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.

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