Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1938
How Editorial Staff of the World’s Greatest Newspaper Works
YOU TRIBUNE readers have been visiting Tribune Tower at the rate of some 35,000 a year. Since the number is something less than that, we may consider the total in eighteen years as being about 600,000. Well, 600,000of you readers have been seeing something of newspaper making.
Yet, ladies and gentlemen, the whole 600,000 of you (and children included) make up only part of the nearly 1,000,000daily readers; and, to make the comparison just a little more important, a smaller part of the 1,200,000 Sunday readers.
What of it? Just this: Even if you have visited the Tower and the plant you may have been curious about some of the things you saw; and if you haven’t been a visitor you ought to know what you are going to see when you do come.
So here it is!
The Tribune’s news room. the principal editorial worklhop. as pictured by a Tribune artist.
The principal editorial workshop of The Tribune is called the news room. There are smaller editorial workshops in various parts of the Tower and the plant. Some of these are the offices of editorial writers and special writers on a host of subjects; and then there are the Sunday department and the Metropolitan Section. But the big movement of news, the daily articulating of thousands of words of information from all over the world, is in the news room.
The news room is 97 feet long and 58 feet wide. It is two stories high. It is flanked on one side by the photographic workrooms. In these rooms are employed 35 cameramen. On the other flank are the telegraph offices—Postal, Western Union, the Chicago Tribune News bureau, the Tribune leased wires, and other special wires to New York and Los Angeles.
It will be interesting, Mr. and Mrs. Tribune Reader, as well as all you little readers, if you will keep in mind the picture of this big room. Remember, if you will, the cameramen on one side and the telegraphers on the other; do this because you are going to see a great deal of movement as photographs begin pouring from one side, telegraphic and cable dispatches from the other.
Let us get back into the middle of the news room. You should be in the middle, since everything is directed from the middle. Here you will see a square desk. Four men are seated at this desk, one on each side. They are the managing editor and his immediate stat. Count them again –
1, Managing Editor
2, City Editor
3, News Editor
4, Night Editor.
You will always see four men, even though holidays and sick leaves may intervene. This is because there is an assistant night editor who takes the place of the absent one.
This desk and its occupants see every printed word before it goes into The Tribune. You may think of this desk as a kind of sieve through which everything passes. Indeed, every process in a newspaper office is a sieve. The news is shaken through this succession of sieves until finally it is considered suitable for publication.
Now, let’s see what these sieves are. You must keep in mind first of all that what is news in one place may not be news in another. You, living in Chicagoland, would not be interested in a heavy rainstorm in Tombstone, Ariz. But you would be interested if it happened in Chicagoland. So the Tombstone storm is sifted out. You must also remember that news keeps on happening—that is, keeps changing. Therefore the sieves must keep up with the changing news. In the afternoon congress may take certain steps in legislasIation, In the evening more steps may be taken. Later in the night more steps. And all of these steps must be followed. The story as it happened in the afternoon has become an entirely different thing at night. All of this requires the most incessant attention.
Consider a crime. In the morning the crime may be reported. In the afternoon the police have caught a criminal. At night another criminal has been arrested, and in the early morning that second criminal has made a complete confession!
See what that involves. Every district of the city is covered throughout the twenty -four hours by police reporters. Every one of those reporters must keep on the alert for every possible change in the story. In the news room the editors must be constantly advised of these changes. And the story, which began as a relatively simple event in the morning, has developed a multiplicity of changes by late night.
Remember also, ladies and gentlemen, that story changes are not the only siftings. Mistakes happen. You have heard of them in the best of families. Well, The Tribune is the best of families, we think, and we try to keep out the mistakes. The editor must eliminate all libelous statements, all overstatements, all bad taste. Sometimes a story has a historical significance. ‘This means that an editor must develop an article which will supply the historical and informative background.
Well, we could run on at this rate for a long time. The point we are trying to make is that editorial training on The Tribune is a long process. The principal news editors have been in training from fifteen to more than twenty years.
Middle of the news room. from which everythinq is directed. The cable desk is in the foreqround. behind which is the center desk of the managing editor and his immediate assistants. then the local copy desk, and finally. in the rear. the day city editor’s desk.
Now let’s take one more glance at that square desk in the center of the news room. It is the most important machine in a room full of machinery. It is interesting because the men you see there have been through most of the battles incident to newspaper life. You will be reading farther on of the day city editor and the telegraph editor, sports editor, and all the other department editors. These are the editors in charge of the. first stages of production.
