Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rubbing shoulders with Charles Dana and W. R. Hearst’s crew

Editor’s note: My father Don Lynch, author of these postings from The Argus Observes, died at age 84 early in January 2000. Though he was observant and analytical almost to the end and knew that the computer age was changing journalism, he couldn’t foresee what has happened to its practitioners since then. By that year, newspaper websites were beginning to make deep inroads into news distribution. Someday someone will write the history of the development of powerful blogs, but I didn’t understand where the Drudge Report could lead us and I don’t think many others did. My father was no exception. But for much of his mature life he saw himself as a bridge between the titans of newspapering, the William Allen Whites and William Randolph Hearsts and the powerful voices of newspaper editors, columnists and writers in the late 20th Century. In this column from October of 1953 he honors another journalist who shared some of his memories of the last half of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th.

The Argus Observes

By Don Lynch
From the Oct. 8, 1953 issues of The Ontario Argus-Observer

Shades of Wild Bill Hickcock and Calamity Jane.

Who’d ever expect to run into a newsman who had rubbed shoulders, at least figuratively, with them and with William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, the great Charles Dana and many other notables of an early day that are legendary movie-type characters to us today.

Well, we have such a newsman right here in Ontario. He is 91-year-old M. E. Bain, tramp printer, editor and publisher for 35 years before he came here in 1909 … and who has been a favorite elder citizen in Ontario for almost a generation since his retirement 37 years ago.

He told of his experiences in a talk to the Kiwanis club Wednesday. It was an enchanting talk, at least to me, for I can well imagine what a lot of his experiences must have been like. . . .

He was a great admirer of Charles Dana, whom he regards as the greatest editor of them all. When Bain worked for Dana’s New York Sun in the 1880’s, Dana published a four page paper on week days and an eight page issue on Sundays.

The great editor was so fussy that he always wrote special late leads on all stories were he could get late-breaking information. As a result, many times half of the material set was thrown away and would not be run at all.

Dana boasted a circulation of a “million a week,” and had it all right. He
had to throw out ads to keep his paper down to the size he wanted. And he boiled the news down tight and used little space for display of headlines.

But his product commanded great attention and he got a high rate for his ads to cover the high cost of his eccentric operation.

Dana was friendly with his crew and ate at the lunch counter with the printers who were devoted to him. Bain sometimes visited with Dana at lunch.

Joseph Pulitzer was regarded by Bain as the dynamo of his day in business management of a newspaper.

Later Bain worked for the Hearsts when William Randolph was just reorganizing his newly acquired San Francisco Examiner and getting set to build the biggest newspaper empire ever assembled.

Bain has told me how he and his fellow workers used to sit around and have a glass of beer and talk with some of the great writers of those early days.

“We had a wonderful time,” he recalls with the excitement of youth in his 91-year-old vocal chords. “We knew all about what was going on in the world and sat around and talked about it by the hour. It sure was fun.”

As William Allen White used to say, “There were giants in those days,” at least they are giants in retrospect.

That feeling of comradeship with writers and identification with the events of the day that Bain recalls so vividly is one of the things that puts ink in a man’s veins; and most of us who make our living knocking copy through a typewriter and watching it come out on the printed page, no matter how humble our situation, wouldn’t change jobs with a lot of more important people.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In the 50s: Trouble with that “Other Days” column

Editor’s Note: In October of 1953 my father wrote a column commemorating that year’s newspaper week by enunciating some of the ideals of a Journalistic Creed he’d come across. One stated ideal was that “no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman.” What with blogs and the Internet we’re way beyond honoring that principle today. But it was that basic idea that triggered his recounting of a pair of violations in which his reporters had indulged. The stories that slipped by on his watch in the 1950s might get killed today by the editors or publishers of the better community weeklies, if there are any of those left. Today, one hopes that respect means something in “small town” America,though the rancor in the letters column of today's Argus can raise questions whether that is true now in Ontario.

