In an American Newspaper Office

In an American Newspaper Office


Charles Miner Thompson

HUNT was the night-editor of the respectable Dawn. This
knowing journal declared that " business men desire a news-
paper which they can take home to their families," and, with the
immodest confidence of virtue, asserted that it " filled this long-
felt want." Its columns were carefully kept unspotted from
sensational crime. It was edited with the most solicitous regard
for the proprieties. Its proofs were reported to be read by Mrs.
Grundy herself. " The duty of the press," said the Dawn, " is to
conserve the public morals. The editor, with a high ideal of the
function of journalism, will not follow the almost universal and
highly regrettable fashion of the times, and sacrifice decency to
dollars." This truly disinterested paper sacrificed indecency on
the same altar, without a blush, and, with a pride that aped
humility, posed as the Dawn of a Better Day. By the same
token, Hunt occupied a position of eminence.

When he reached the editorial rooms in the evening he usually
found Master, his assistant, already seated at the big night-desk
hard at work. Hunt had not been so many years in existence, as
Master had been in journalism ; and his superiority in rank made


188 In an American Newspaper Office

his senior sulky. A grumpy " hello " was all the greeting he ever
got. That so old a man should " play baby " struck Hunt as
comic, and his subordinate's grudging welcome was become an
enjoyment which through force of indulgence he unconsciously
demanded. Therefore, to-night, when on coming into the office
he found Master's chair empty he felt vaguely aggrieved. He
thought of himself, charitably, as missing the elder man : what he
did actually miss was the agreeable fillip which the spectacle of the
old man's glumness always gave his sense of humour.

Perhaps, however, his indefinite feeling of discomfort was due
in part to the cheerless aspect of the room. Usually when he
entered the place it was lighted and occupied ; to-night no one
was about, and the one gas jet that was burning showed a mere
tooth of flame within its wire muzzle. The little closets of the
reporters, each with a desk and a chair in it, which were ranged
like so many doorless state-rooms against the sides of the apart-
ment, appeared dimly in the gloom as black, uncanny holes. On
the fourth side, under the gaslight and covered with a disorderly
array of shears, pencils, bottles of mucilage, and of ink, pens and
paper, was the big and battered night-desk. Recognisable above
it by persons unhappily familiar with such objects, were the electric
messenger call and fire alarm. Higher still, there perched in
solitary state upon a shelf a dusty and dented gas-meter. The
dirty floor was littered with rumpled and torn newspapers,
splotched with tobacco juice, and strewn with the ends of cigars
and cigarettes. Nauseating black beetles scampered everywhere,
lurked in corners and cracks, and rustled in the papers. Five were
drinking from the inkstand. The atmosphere was heavy with the
odours of damp paper, printer's ink, and stale tobacco. " Such, "
reflected Hunt with grim humour, " is the golden East from which
appears the worshipped Dawn."


By Charles Miner Thompson 189

Hunt, however, was too thoroughly accustomed to the rooms
and too indifferent to dirt to be much or long depressed by them.
Having turned up the gas, he took off both his coat and his waist-
coat, for the close office was already uncomfortably warm. Yet it
was bitterly cold without, as became the last night of a March
most lion-like in its departure. Then from his soiled shirt he
removed the perfectly clean and highly polished collar and cuffs.
For neat keeping he placed these in the same drawer in which he
stored his tobacco. Thence he drew forth the next moment a big
briar-wood pipe. Having first regarded this companion of his
nights with much affection, and rubbed the bowl against his nose
to bring out the colour, he proceeded to fill it with tobacco, which
he pressed down with a finely solicitous little finger, and lighted
with deep satisfaction. As the first great puffs of smoke made
vague his features, he threw away the match with a superb dis-
regard of the inflammable piles of paper on the floor, and settled
himself with some show of heartiness to his work.

He was a small fellow, and young. His black hair, cut in the
style termed " pompadour," stood up over his forehead like the
bristles of a blacking-brush. His small black eyes darted alertly
everywhere and were full of humour. His tip-tilted nose seemed
at some time to have been used as a handle for raising his upper lip,
which was short and showed his teeth. His whole appearance
was odd and saucy ; you judged him knowing, cynical, and
amusing, and smiled upon him at once with amusement and
expectation. His nervous strength, which you saw at once was
immense, was as yet unexhausted by a life divided between severe
mental toil and vicious pleasure. From half-past seven in the
evening until four in the morning he was at the office of the
Dawn. Then he went to his lodging-house, there to sleep until
twelve o'clock. The afternoon he passed at the Press Club —


190 In an American Newspaper Office

smoking, drinking, playing cards or billiards—and after dinner
repaired again to the office. His Sundays were spent partly in
sleep, partly in dissipation. He had taken a degree at one of the
smaller American colleges, had a considerable knowledge of English
literature, and was ambitious to write for the stage. He was the
son of a country deacon.

He was looking through the foreign news in the evening paper
with a view to the fabrication of " special cablegrams " to the
morrow's Dawn when Burress, a reporter, entered.

" Hello," he said, " where's the old man ?"

" Dunno," answered Hunt without looking up from his work ;
" drunk probably."

" I thought he'd kept pretty straight since he came here," said

" He has," retorted Hunt. " That's why I think he's drunk."