The managing editor has been through them all. He has been a reporter, a copy reader, and city editor. This same thing is true of the city editor, who began as a City Press reporter and went through the labors of day city editor. The news editor has been a reporter, a copy reader, sports editor; the night editor, too; and his assistant has touched many of the rungs in the ladder reaching to his post.
It is necessary to understand these things in order to know how it is that news, after it originates, flows through channels which are perfectly known to all the men who handle it. News start with a reporter and ends with a managing editor.
And now that you have seen the last sieve, let’s stop and begin where we ought to begin with the production of news as it happens and as it is assembled and written and edited and sent to the printers.
The Tribune is a continuous operation. Its processes are active twenty-four hours a day. Yet we must begin somewhere, so we take up at the point which seems the most normal to normal folks. Normal folks begin work in the morning. And since this is as good a place as any, we shall begin with the work of the day city editor at 8:30 a. m.
Now, you have been looking at two sides of the news room photography and telegraphy. On the third side you will find the day city editor. He is one of the oldest traditions on a morning newspaper.
You must quickly distinguish between the city editor and the day city editor. The city editor, who arrives at 2 p. m., is the master mind, if we may be permitted this pat on the back, of the Chicago news gathering force. The day city editor is the right hand of the city editor.
The day city editor is the man who gets the machinery started and has it all oiled and running so that when the city editor arrives he can be relieved of a thousand details and be free to take over the main movement of the Chicago news.
When the day city editor arrives at 8:30 a. m. he does not find an empty room. This is because, as has been said above, The Tribune is a twenty-fourhour process. So the day city editor sees the departure of the late editor and his staf. We shall not go into that now. It is sufficient for you to remember that the late city editor and his staff are going home to sleep as the day city editor enters the room.
Chief among the troops of the day city editor, if we may use a military simile, are a background of more than 200 editorial people immediately attached to the staf of The Tribune, the communication systems (telephone, wireless, radio, and telegraph), a background of correspondents in hundreds of cities and towns, the morgue, and the future file.
Morgue first: Morgue is the news room argot for reference files. In the steel cabinets of this department are thousands upon thousands of envelopes containing mountains of clippings,’ memoranda, and photographs, and all accurately filed and cross-filed. Almost never a name in the news which is not pursued through the morgue for a record of that name’s past history and the light it may throw upon the news of today.
Left: Locating a particular picture among thousands filed in the reference room-ealled “morgue” in newspaper argot.
Right: In marked contrast to The Tribune’s news room of today is the reporters’ room of forty-one years ago
The future flle: Just a card indexing system into which is placed every future possibility for tomorrow, for next week, next month, next year. Every letter and notation and scrap of information which may have any possible future bearing on any possible event in the future is put in the future file. But future file also means The Tribune every day.
It is high time we get back to the day city editor. The first thing he does is to examine that day and date in the future file. A stack of possibilities emerges. These he unscrambles with the expertness of long experience. He is helped to do this by his immediate staff. This staff is made up of an assistant who registers and keeps informed on assignments to reporters; an assistant who registers and is informed on assignments to cameramen; an assistant who keeps a general eye on officeboys, the telephones, the sorting of City Press bulletins and telegraphic material; and a varying number of rewriters.
The reporters begin arriving. They do not come in one regiment. They come trickling by ones and twos. When they have finished their eight hours they go home. But all through the day and night they are coming and going. This is why it is necessary to have a day city editor and a staf of assistants whose business it is to keep scrupulous records of every reporter, every assignment, the whereabouts of every reporter and cameraman at every moment of the day. Reporters may be scattered all over the city.
An important event may occur with the suddenness of an explosion. The day city editor must know how to reach those reporters and cameramen on the moment and collect them at a given point. He must not only know this, but he must know the capabilities of each man, so that each may be assigned to the kind of news he is best equipped to cover. It wouldn’t be very good journalism to have all the star reporters gathering the secondary information and then discover that the youngest cub reporter was left to write the story of a century.
Now, if you have been watching closely you have seen telegraphic and city bulletins, telephone calls, the memoranda from the morgue, and all the information from the future files assorted and prepared for assignment. The day city editor and his assistants have all read the morning Tribune and the early editions of the afternoon papers and have formed a general opinion of the trend of the news. In addition to this they all have the background of many months and years of experience.
The assignment book begins to take form. This is a loose leaf ledger. The pages contain the typewritten assignments to the reporters. When a reporter has covered his assignment he telephones this fact to the day city desk. If his assignment has resulted in no news he may be given a further assignment. If he is ready to write he may be called back to the news room to prepare his story, or he may be told to telephone the facts to a rewriter, who will write for him so he may take a second assignment.
