edit a column in the interests of space. It will be utterly
I'm realistic. To. Try to preclude that. At the same time I've watched. My own material appear in. Different newspapers and I am not conscious. Of any instance when I saw. That editing for purposes of space had an ulterior objective to change the substance of what I was trying to say. Now as to pressure. I think that there is very little conscious if any conscious pressure on the syndicated columnist. There undoubtedly is unconscious pressure because a columnist. Isn't writing for anybody if he doesn't get into print. Therefore. The first pressure on a columnist is to decide whether his whole
objective is. To amass a greatest number of papers or whether he has a different professional objective. Another pressure is that a columnist has got to be interesting and it or else he isn't going to appear because white space isn't going to be given to him to write something that nobody reads. So that in the selection of what you are the subjects that I write on I do weigh the factor of reader interest. At the same time I endeavor to bring to that. Desire to make what is important and significant interesting so that I can meet the legitimate test of reader interest and still deal with with. The most important events. No. I suppose implicit in your question is whether I feel or other columnists
feel. The fact. That 80 percent of our newspapers are. Probably Republican newspapers. Or whether I feel the fact that many newspapers that carry our columns pursue an editorial policy that may be in conflict with what we're saying. Well. I wouldn't want to deny that that isn't present in one's mind. But in the last analysis I would take. Personal responsibility for the honesty and integrity of what I for one. Write and I also know there is another factor and that is many newspapers you Washington columns to guarantee to their readers a balanced. Interpretation of what is going on. So you know that you have the desire of many
newspapers to use an individual's column for purposes of balance. Well that's the best answer I can give. That was Roscoe Drummond's answer to the question of pressures. We asked Washington columnist Drew Pearson about his experiences along this line. Was it true for instance that a column would be dropped from a newspaper under sufficient pressure from an outside source. Oh yes yes I have but I would leave it to the readers of any newspaper to decide whether they want a column or not. I never worry about that. If my if if it's left to my readers then I don't worry. Take your Michigan newspaper the other day your daily recently dropped my column. But they did not publish it for some time so they didn't give any chance to read the reaction. If they had been publishing it for years and my understanding when I visited Michigan was that it had a very high readership
in the student body. But this fall the new management came along and made a unilateral decision on their own. Not to publish it. And when that happens then there is no freedom of choice. And the newspaper columnist is just out of luck he bows to the decision of one man but when there is publication and there's a chance for the reading public to decide then no columnist has any gripe. Let the reading public decide says Drew Pearson. But the problem may be complicated by a number of local factors. How does a big city newspaper which carry a syndicated columnist every day handled the problem of editing or dropping columns. Frank Angelo managing editor of The Detroit Free Press had a ready answer. How often does this situation arise on his paper and for what reasons. Cried Frank way it happens quite often on the free
press. And I'm I can speak for the free press. I think there are two schools of thought on this and one as that is that if I now sign up for our David Lawrence writes a column you are in effect committed to running every word that they write. This is done for two reasons big quite candid one that the publisher or editor may feel philosophically that this is proper. The second reason may be that actually there is not enough real manpower to do the job of tight editing I mean being like can of the bottom. My feeling on it is thus that I feel that if you tried big brass or any newspaper
for that matter must retain control of its editorial column and I'm not speaking here in terms of. Of the editorial page as such I'm speaking of the total package of editorial columns news and everything else. I for example would put it this way that. Let's say you have Drew first and made it part of his contract that no one was to touch one single word of what he wrote. The Detroit Free Press would not run to the person's column. I feel that. We have to exercise editorial judgment. Let's face it there's columnists everywhere there right isn't a jewel. A lot I'm alright. Ramble all over the place. Quite frankly our job in editing is not essentially.