Burress laughed. He stepped to the desk for light by which to
read the letter and the assignment he had found in his box.
Gloom overspread his vacuous face when he found that his assign-
ment was to a meeting of some scientific club or other, and
required a long, disagreeable journey to the opposite end of the
town. Having shoved the clipping into his pocket in disgust, he
cocked his cigar in the corner of his mouth, half closed his eyes to
keep the smoke out of them, and began opening his letter with
the assistant night-editor's shears. His unbuttoned ulster hanging
open in front, revealed the shabby clothes beneath. The overcoat
itself, however, was comparatively new, and together with the loud
" puff " tie, the high silk hat, and the shoes of patent leather
which he wore, enabled him to present upon the street a delusive
appearance of smartness. The few inches of trouser-leg which
were visible beneath the long coat, were the Achilles heel of this
dandy, and worried him at times.


By Charles Miner Thompson 191

" Master's got a letter from the boss in his box," said he,
significantly. As he spoke he tore up his own letter (which was
a bill) and threw the pieces on the floor.

Hunt glanced at him keenly. " Has he ?" he asked with interest.

" Yes," said Burress, and the two exchanged understanding

" Well," said Hunt crossly, " I expected it. What else was
that kid Wilson put on the day-desk for ?"

" He'll succeed him, will he?"

"Of course," replied Hunt. " And a pretty time I'll have
breaking him in, too. As if I hadn't got enough to do as it is !"

" Pretty tough on the old man, I call it," remarked Burress,
idly sympathetic.

" What do you expect in this office ?" asked Hunt sarcastically.
" Life tenure, high wages, and service pensions ? Do you take
the boss for an angel ? There isn't any angel in journalism—
except possibly the one that does the recording. The old man
gets precious little ; but Wilson'll get less, see ? " The golden
exhalations " of this dawn ain't used up in salaries—not to any
great extent."

" D—n him," said Burress. This seemingly irrelevant curse
was directed against the proprietor. As becomes a conventional
expression of an emotion the edge of which habit has dulled, it
was delivered without animation. Hunt paid no attention to it,
and the reporter, even as he gave it forth, picked up the shears
again and began idly to clean his nails. " How'll the old man
take it, I wonder," he said at length meditatively.

" Oh, he'll get drunk now, sure."

" Fearful wreck, ain't he," said Burress appreciatively.

" Yes, and he's cracked too," growled the night editor, bending
himself over some copy.

" I was

The Yellow Book—Vol. VI. M

192 In an American Newspaper Office

" I was talking to old Symonds the other day about him," con-
tinued the reporter. " He said he used to be the best newspaper
man in the city—managing editor of the Atlas once, you know.
Guess he was pretty lively too—great on practical jokes, Symonds

" Humph," grunted Hunt, " a cab-horse is merry beside him
now. But he knows his business just the same," he added, think-
ing ruefully of Wilson.

" He played a great joke on Fox once—Fox at the Atlas, "
continued Burress, snapping the shears together definitively, and
taking on the air of one about to tell a long tale which he thinks
amusing." Symonds told me about it. It's a devilish good story.
He said he—"

But here the large form of the old man himself appearing in
the doorway, caused Burress to stop in the middle of his phrase.
" Hello, Master," said he, in some confusion. Hunt also looked
up, noted that his fat and elderly assistant had not been drinking,
and nodded briefly. Master, avoiding the younger men's eyes, in
which he perceived and resented the curiosity, growled an answer-
ing " hello." He hung up his shabby overcoat, coat and waistcoat,
and for his greater comfort let his braces fall about his vast hips.
Then standing by the desk he opened and read the note he had
found in his box. The two young men watched him furtively.

Master was large and grossly fat. His face, which looked as if
moulded from damp newspaper, was deeply wrinkled ; his eyes
were dull and heavily ringed with dark circles ; and his flaccid
cheeks hung about his jaws like dewlaps. What little hair there
was about the sides of his head was unkempt and dirty. His
crown was completely bald. This condition Hunt made the
topic of endless jokes. " What I like about you, Master," he
would say, " is that you have the courage of your baldness. You


By Charles Miner Thompson 193

don't cultivate an isthmus of hair to adorn a forehead and define a
brow. You leave everything frank and open. But never you
mind, old man, always remember that 'beauty draws us by a
single hair.' " Another time the nearness of Master's oily pate
and tallow-like face to the gas jet led Hunt with unkind whimsi-
cality to congratulate him on not having a wick in the top of his
head. " If you had," he said, " you'd burn out like a candle,
sure." The old man's whole body, moreover, looked weak, as if
force of habit rather than a solid framework of bone held its
flabby mass in place. He was at the same time repugnant and

As he ended his reading, he turned for a moment an expression
less gaze upon the young men. Then, crumpling the letter and
setting it aflame at the gas jet, he lit his pipe with it, let it burn
almost to his fingers, dropped it at just the right moment, and
carefully stamped out the blaze upon the floor. " I got a letter
to-day," he said apathetically, " saying my old mother is dead, and
to-night I get the G. B. [Grand Bounce ; Anglice, the sack]
here. What's the news with you fellows ?"

" Nothing much," answered Hunt, startled and uncertain.