It is possible for a reporter to remain assigned to one subject, such as a trial in court, for days or weeks. Or he may skip from one to another of a dozen assignments in a single day if in the changing requirements of the day city editor the efforts of the reporter seem more important on each succeeding assignment. A dozen reporters may be needed on one story, and a dozen photographers. Or, because of their constant communication with the day city editor, cameramen and reporters may cover a half dozen assignments each because of the facility with which a section of the city can be covered by automobiles.
There is no rule. The rules are in the day city editor’s head, and they change very frequently. It is his business to keep his eye on the result. The result is an accurately reported news item.
We spoke of more than 200 editorial people. In reality the total of editorial persons is something under 300. But since their interests take them into many fields, there is a grouping of their efforts. There are 83 reporters, young men and young women, who are directly concerned with the assembling of Chicago news. Perhaps we can tell you quickly how they operate.
There are certain avenues of news which don’t change. These avenues are called beats in news room language. The city hall, the county building the federal court building, the state’s attorney’s office, the public schools, the police districts, and some others are the regular beats. Reporters covering these beats become expert. The expert reporter is one who has piled up the assets of acquaintanceship. The city hall reporter knows every official, and so on through the list of beats. A police reporter knows his policemen.
Now, the 200 out of the some 300 editorial people have a more or less direct relation to the movement of the news. You have been hearing about the reporters, the cameramen, the day city editor’s stat, and the method of giving assignments. The next step is easy. Only put yourself in the position of a reporter. Suppose you have been assigned to visit a hotel and have a talk with Senator Jimson. Well, you talk with the senator and dlscover that this or the other is going to happen in congress. You will next telephone to the day city editor and tell him just that.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Tribune Reader-Reporter, you may have a story or you may not. The day city editor will decide. He may decide that Senator Jimson said that same thing two weeks ago, in which event you may get another assignment. If he decides that the senator has said something worth printing he may tell you to hurry to the news room, sit down at a typewriter, and write what Senator Jimson has told you. There you have a simpIe act of reporting. You may multiply the activities thus explained by any number you choose, but the result will be the same.
Suppose the story is a crime involving the actions of a number of persons. There will be a number of reporters and cameramen, each assigned to produce information on a given aspect of the crime. Sometimes this causes a reporter to watch an apartment for days at a time; another reporter will patiently ask the same information of a policeman a dozen times a day to make sure that an event doesn’t hap pen without his knowing it. One Tribune reporter followed a criminal more than 5,000 miles with the most meticulous patience, and got him.
And now, while the reporter has been getting his assignment covered and we have got him sitting at his typewriter, let’s go with the cameraman. His assignment is different only in the sense that while the reporter was getting information the cameraman was getting pictures. The camera, when the photographer is ready to return to the office,may have produced anything from a portrait of a movie star, who was willing to pose beautifully for her likeness, to the scene of a crime or the ugly faces of a band of criminals who did not want to pose but who had to be caught in that split second which cameramen call a speed fiash. Well, he comes back to the news room and instantly disappears into the door leading into the darkrooms. Here the expert developers of plates and films begin their swift and technical efforts.
So you have seen the reporters and cameramen. Now, while their activities were going forward there have been a lot of other movements which you couldn’t have known about. And so we are going to try to bring you up to full possession of the facts in a few swift lines.
All around the clock the reports from the City News Bureau of Chicago have been coming. What’s the City News room like the rush of water out of a hundred fire hydrants; but it is selected by spoonfuls. No reader, no matter how hungry for information, could read the countless duplications, unauthorized assertions, windy and unimportant speeches, and clouds of words affecting trivialities in out-Of-the-wayplaces. The news must be edited. That’s why you have editors.
Now the City Press reports must be sorted; so the items are sent to the reporters who have been assigned to those same events. The reporters, having the best information, will know what to use or discard.
This has been going on since we first brought you into the news room. But now the Associated Press reports are increasing in size, until by noon there is a small mountain of typewritten copy accumulated from the teletype machines. These are simply a kind of typewriter attached to telegraph wires. Instead of an operator listening to the dots’ and dashes, the teletype gets going without an operator and reels off endless yards of news items from every part of the world. All this material must be cut and sorted and delivered to the editorial desks directly concerned.
And all this time the tempo of the news room has been increasing in intensity. More reporters are coming and going; more cameramen are alert; more wires are being thrown open; and more editors are beginning to take their places in the pattern of publication.