To get rid of a point of view. Basically is to tighten it up because we have the problem of space. And also we find the problem of maintaining reader interest. That if you add a columnist just ramble on and on and I mean generally speaking people begin to lose interest in what they say. I mean they get a little bit tired. And. Then I would say this to sum it up but my feeling is won that there's no reporter on the Detroit Free Press whose copy is not of. We maintained that ride at any pizza cafe written by any reporter on the Detroit Free Press. I feel the downplaying that that would apply to Droog personnel so I left Monday and Lawrence because of the fact I consider
them as just another type a reporter for The Detroit Free Press. Why there are any pressures exerted on the newspaper we asked Mr. Angelo because of what some columnist may have sent Myatt my best add to that would be less. I've been managing editor of The Friday Free Press for four years. During that time we have received letters and. Actually very few others in terms of the total time maybe an average of one a month in my experience which is not very many letters of people who have been infuriated by what I through person has sad oh what a day of Laurence's sad or. Or when I'll stop as sad for that matter. We are still adding on presenting the columns in the same fashion that we have
been. During the past four years we have. Freshers in the newspaper business. Are many. One I feel because of the fact that our society is getting fairly complex. And. As it does get more complex you get more pressure groups and more associations more people getting together for a cause and so on. Way I honestly tried to be reasonable in our dealings with these people always do feel quite strongly that the press cannot be a great newspaper unless it has a sound editorial policy and then doesn't waver and turn. And boy is pushed in for by pressure groups. This applies I think in the column in syndication for
Economist means that his column may be subscribed to and printed by newspapers anywhere in the United States. What may have started as a report to the citizens of a single city now reaches an audience far more diversified audiences with widely differing points of view political social and economic. Doesn't this have some effect on the attitude of the columnist and on the treatment of his material. Sylvia Porter again. Only to the extent that I am keeping it more national in scope as a result. There are many stories which take place in my own hometown of New York City which if I were just working as I began as a reporter and a commentator only in New York City I would say well this is a perfect column for my readers here. When for instance we have a great big story developing as to whether we should we model downtown New York or whether we should build a new throw away from this place or that place. But
I also remember aware that unless. This is a local story with no national significance. It has a meaning only to those of us who live in this area and therefore I will reluctantly not cover that story. As for the probably the deeper meaning or implication of your question doesn't affect my viewpoint and handling of the story. No I think that ANY the day that any commentator economist whatever you want to call it begins to be afraid of saying something for fear he or she will offend. And be dropped and therefore begins to walk down the middle of a fence in order to avoid antagonizing either side. That day marks the beginning of the end of that particular commentator. And the day that a person gets so scared of preserving the present that the thing that made them good
in the first place which was their courage disappears that day also marks the beginning of the end. And so therefore my answer to you is it's only and and omitting the use of some story the treatment of some stories or in giving it a national twist and going off the local angles that it has affected me. In speaking to Roscoe Drummond we said let's presume that your column is carried by Southern newspapers. If you have to write a story because of its immediacy on the segregation issue are you not affected in the way in which you write that story or by the fact that Southern papers will carry it. Here is his answer. If I may amplify my answer I would risk a one word answer. And say yes it does affect. Not what I write but the way I write. Since I feel that my concern primarily in the integration problem which is very controversial. Yes to. Address
myself to. Readers. Who. Are. Who. I don't merely want to write for the convention readers on one side. I want to address myself to readers on both sides of this question and I try to approach the problem of integration with some understanding of the feelings the sensitivities and the psychology of the South in order that my own position which is one hour of our research our obedience to the. To the Constitution. And I wouldn't be candid if I didn't say that I believe in the moral rightness of the decision of the court. I would like mine. I'd like to present my point of view in a way that will be at least looked at. By those who take a different view. So therefore I would say with candor I do take account.
Of the state of mind of readers on this subject in the way I try to approach this question. But not in. The basic viewpoint which underlies what I say. The basic viewpoint of the columnist does not change says Mr Drummond. Integrity is as important as reportorial or analytical ability. But does a newspaper take into account divergent points of view when buying a column is a columnist selected because of his opinions and because his opinions may balance those of another columnist. Again we turn to Frank Angelo of the Detroit Free Press. At the frey price way they have available to us. And I should have made a more accurate count. But I thought I would say I found 10 columnists come to us. Every day that they write some write three a week some for some savage. I
saw that. But during the course of the week we will have the product of 10 columnists coming to the free press to answer your question I think basically one you have to determine was why did the free press buy these columnists. And quite frankly when we we bought the calmest for two reasons. One. These people have in our back established a reputation for having something to say too. We were not unaware that some of them represent the Virgin point of view. The threat we feel that a paper like the free press does a service to the community when it does present various points of view. Now I. Bet basically that that that's the that's the point now in the editing. The
day to day editing in the in terms of the columns that we will present to the reader on a given day. Let me cite an example or two. One. We have a Berlin Crisis automatically practically all of the columnists in the country turn their attention to the Berlin crisis with the possible exception of Iran as Rob or Sylvia Porter. But frankly all other commentators will turn their attention to the Berlin crisis now on a given day. We will try at the peak of interest on the Berlin private world try to preside a round up of opinion from these commentators as they see the crisis. Obviously with as many calmness as we have a lot of them will be pretty much down the same line.
So you drop the two that don't say it to our news the one who says it and fairly interesting or you know in a better fashion let's so that we actual size editorial judgment if that if a particular column seems to be more on the news more timely more more urgent that you still get a profit. But most of all we want to be sure that the counties that we do sell Act are not the columnists repeating himself maybe something saying the same thing over in another way. We do try to get some fresh news we're still basically a newspaper and while it's nice to hear one thing said over and over and over again we would like to sort of. Add something to that news coverage so that
briefly that I think would give you my feeling on how this is. As long as newspapers print so little actual hard news Mark was childs told us earlier there will be a demand for columnists. Moreover the syndicated columnists other professional journalists of the 20th century. They are the modern equivalent of the influential editors of the 19th century the Greeley's Bennett's Watterson's Raymond Clapper once said As a matter of public interest newspaper readers like to know what the man close to the story actually thinks about it. It helps him to form his opinion if he knows what the ringside observer thinks. You have been listening to the columnist pressures and problems another in a series of programs 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 interviewers for the series are Glenn Philips and at Burroughs a consultant on today's
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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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