" That's pretty tough," said Burress weakly. Master grunted,
and the reporter, much embarrassed, made a clumsy escape :
" Well," said he, " I've got to be going. By-bye. See you

The old man seated himself opposite Hunt at the night-desk.
He spread his big thighs wide apart and his great stomach settled
between them like a half-filled sack in a corner. His sometime
clean shirt exhaled a faint odour of perspiration, had tobacco-spots
upon its rumpled bosom, and clung about his shoulders in a
multitude of fine wrinkles. A greasy " string-tie " of rusty black
hung disconsolate ends from under a soiled collar. His pear-


194 In an American Newspaper Office

shaped face, looking more than usually battered and worn, fairly
exuded melancholy. He mopped his bald head mechanically, and
then stared a moment with dull eyes at the crumpled handkerchief
in his pudgy fist. Finally pulling himself together, he began to
work—well and rapidly, but with entire unconsciousness.

The office grew livelier. Reporters came in, chatted among
themselves a while, or wrote busily in their closets, and departed
again into the night. The regular procession of disreputable-
looking boys began to file into the room with telegraphic
despatches from the Associated Press. " Copy " in ever-
increasing volume was flung upon the night-desk. Hunt, with a
calculating eye upon the space of the paper gave the order sharply
to " carve hell out of everything." Thereupon some one began
to chant a rhyme current in the office :

" O'er the films Associated,
In a tone by no means bated,
Comes the cry reiterated,
Carve, Master, carve !"

The managing editor, emerging every now and then from his
den, like a bulldog from his kennel, swore viciously at Hunt, at
Master, at whatever reporters happened to be there. On all sides
rose the mingled noise of laughter, oaths, whistling, sharp question
and sharper answer, striking matches, scratching pens, grating
chairs, scuffling feet, the sharp snipping of shears through copy,
and their clatter when thrown down, the ringing of the bell of the
copy-box, the rattle of the box itself as it moved up and down in
its narrow passage-way to the composing-room, the tearing of
paper, the devil's tattoo of a typewriter ; but though he heard it
Master was conscious of none of it. To the general hubbub,
the fire alarm added its deliberate strokes, like a clock. As it


By Charles Miner Thompson 195

ceased, the inattentive " night locals " asked what box it was.
Master answered him—correctly. Yet he was unconscious or
the striking bell, of the question, of his own answer, and in this
curious state, known to all who have been stunned by sudden mis-
fortune, in which the mind, though it seems occupied wholly with
its sense of leaden sorrow, still does its usual, familiar task, Master
worked on through the evening.

What he was conscious of was his misery. Its dull ache was
in his brain, which it numbed, and in his body, which felt heavy and
weak. His future was black. The metaphor is outworn ; but
the darkness which it has ceased to make visible to our accustomed
imagination was palpable to him. In the night you see dimly ;
perhaps not at all ; but you know where your path is leading, you
know that familiar and well-loved objects—trees, hills, the houses
of men—are about you, that your home is before you, that the
ground is firm under your feet. Not more dark than this is the
future of most of us. But imagine yourself set down in a
spacious blackness of which you know nothing, where the first
step may hurl you into an infinite abyss or bring you full against
some slimy wall, the horrid breadth and height of which are illimit-
able ; where, finally, what you stand upon is neither turf nor stone,
hillside nor plain, private path nor public way, but mysterious
unnameable ooze. In such a place Master was now set down.

Hard as his lot had been before, now it was harder. While his
old mother lived—a withered yet active dame, to think prim, small
thoughts in a prim, small house, far away from him, in the pure
country—his life, wrecked as he knew it to be, had still its worthy
use. By an arrangement with the cashier a part of his pay each
Saturday was safely sent to her : with the lesser remaining portion
he began his weekly ruinous carouse. Now that she was dead —
and he had a vision of her still face, with its air of demanding


196 In an American Newspaper Office

nothing, which, to the living, with love still to bestow, is the
most painful sight in the faces of the dead—what had he for which
to live ? With what, indeed, was he to live ? He was discharged
—abruptly, cruelly, without notice. And he knew too well he
could not obtain work elsewhere. The thrifty proprietor of the
Dawn, who had hired him simply because, no one else wanting
him, he was cheap, might indeed find him useful for a time ; but
no editor willing to pay the honest price of capable and faithful
service would for a moment consider any request for employment
from him.

In one direction only was there light. Tunnelled through the
darkness as through black stone, and lighted with cruel distinctness,
there stretched a pathway. He saw himself going down this way
—first, a worn-out journalist doing odds and ends of " space work "
for a scanty and intermittent wage ; next, a drunken sot spending
his days partly in public parks, partly in shrinking visits to public-
houses, his nights in police stations ; and finally, when dead, tossed
into the earth so sodden and diseased a corpse that even the gorge
of grave-worms would rise at him. And though the darkness was
heartening in comparison with this hideous, inevitable path, the
eyes of his inward vision fixed themselves upon it, fascinated.
His bodily eyes meanwhile read " copy "—drunks, petty larcenies,
fires, aldermanic doings, a ball, a dinner in fashionable society —
and his blue pencil marked this copy with paragraph-marks, struck
out superfluous passages, and wrote appropriate " heads. "

At this moment Burress entered, flushed and excited. " There,
by George !" he exclaimed, throwing a bundle of copy down
before Master, " here's news for you. That's better than your
scientific meeting, I guess !"

" What is it ?" said Hunt.