Since we have been talking of telegraphic news, we must tell you that the telegraph editor gets into action not so long afternoon. He is confronted by that mountain of special and Associated Press dispatches we told you about a moment ago. He immediately begins by distributing the items among the subeditors. His desk is shaped like a horseshoe. The telegraph editor sits in the inside of this horseshoe, the subeditors about the outside. Thus there is close contact. And now each item is considered for its value to the Chicagoland reader, is carefully edited, and is equipped with a headline. All of these activities require education and experience. Sometimes a subeditor (whom we call a copy reader> may spend hours in the library and reference room and in making telephone calls to verify the facts in a small item. And his ability to write headlines verges upon the poetic. A headline must tell much in little space and also be typographically correct.
Left: Getting the facts over the phone. A rewrite man and a telephone save many precious minutes as the deadline draws near.
Right: A mind·the-tube boy receives a carrier containinq news copy or rolled-up photoqraphs.
And the cable editor; for by 3 o’clock in the afternoon the foreign correspondents of The Tribune are beginning to pour in their discoveries from all over the world. Each one tries to file dispatches which will reach the news room in time for the first edition. But irrespective of whether the cable news comes from the Tribune correspondents, the Associated Press, or other services, it all goes to the cable editor. You have seen the telegraph editor’s horseshoe desk? The cable editor has one just like it; himself on the inside and the cable subeditors (copy readers) on the outside. And the cable editor must have two assistants who are called transcribers, since they transcribe the almost unintelligibly coded cable dispatches into newspaper English. So the cable news comes pouring in, the transcribers transcribe it, and the copy readers read and correct and write headlines for it.
Next the finance desk. It is exactly like the telegraph and cable desks. But to this desk comes the news of business and finance, not only from Chicago but from every business center in the world. In Chicago the reporters for the financial section have been getting the news from the stock market, the Board of Trade, the banks and the brokers and the investment houses; from the railroads, the insurance companies, and the real estate dealers. All of this material comes pouring to the financial desk, to be edited and to receive the proper headlines.
On another side of the news room you will see the society writers. These ladies have been getting letters and telephone calls by the hundreds all day, to say nothing of the calls and visits the y themselves have made. Their news is sent to the editor of the feature pages. He in turn edits and writes the headlines.
And again: Beyond the society writers is the sports department. It seems hardly necessary to remind you of the baseball games, the football games, the boxing tournaments, and all the other hundreds of events in which humanity is interested. Golf alone would make many volumes each year. A rain of scores and sports items is pouring on the sports desk every day and night. If you examine this desk you will find it just like the others-boss copy reader and the subeditors.
Now at last the city desk. This has been kept to the last, since we began with telling you how the city editor works. The time is now well along in the afternoon. The reporters are coming in groups. They pay a short visit to the day city editor, who wants to know all about the story and wants to tell the reporters how much to write. The news room is settling down to a subdued hum of intensive industry.
By 4 o’clock all the desks are in full operation. The telegraph, cable, financial, and sports copy is flowing’ toward the desks we have described. Remember also that we described that square desk in the middle of the room. It is about this square desk that the telegraph, cable, and financial. desks are arranged on three sides. The city desk is the fourth. To this city desk, then, comes the reporters’ copy.
If you will put yourself at this city desk you will discover that you have less than two hours to the deadline. Of course, this is true also of the other desks, but it is worth noting that the east is one hour ahead of Chicago, and also that Chicago is the most important, therefore must be later, since the reporters can hardly come to the office before the principal public avenues of news are closed. And the first deadline is at 5:30 p. m.!
Now the mill is going! There can be no waste motion. The reporters make their fingers fly as fast as they can. The copy readers perspire freely in their strain to read the stories rapidly and get the headlines written. If you think this is a holiday, try putting the essential elements of a two-column article into twenty-four letters!
The rhythm increases. Here comes the war in China. There the news of Washington, the White House, and congress, fillIng three high=speed leased wires. The copy boys are trotting in a sort of regular cadence from one desk to another, snatching up the finished news from the copy hooks and sending it downstairs to the printers. The telegraph operators in the Western Union, Postal, and the syndicate offices are clattering as if in competition. They pull sheets out of their typewriters a paragraph at a time. No one can wait for a full sheet.
Meanwhile copy has been going to the composing room and proofs coming back. The editors at the square central desk, who from early afternoon have kept close to the news with hurried conferences and a stream of memoranda, now begin hungrily reading these proofs. The various department editors, one at a time, arrive at this square desk with their schedules, lists of news, that is, together with recommendations of news value.