The Argus Observes

By Don Lynch

An excerpt from the October 5, 1953 issue of The Argus-Observer

I remember little violations of these (Journalistic Creed) principles that have been painfully embarrassing to me, although they have probably gone unnoticed by most readers. For instance:

Once when we had a new reporter writing the “In Other Days” column of notes from the files of former years, he picked up and retold some embarrassing crime stories long forgotten about local citizens who had since led exemplary lives.

On another occasion an eager reporter was publishing the lurid details of divorce complaints, which should be reported only in barest facts.

These were cruel, pointless stories. The person who has made a mistake and reformed should be granted the balm of public forgetfulness. Divorce items should only report the brief facts, so that the community knows the changing status of the individuals. No good is performed by broadcasting the miserable circumstances.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Making the big trucks pay their fair share

Editor’s note: Debate over how much big trucks should pay for their heavy use of the highways has been going on for at least fifty years, as looking back to the 1952 Truck Tax initiative on the Oregon ballot reminds us. My father was a big proponent of increasing the tax on the long haul behemoths as the state Legislature had done, under the guidance of his friend State Sen. Elmo Smith, a Republican then from John Day, Oregon, and former mayor of Ontario. (Elmo was also the former publisher of the Eastern Oregon Observer, which was combined into the Argus five years earlier.) Anyway, here is the argument as Dad presented it in his front page column before the election. And this time I can tell you how it came out, because he wrote about it in a post-election column I happen to have at hand.

The Argus Observes
By Don Lynch
From an October 1952 issue of the Ontario Argus-Observer

This (truck tax) initiative measure is most important in its effect on the economy and welfare of the state.

The 1951 Legislature believing that the trucks weren’t paying their full share of the cost of building and maintaining highways, boosted the weight-mile tax with the heaviest increase falling on long-haul truckers.

The Legislature and the State Highway Commission figured that trucks now pay about 29 percent of highway costs, but they should pay about 33 percent. This bill is intended to make trucks pay their fair share of road costs.

The long haul truckers, who claim they already pay more than their share of the road costs, got the bill referred to the people.

This bill is the product of a tremendous detailed study by the Legislature, and tremendously hard work in getting I passed over the opposition of the powerful truck lobby. It represents a great forward stride in Oregon highway financing, and to my mind it is perfectly fair and equitable.

It is the key bill in a whole system of highway taxation carefully designated by the state’s best experts.

This valuable work of the Legislature is supported by the Highway Commission, the state grange, all of the state’s newspapers, the Portland City club, and virtually all of the organizations qualified to judge its merits.

The big trucks simply are trying to dodge a tax that really nails them down to paying according to their heavy use of roads. Many smaller truckers such as Clarence Vogt in Ontario, favor the legislative program because under it they pay only according to their less extensive use of the roads. It is a fair tax.

It is most important that you support the Legislature by voting 318X Yes in favor of this measure.

(Editor’s note 2 – The truck tax measure passed, keeping the tax intact, and Dad wrote that it was an important victory justifying Smith’s tireless efforts on the Legislature as well as the newspaper support that the measure drew. Here is an excerpt from that November 1952 column, which talks about this pride in the efforts of the state’s nespapers.)

The result seem almost like a personal victory for many editors who sometimes wonder if their editorial voice is heard at all in the hubbub of movies, radio, comics and against all the competition of the livelier columns of general news in their own papers. This time editors could be certain much of what they said hit the target.

The Oregon State Motor Association believes that newspapers were instrumental in saving the state’s truck tax program and along with it the highway program.

I received a letter from Ray Conway, the association manager, thanking me for the state taken by the Argus-Observer and saying in part:

“…The discrimination (voters) showed at the polls is due to the n newspapers of the state who clarified the issue so well that the voters were able to understand our meager advertising and were not confused by the more elaborate arguments of the opposition.”

Perhaps Conway overestimated the effect of the newspaper’s work but this is one instance all right in which the newspapers certainly were influential in a genuine public service.