" A column suicide !" exclaimed Burress with pride. " I


By Charles Miner Thompson 197

stumbled upon it in the luckiest manner. I was at the hotel

The word " suicide " pierced Master's unconsciousness like a
bright sword. He was oblivious to the rest. Burress's copy was
the first to which he gave his whole mind. It was an account of
the suicide of a man who seemed to have everything needful to
make him happy—reputation, namely, and wealth, a handsome,
accomplished wife and promising children. " No cause, " ran the
reporter's conventional phrase, " can be assigned for the rash act. "
If this man had found life a vain thing, what, he asked, could it
hold of good for him ? And the idea of suicide, once suggested to
him, grew and waxed strong and became a resolve. Then, suddenly,
self-disgust seized him. What good resolution, he asked himself
savagely, had ever been kept by him ? He was weak, he was a
coward, he would never have the nerve —

As he pondered this other man's obituary, he wondered in
bitterness of spirit what the account of his own death would be—
brief, he knew, and good-natured, but in every line, he foresaw,
breathing contempt. And he rebelled against this imaginary
notice with the rebellion of a man who, though he has failed,
knows himself better than many who succeed. There is no hatred
like that of the unjustly blamed for the unjustly praised. He
cursed the editor and proprietor of the Dawn, who, though he was
cruel and unscrupulous, yet prospered through the canny virtue of
sobriety. That the man had any virtue whatever was perhaps,
after all, where lay the sting. A passion of hate against this cool
calculator of the value of respectability blazed in him. With the
intensity of a strong fire swept by wind, he wished that he might
show this man to the world as he was, avenge his own wrongs,
drive a poisoned javelin at his enemy's heart even from the door-sill
of death, and leave behind him as he stepped across it at least a


198 In an American Newspaper Office

revenge accomplished. Upon the problem how to effect this his
mind fixed itself like a burning glass. Suddenly before his imagi-
nation the solution sprung up like the flame. He gave a short,
curious laugh, darted at Hunt (at that moment wrathfully crump-
ling in his fist several sheets of " flimsy ") the cunning glance of
one insane, then rose and left the office. He returned shortly,
but in the interval he had drunk two glasses of neat brandy.

The night passed. The reporters one by one finished their
tasks and departed. Their cells once more became the homes
exclusively of darkness and black beetles. Only " the night locals
man " now remained. In his gas-lit cubby-hole, ornamented with
coloured lithographs of actresses in tights and cheap likenesses of
sporting and political celebrities, he sat contentedly smoking and
writing out with painful scratching pen his little chronicle of
minor crime. Old Master had toiled on doggedly. In the inter-
vals of the regular work of the desk he had busied himself with
some writing of his own. Hunt, noting this detail, had inferred
that he was occupied with some " special " to an " outside " news-
paper, and had had the careless and easy charity to hope that the
work would bring him a dollar or so. At three, Master went
home, and Hunt made his way to the composing-room to attend
to the " make-up. " The " night locals " man loafed about until
half-past three, the hour when the paper went to press, and then
he too departed.

Shortly afterwards, Hunt re-entered the now deserted editorial
room, and began to make ready for the street. As he finished,
the bell of the copy-box rang, and the fresh, damp newspaper—
the first from the press—was sent down. He glanced at one or
two of the heads about which he had certain doubts, found them
as they should be, and stepped at once into the elevator. There
the thought of the suicide occurring to him, he had curiosity


By Charles Miner Thompson 199

enough to look for the account. At what he saw he uttered a
startled oath.

" Here," he shouted to the sleepy elevator boy, " carry me back

But why, after all, take it from the paper ? No—it was
straight, Master had done it, he knew. Anyway, it was only a
couple of " sticks." Possibly, if he didn't delay, there might yet
be time—

" No," he cried to the boy ; " I've changed my mind. Get
me downstairs like lightning, d'ye hear ? Come, get a move on
you—quick, now."

" What's the matter with you, anyway," growled the boy,
between wonder and wrath.

" Never you mind, but hustle—hustle, can't you ?" cried Hunt,
now in an agony of impatience.

And when the elevator at last reached the ground floor, he ran
from the building at full speed and jumped into the first cab he
found. Neither whip nor curse was spared to get him rapidly to
Master's lodgings.


Henry J. Conant, proprietor of the Dawn, was, as Hunt said,
forty years old himself, but his good angel died young. As he
wore a slight moustache and no beard, he looked even younger
than he was. His mouth, twisted by sensuality, was thin-lipped
and cruel. His eyes were hard, and their glances bore down yours
as a Scotch claymore might bear down a French rapier. He was
tall in person, gave much care to his dress, was overbearing in
manner, and said what he chose without regard for the feelings of
others. He was cynical, passionate, consistent only in so far as


200 In an American Newspaper Office

consistency paid, and made his only ends in life money and power.
He had excellent control over himself : he allowed even his violent
temper to show itself in two cases only—when it could not harm
his interests, for pleasure ; when it could further them, for profit.
No one liked him : he had won his way without help from any one
by sheer force of will. Imagine a bull which had intellect and which
was not to be fooled by red cloaks. Rather than encounter such
an animal, the cautious toreador would resign. In this imaginary
beast is found the type of such men as Conant. He was an ugly
antagonist, and knew it.

Conant's wife—a convenient woman, whose money had enabled
him to become the proprietor of the Dawn as well as its editor—
was a weak, sallow thing to whom he paid no attention. Her
only pleasure was to read her husband's paper, of which she under-
stood nothing, and which seemed to her a daily miracle. Her only
use in life, in his opinion, was to keep his house. He lived in a
suburban town, " nor," to quote Hunt again, " because he loved
men the less, but a low tax-rate more."