From out the darkrooms come the cameramen and the men who have developed and printed the photographs. From the Associated Press offices come the still wet prints of photographs sent by wire from all over the world. By mail come the packages of photographs sent by correspondents and the pictures services from everywhere. All these pictorial embellishments are thumbtacked to long frames along the south wall where the editors can see them. The picture editors and the caption writers begin their selections. From 100,000 photographs each year are made the selections to ·run on the back and news pages. The night editor receives some sheets of paper ruled in the blank form of the full newspaper pages. These blanks are called dummies, since they are blank save for the column rules. Upon these sheets the composing room foreman has allotted the advertising space. The night editor swiftly sketches in the positions of the news stories and the illustrations. It is a Chinese puzzle to the layman; art to the news editor.
Page one is dummied on the blank sheet. The cartoonists have turned in their drawings and the engravers are beginning to send their plates to the composing room.
With this rapid clearing away of material fro mall these sources you have seen the first edition moving to press. This, when it reaches the street, is known as the metropolitan edition. It is the first edition; and it is also a kind of first round in the night’s battle.
For now the scene has changed. The day city editor, whom you saw earlier in the day getting things smoothed out for his superior, has left for the day. With him have gone the men who drew up the assignments for reporters and cameramen. The city editor now has the situation well in hand, as they say in the marines. The city editor has been over the day assignments a dozen times. He knows what every reporter is doing; every cameraman. He has gone over the night assignments; knows what to expect in a general way. He knows the night police reporters are all where they can be reached at a moment’s notice by telephone; that the suburban reporters, forming a ring around Chicago from Waukegan on the north to Gary on the southeast, are on duty; he knows that the city desk has its equipment of copy readers; nothing can happen that can’t be handled swiftly and completely.
Take another glance at the other desks. The news editor has familiarized himself with every cable and telegraphic dispatch. He knows what the sports department has to offer. He has kept in touch all afternoon with the art department. The artists are knee deep in pictures and maps and charts and graphic illustrations. There are more illustrations turned out by the Tribune art department every day than by any other newspaper in America. The news editor has outlined a map on the latest development in the Chinese war; another for Spain; another in the central European crisis. He has Indicated charts to illustrate the condition of the United States treasury, and WPA, and anything that can best be brought home to the reader graphically.
The night editor begins to make over his dummies. There is a new edition at 8:10 p. m., another at 10:10, and then a re-plate on this edition for Milwaukee; we are drawing near the final edition.
But before we reach that final edition you should know there is almost never a final edition, since The Tribune never stops. After the final has gone to press the late editor arrives. He will work with a skeleton star of writers, reporters, and cameramen. His first duty is to send in an edition at 3 a. m. This is the two-star final. After this he may have as many as a half dozen later editions, until as late as 8 a. m., all these depending upon the importance of the news.
We are ahead of the schedule. We resume with the night editor, who when we left him to discuss the late editor was preparing for the final edition. This is the city edition. You are seeing a repetition of the scene you witnessed in the late afternoon, except that the intensity is greater. News dispatches have changed a dozen times because of late developments. Pictures have been coming from cameramen and from great distances by Associated Press Wirephoto. The picture page has been torn down and carefully rebuilt to conform to the late news. The engraving room is sending its zinc etchings to the composing room by the armload.
All of the page dummies, those sketched-in sheets showing where every news item and advertisement will appear, have been sent to the printers. The square desk in the middle of the room is studying the chart of page one.
“The makeup of The Tribune,” the managing editor will tell you, is the crystalized judgment of the news organization. Reporters and correspondents advance their best stories to the editors of their divisions. These editors in turn select the news they think most important. After the schedule of news has passed through city, telegraph, cable, financial, and sports editors it is judged by the central desk of four editors. The final approval is that of the managing editor, who is always in communication with the editor.”
The editors are struggling with the eight-column line for the first page. The copy readers are polishing the last bit of copy and the last headings; the picture editor is putting the last touch to a caption. The rewriters are straining at the telephone for a last fact from a police reporter or from a correspondent in Springfield or from a foreign correspondent who has just entered Vienna with Hitler’s troops (by the way, it happened just so), and the office boys are in a swift, silent parade from the desks to the copy chute. The dummy of page one is sent away. There is a final split-second bulletin. The heads of the various copy desks arise. The copy readers snatch pencils and paper and hurry to the composing room to make last corrections at the printers’ forms.
It is deadline.