When, five hours after the Dawn went to press—that is to say,
at half-past eight o'clock—Conant came downstairs to breakfast,
his first act was to pick up the morning paper. The greatest
pleasure ot his day, his employes averred, was to seek out in its
columns causes for fault-finding, for excuse to make the day of his
managing editor a burden, and sharply to rebuke his night-editor
in the evening. Nor was he above " cursing out " any reporter
who was unlucky enough to offend him. He made no speciality
of dignity. Opening the paper, he ran his eye first over a
leading article which he himself had written on some question of
local politics. He read its execrable English with the complacency
of one whose only grammar has been the columns of newspapers.
Its political shrewdness flattered his pride : his rude thrusts at his


By Charles Miner Thompson 201

enemies pleased his malice. Then he looked through a paragraph
or two of a religious article, found himself bored, reflected with the
calm of one who has taught himself to accept facts which he does
not understand, that his readers liked that sort of thing, supposed it
was all right, and after a sniff of contempt at the column of book
reviews, and the concurrent thought that after all " book-ads "
paid, turned to the news columns. There almost the first " head "
to catch his eye was the suicide of a Mr. Mainwaring at the
H—hotel. Through this, using the " cross-heads " as an
index to the important points, he glanced hastily. At its close
a second article followed with the caption : " Another Suicide : A
Well-known Newspaper Man kills himself at his Rooms." Upon
this his attention became at once fixed. First in the ordinary
type of the paper came this short paragraph :

" Mr. John Master, a brilliant journalist long and favourably
known in newspaper circles, and at the time of his death connected
with the staff of the Dawn, committed suicide early this morning
at his rooms at 671, Ashley Street. Directly he left work at the
Dawn office at three o'clock this morning, Mr. Master proceeded
at once to his lodgings, and went to his room, which he entered
without attracting the attention of any of his sleeping fellow-
lodgers. At half-past three, Mr. Frank Bartlett, who occupies
the next apartment, was awakened by a pistol-shot, and on rushing
into the room of the unfortunate man, found him stretched upon
the bed with a bullet-hole in his forehead and the still smoking
42-calibre revolver clutched convulsively in his right hand. Mr.
Master leaves no family."

The second portion of the article was in agate type. This, as
Conant noted with quick disapproval, was true even of the intro-
ductory sentence, which by rule should have been included in the
first paragraph and printed in the same type. As he read the


202 In an American Newspaper Office

opening words of this longer part, Conant's face seemed to stiffen
and harden visibly. They ran thus :

" At his bedside was found the following letter : ' Before God, I
declare the hypocritical editor and proprietor of this paper respon-
sible for my death. Oh, I know what will be said—that if I had
let rum alone I would have been all right. I know very well that
but for drink I might still be what I once was, one of the leading
newspaper men of the city. But because I was weak, was that
any reason why this man should take advantage of that weakness
for his own ends and careless of my sufferings ? No ! Read
what I say, and then see what you think of him ; see if you think
him the noble man who runs " the only respectable daily " in the
city. We come from the same town, and I know all about him.
And I propose to tell it too. ' "

Conant instinctively darted a quick, cautious glance about the
room, as if to see whether any one was observing him, and with a
certain slight tightening of the lips, resumed his reading :

" ' I am the older man, and came to the city first. When he
came up to town with his miserable bit of experience in news-
paper work as correspondent from a country legislature to a
country weekly, I was managing editor of Facts, the biggest
sensational liar in town, and he came straight to me. I wasn't a
saint. I accepted the profession as I found it, cynically, and
enjoyed its lies and its vulgarities, called the public an ass, and
thought myself its superior. Most journalists do. But at least I
was good-natured and generous, and I gave this raw youngster his
chance, and was rather proud to see him advance, as he did,
rapidly. I drank. I lost my place, got another not so good ; lost
that. As I went down, he went up. Finally, all I could get to
do was irregular work, space work, what not—no one would give
me regular employment. Meanwhile, he had got possession of


By Charles Miner Thompson 203

this paper—the devil knows how. I only know this, that while
he ran it for the stock company which owned it, as he did for
several years, it lost money rapidly, until they were all disgusted
and sick, and they sold it to him cheap as dirt. Now, just as
quick as he got it into his own hands, it began to make money.
There was some funny business or other, you may be sure of
that : and if he wants to sue me for libel, let him come to hell
after me if he wants to. He'll be welcome—the devil's proud of
him. ' "

A shade of cynical amusement passed over Conant's face at this
outburst. " He's simply playing into my hands," he reflected,
"talking such rot. If his revelations don't amount to any more
than that—" He relaxed his attitude a little, and took an
easier position in his chair.

" ' When he got control of the paper, then began economies.
The men who had served the paper long and faithfully, and by
right of their service and ability drew large salaries, were one by
one dismissed, and who took their places ? Boys and old sots
boys for strength, old sots for experience. They supplemented
each other well, and both were cheap. The sots did not stay
long neither did the boys. The sots went on sprees, and sots —
who happened to be sober took their places. The boys left on
their first demand for an increase of salary. They were told that
if they didn't like their wages they could get out. There were
plenty of others. The force was kept horribly small besides, and
the men were worked within an inch of their lives. The boys
paid dear for their training. The office was a regular hell, where
men got thin and pale and nervous from overwork, and then broke
down and were discharged without notice. But the salary list
was the lowest in the city, and while this worthy proprietor got
the full benefit of these youngsters' enthusiasm and strength, he


204 In an American Newspaper Office

saved thousands of dollars a year in salaries alone. All the thanks
they got were curses for the blunders which of course they made.
This was the office at which I applied for work. It was abso-
lutely necessary for me to earn money. I had a feeble old mother
up-country who only had me to keep her from the workhouse. I
thought this worthy gentleman would do me a good turn, just as I
had done him one year before. He knew I could do good work.
He knew my mother. He believed my promise to keep straight
—I know he did. I saw it in his eye. And what did he do ?
He took advantage of my necessities to offer me less than the
other old sots, my likes. I cursed him inwardly and took his
offer. I had to, and he knew it. At the end of a month he
reduced my pay, and didn't condescend to give me an explanation
for it. Still, I hung on, and kept straight. Then he set a green
young fellow to work on the day-desk, though the man on it
could do all the work on it himself by working like a nigger
every second of his time. I knew what that meant. He don't
incur extra expense for nothing. He was training my successor.
Last night I got the G. B. Why ? Because I got 10 dols. a
week and the kid would do it for 8 dols. That's why. Did my
former kindness to him, did the thought of my poor old mother
whom his action would send to the workhouse make him hesitate
one second to save that two dollars a week on my salary ? Not a
bit of it. I had served his turn, and he slung me aside as a
drunkard does an empty bottle, careless on what stones I was
broken. Thank God, my mother died day before yesterday. I
got the news along with my discharge. ' "

" That's all sorehead stuff," was Conant's mental comment.
" An editorial saying that if the complaints of all the disgruntled
and crank employés were believed—will fix that. My readers
are mostly employers of help. They'll see the point. But "—and


By Charles Miner Thompson 205

the editor's face suddenly clouded with wrath—" what did Hunt
mean by printing such stuff. He'll get his walking papers so
quick he won't know what's happened to him."

" ' And is there any need for this niggardliness, this cruel and
unjust under-payment ? No sir. ' "

" What's that ?" muttered Conant, straightening himself sud-

" ' There may have been once; but there isn't now. He takes
great pains to keep the idea going that the paper makes nothing.
But I know better. I know the minimum amount of advertising
required to make the paper pay. There isn't a day that the paper
doesn't have more than that amount—not a day. When that day
comes there'll be no paper. Any one who knows its kind-hearted
proprietor knows enough to know that. He doesn't spend his
time working for the public good for pure philanthropy, and
besides, for a man utterly without principle, as he is, circulation
and advertising aren't the only ways in which a paper can be
made to pay. This new traction road which every one should
know is a big swindle—has his paper ever said a word against it ?
And how when he has a mania for boiling down things and will
never print a political speech in full, be it never so important—
how, I say, does it happen that the speeches of this corporation's
counsel before committees are reported verbatim every time, to the
exclusion oftentimes of legitimate news ? How does it happen that
speeches adverse to the corporation are never printed at all ? Go
in as advertising ? Oh, yes, they're paid for ; but a good many
things go in as advertising which aren't advertising by a long
chalk. How about this " special correspondence " from boom
towns South and West, which begins when the speculators take
hold of them, and stops when they let go ? Is that advertising
too ? It always cracks up the goods, and is paid for. So I


206 In an American Newspaper Office

suppose it is. But the public—which is a fool—thinks it intelli-
gent and disinterested investigation, and nobody tells it different.
And I'm a fool, if a certain gang of political heelers in this town
don't pay the paper regular tribute of hush-money. Nothing's ever
said about their tricks, anyway, and the head of the paper is too
well informed not to know about them. And I happen to know
he's " in on the ground floor " in a good many enterprises of this
same gang. There's more ways than one to pay bribes. There
isn't a column of this precious, respectable sheet that isn't for sale
—except the religious column. Nobody wants to buy that.
Even once in a while its financial column, which he has shrewd-
ness enough to keep both honest and able most of the time, is
—oh, I know it—is worked in the interests of scheming and
sufficiently generous speculators ; and all this in a paper which
shrieks periodically at the " regrettable sensationalism of the con-
temporary press." Other papers feed their pig-headed readers'
swill, I know, but it's good, honest swill, and the pigs grunt their
satisfaction over it. But this paper sells veal and calls it chicken,
though you'd think " a discerning public " would know there
couldn't be much cooked chicken in a shop where there was so
much lively crowing. He has discovered that hypocrisy in
journalism pays, and he's working it for all it is worth, and
making money hand over fist. Meanwhile, he is starving his
employés, even going so far as to sit up nights in devising
schemes to take all the " fat " from his compositors, and you should
hear him curse his night-editor if there happens to be three inches
overset. He crushes the life out of every one whom he gets in
his clutches that he himself may get the fatter, like an anaconda.
He's through with me. He's got the last bit of valuable service out
of me, and throws me on one side. But I don't like to become
a sandwich man and advertise corn doctors, and die finally in a


By Charles Miner Thompson 207

police station of delirium tremens. That would please him too
much, or rather, it wouldn't trouble him at all—he'd know
nothing about it. He has made me choose between that and
suicide. On his head be it ! Is there a hell ? I hope so, for if
there is, I'll be there, and after a time shall see him there with
me. It'll be a sight to endure torments for. I say to him, au
revoir !
' "

" It'll be a fight to kill that," said Conant, who looked pale.

While he read this letter, so vulgar in its lack of dignity, in its
cheap phraseology, in its desperate pettiness, yet withal so terrible
for him, his mind, active as a shuttle, was weaving about it a
varied commentary of thought and emotion. It ran in and out
of all the feelings—except pity. In those moments in which he
realised the full import of the latter part of the old journalist's
dying communication to the world, he had the sickening sense of
defeat that is comparable only to the sensation of one hit in the
pit of the stomach. Over the few points which were not true,
and which he could disprove, he felt unreasonable exultation.
For Master's sinister farewell he had only contempt. And it
ran in and out of all the thoughts—except those of regret. This
point was true ; but who would believe it on the word of a
revengeful and drunken employé, like Master ? Would not a
general denial, coupled with some eager—no, not eager—defama-
tion of Master's character clear him ? That point wasn't true :
could he disprove it ? What would people say to this ? Wouldn't
the public be delighted with that ? How far could he count on
public sympathy ? Wouldn't Master have the better part of
that ? Or could he by clever lying bring it to his side ? The
affair would hurt the circulation of the Dawn. But if he could
bring the public to think him abused, perhaps it would help the
paper—be an " ad " for it. What would be its effect upon his


The Yellow Book—Vol. VI. N

208 In an American Newspaper Office

political fortunes ? What would the other papers say ? How did
Hunt happen to print it ? Wouldn't he fix Hunt ?

When he finished reading, the query that remained uppermost
in his mind was how widely Master's damaging letter had been
printed. A pile of morning papers was by him. He took up
the Aurora—nothing there. He looked quickly through the
Atlas—nothing there. In the Palladium there was nothing; in
the Champion—nothing ; in the Union, the Democrat, the Free
, the People's Argus—again and always there was nothing.
Was his own paper then the only one to defame him ? That was
not possible ! If Master had committed suicide how happened it
that no other journal had printed a line about the occurrence ?
His nostrils dilated a little, as he began to scent a mystery. He
picked up the Dawn again, and with eager, inquiring eyes read the
circumstances of the suicide. It took place at half-past three in
the morning, he was reminded. At half-past three ? Between
that hour and the time he usually went home, Master could not
have gone to his rooms and written the letter : the time was not
sufficient. Besides, half-past three was the hour at which the
Dawn went to press. For the suicide to become known to the
police and subsequently to the reporters, half-an-hour at least would
be necessary. For the night-local man to write his account and
for the compositors to put it into type would require at the very
lowest estimate another half-hour. Half-past four—Hunt would
not have held the presses an hour for an article defaming his own
chief, even had he dared and had the wicked will to do so.
Plainly, the report as it was printed must have been prepared and
put into type several hours before the suicide took place. What
did that mean ? He looked at the paper again in search of some
clue. The explanation struck him full in the face as he read the
date—April 1.


By Charles Miner Thompson 209

He understood. Master, to avenge his discharge, had some-
how smuggled this account into the paper. In a little time now,
his morning sleep ended, his enemy would resort to some cheap
restaurant, and there with the Dawn propped up before him
against the sugar-bowl, would eat his breakfast and read and
chuckle in secure triumph.

" God !" And with this intense oath, Conant leaped in a rage
to his feet.

Thus outrageously to be scored, thus ignominiously to be
fooled, thus shamefully to have his own weapon, the Dawn,
wrested from his hand and turned against him by the most con-
temptible of his dependants—what could be more hideously
humiliating ? He thought of the delight of those rival news-
papers against whose sensational methods he had so often hypo-
critically thundered. He divined how they would dress up the
episode, and send it journeying abroad, like a skeleton in cap and
bells, for the amusement of the nation. He read the head-lines
under which they would place it. He heard what Homeric mirth
would shake newspaperdom that day ; what laughing congratula-
tions would be given Master. He foresaw what capital his
political opponents would make of the incident, with how
pleasant an anecdote it would furnish them, how the story
would follow him like his shadow, always present, the most
elusive and exasperating of enemies. And this Master, this sot,
this. . . . .

" God !"

He seized his hat and overcoat and hurried to the station. And
as he was being carried into the city by the too slow suburban
train, he set himself to devise some scheme whereby yet Master
might be thwarted. So rapid was the rush of his ideas that he
seemed to have forgotten his anger. In reality, this kept his


210 In an American Newspaper Office

mind active, as the unseen fires in an engine make the visible
wheels revolve.

When with set and angry face he stepped into the editorial
rooms of the Dawn, there was an immediate hush among the
talking groups of reporters. He divined at once that this inter-
ruption of regular work was due to Master's letter, and with an
access of anger he turned upon Somers, the managing editor.
This gentleman guessed what was coming and tried to ward
it off :

" I've sent a man," he said quickly, " to see if it's true about

" True !" shouted Conant shrilly. "True! you fool, what's
the date of this paper ? What's the date of this paper, I say ?"

" Yes, I know," answered Somers hurriedly ; " it's probably a
fake, but still—"

" Probably a fake, " cried Conant, "you know as well as I do
what game this contemptible bummer has played on the paper.
Here, give me some copy paper —I'll settle his account. And you
Somers—you be d—d careful you don't hire another man like
him in a hurry. It'll be all your place is worth."

Conant, not Somers, had hired Master ; but Somers thought best
to waive the point. Without answering, he handed his chief the
paper he desired. Conant took it, but immediately giving it back,
said :

" No—I won't write. You take down what I say. And be
quick, too."

Pacing up and down the floor, he began to dictate a plausible
" editorial. " In it he represented himself as a benevolent person
—the fact that there were a dozen men present who knew he
was nothing of the sort was immaterial—who out of pure charity
had given Master employment. With righteous indignation he


By Charles Miner Thompson 211

explained to the discriminating public that again and again he
had been forced to caution this irreclaimable and ungrateful
drunkard against indulging his besetting vice, and that at last,
though with great reluctance, he had been compelled to discharge
him. During all the time that Master had remained in the
office, he had acted toward him with untold forbearance and done
everything possible to reform him. And what had been the
reward of his charitable kindness ? Master had played him a
most scurvy trick. He had taken advantage of the youth and
inexperience of the night-editor, to whom he acted as assistant,
to insert in the paper a lot of lies about its owner beside which
those of Ananias showed white. Then point by point he re-
hearsed the history of his relations with Master. To each one,
with the utmost skill, he gave a colouring favourable to himself,
damaging to Master. The public, he concluded, would know
which one to believe.

The managing editor wrote to Conant's dictation with stolid
cynicism. The reporters about listened with a curious expression
on their faces : when there was no chance that the " boss " would
see them they exchanged solemn winks. When the article was
ended, Somers looked up inquiringly.

" Have that put into type at once," said Conant. " Rush it,
and have a proof pulled immediately. That'll fix him. Run it
in all the evening editions, and to-morrow morning, d'ye hear ?"

Somers obediently put the copy in the box and rang the bell.
Just as the copy-box was whisked up to the composing-room,
Hunt, looking rather haggard, stepped into the room.

As the canons of realism and those of propriety do not coincide,
the abuse with which Conant greeted the young night-editor
cannot here be completely set down. " Get out of here at once,"
he commanded in the highest, most strident tones of his harsh


212 In an American Newspaper Office

voice, " do you hear ? I want no man about who can let in the
paper as you've done. You're either a fool or Master's accom-
plice, I don't care which. I won't have you in this office, and if
I find that you've had anything to do with this affair, I'll make
the city too hot to hold you—do you understand ? Get out before
I kick you out, you idiot. There are some April fool jokes that
can't be played twice. Get out, I say !"

Hunt, utterly tired out as he was, staggered back against the
wall as if struck by a physical blow, and listened to this on-
slaught with an air of such genuine bewilderment that even
Conant was impressed by it.

" I don't know what you're talking about," he whispered at

Conant thrust a copy of the Dawn under his nose. " There,"
he cried, " look there ! See what a fine lot of stuff you let get
into my paper ! Do you mean to say you know nothing about
it ?"

Hunt read the letter rapidly. Then taking a copy of the paper
from his own pocket, he compared the two.

" There," he said, " it wasn't in the first edition. Yours is
the second. That went to press after I left the office. There
was only a harmless announcement of Master's death in the first.
You'd better talk to the foreman."

This idea struck Conant. He turned quickly to Somers. " Is
the night-foreman here by any chance ?" he asked.

" Yes," said Somers, " he happens to be doing a day turn."
" Then why in thunder didn't you say so before ? Call him
down !"

A minute later, Hammond, a resolute-looking fellow whose
bare arms were covered with printer's ink, appeared in the

" Why, "

By Charles Miner Thompson 213

" Why," said Conant, rapping the paper fiercely, " did you let
that get into the second edition ?"

" It came up all right, and so I printed it," said Hammond
coolly. " I didn't read it—I don't edit the paper."

" Well, then why didn't you set it in time for the first
edition ?"

" When you don't make me let all the ' comps ' go the
moment there is any danger of their getting paid for waiting
time, perhaps I can have enough men about to set up late stuff to
catch the first edition. And perhaps you'd better spend a little
money and get us a few more cases of agate."

" What did you print in agate for, anyway ?"

" It was marked agate, and your rule is for letters to be in
agate anyhow. That copy came up very late. I had all I could
do to get it into the paper. The proofs weren't read. There
wasn't time."

Foiled here, Conant turned again upon Hunt. " When you
saw what you did in the paper, why didn't you investigate ? It
don't make any difference whether you saw the whole of it or not.
It was your business to see it. If you didn't, so much the worse
for you. I won't have any such jokes played in my paper."

" There's no joke about it," said Hunt quietly. " I went to
his room just as soon as I saw the notice in the paper. He'd
done just what he said. He's dead."

" What's that ?" cried Conant. " You're lying. Master
hadn't the sand. This is a new trick."

"Well," retorted Hunt hotly, " if you don't believe it, you just
wait till you read it in the afternoon papers, that's all. I tell you
he's dead."

"Well, it's d—d lucky for him he is, that's all," said Conant.

" That lets him out ; but it don't help you a bit. Why didn't


214 In an American Newspaper Office

you investigate ? Instead of that, like a fool, you rushed off to
Master's room, did you, and left that in the paper. Didn't you
know any better than to rush off to that besotted hound ?"

" You don't think, do you," cried Hunt, " that I was going to
let him kill himself if I could help it ?"

" That was none of your business," retorted Conant. " You
should have investigated. You're responsible for what goes into
the paper. You don't think, do you, that I hired you as Master's
keeper ?"

" No," cried Hunt, " I don't—Cain."

Conant paid no attention. The bell rang and the copy-box
clattered down with the proof of Conant's editorial article.
Conant jumped for it, and looked through it rapidly. " Here,"
he said to Somers, " scratch out what's said about the April fool,
and add a few words about the death : say, the most charitable
view is that his lies were the result of insanity. And send a
revised proof to all the papers."

MLA citation: Thompson, Charles Miner. "In an American Newspaper Office." The Yellow Book 6 (July 1895): 187-214. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. [Date of access].