The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 1, Page 11.


"Some Real Facts About a Country Newspaper", Written By a Woman Who Knows of It From Experience


EDITOR'S NOTE - Mrs. Elizabeth Tobin, sister of the late Arthur J. Bowser, founder of the Chesterton TRIBUNE and well known Porter county figure for nearly half a century, prepared the humorous account of "a country editor", for this edition of The VIDETTE-MESSENGER. Her knowledge of newspaper publishing was received through Mr. Bowser and through several months as publisher of The Tribune, during an illness suffered by her brother. Mr. Bowser crowned his career as editor of The VIDETTE-MESSENGER'S "Siftings" column, which he created. Mrs. Tobin was his assistant.

Perhaps dear readers, you would like to know some real facts about a Country Newspaper. I virtually grew up in a Country Newspaper Office. When I was but twelve years old I used to go up to my brother's printing office, the Chesterton Tribune, after school and stand on a soap box to reach the cases and learned to set type, until I became an efficient type setter. I was also an all-around helper - I gathered news, kept books, run errands, etc. So I think I can accurately tell something of the woes and joys of the country newspaper.

The Country Newspaper! What is it? It is something that displeases you, it is that vile rage, which no one reads and nobody cares about; while if it says something particular nice about you or your business, you glibly say, "Oh, well give the editor a chance, he is doing the best he can."

There are few institutions in any community that work harder or longer, expend greater effort, devote more time and money to furthering the progress, intellectually, socially, financially, commercially and in every way, than the humble country newspaper. It is the leader in every forward movement; moulder of public opinion and public sentiment.

To the uninitiated it is the classiest and most agreeable business in the world to conduct. Anybody can tell you just how to run a newspaper. The champion tight rope walker of the world, a fellow by the name of Slackey, once started a correspondence school in tight rope walking and guaranteed for ten dollars to teach anyone how to walk a tight rope. You gave him ten dollars and in a few days Uncle Sam's postal service brought you a tiny instruction sheet on which was printed in ordinary type these instructions: "Get a wire, get it up, get on it, stay on it." That is all there is to the Newspaper business. "Get a newspaper, get it going, keep it going." Unlike the metropolitan newspapers the proprietory of the average country newspaper must not be only editor, but he must be a reporter, proof reader copy holder, business manager, solicitor, collector, bookkeeper, clerk, circulation manager, and a few other things, and frequently he is the foreman of the mechanical end, typesetter, pressman and all round chore boy. In between times, while he is resting he has to get out and hustle up the cash to satisfy the help on pay day. He is an all round man and must be able to turn his hand and mind to anything from carrying the papers to the post office, and pacifying Mrs. Jones because a mention of her party was overlooked or was not given as much space as she wished, to entering into a spirited discussion with Farmer Brown on the subject of whether it is best to wean a calf in the full of the moon or wait until the sign changes. He is expected to know everything and be everywhere at any time, and if he is a successful newspaper man he generally does and is.

Seriously speaking there are a few things that have a broader effect upon the mind than the responsibility of a successful country newspaper. A newspaper man becomes an accurate judge of human nature and human character. He is constantly on the watch for the good, the true, the uplifting, the progressive things in his community; yet he is ever brought in touch with the sordid, the mean, the bitter, the disagreeable things of life. Every conscientious newspaper endeavors to reflect in every issue the best things in the community; it is ever in search of the things that will prove of benefit to its readers.

The metropolitan newspaper comes to us each day bearing the general news of the world, and increasing round of murders, sordid stories, accidents, life's tragedies, practical intrigues, tales of graft, things of which you care for only for the moment; things in which the principal actors are unknown to you and the scenes of which are laid in far distant places. The country newspaper comes to you each week bearing its report of the near personal things and events occurring in your everyday life; telling of the comings and doings of the people whom you know personally, in whom you are so closely interested in your daily life; it gives you a more or less accurate report of the birth, marriages and death of those with whom you are closely associated. It fills a place in your heart that the world wide daily can never attain.

When the country paper has been identified with and published in a community for a term of year it binds its readers with a bond of seeming brotherhood that nothing can ever break. When it has heralded the birth of a child, told of the graduation, announced the marriage, congratulated the happy father of a newly arrive heir and at last when death reaches forth an icy hand and end all earthly toil, tells of the many good qualities of the deceased, it has attained a place in the home that nothing else can fill. It has become a part and parcel of the life of its readers.

The day of the old time newspaper, whose editor took his pay in cord-wood, pumpkins and promises is past. Today the successful country newspaper is run upon a business like plan. Its affairs are carefully administered as those of a bank, or any commercial institution. It demands, seeks and receives the respect of the people and insists upon a fair remuneration for the service it renders. There are few business ventures in the world that require a higher degree of business sagacity to conduct successfully. The proprietor of the country newspaper must have the sagacity of a lawyer, the conservation of a banker, the sociability of a barber, the suavity of a merchant, the good nature of a minister, the boldness of a poker player, and the nerve of a rampant suffragette. He must be versatile, aggressive, yet conservative.

The ideal country newspaper is yet to be published; the country newspaper that will please all of its readers has not as yet been printed, and what is more never will be printed. The nearest thing to a newspaper that pleased everyone was a blank sheet of paper that run through the press without any ink on it, and even then some people complained that it was not a pure white color, while other said it hurt their eyes to look at it. The man who can conduct a newspaper that will please everybody is not yet born, and a hundred to one shot and a good bet at that, that he will never happen. But no matter how hard you may criticize your country paper, remember there is at least one man who is a more critical reader than yourself, that he reads it for errors of commission and omission more critically than you can possibly do. That is the editor himself. No matter how perfect it may seem to you, the defects in it stand out before his critical eyes boldly; and no matter how serious a mistake you may find in it he knows at once the weight and effect of that mistake, or how little or how great importance it may be.

Let us consider something of the task of collecting the news, writing it up, editing, proof reading, correct, and arranging the matter that is offered the public in just one issue of the average country newspaper. In the first place one week's issue is hardly off the press and in the postoffice before work on the next week's paper is begun. Those whose duty it is to collect the news are on duty all the time, as soon as one issue is completed they begin again for next week. The information of news is the nearest approach to perpetual motion of anything in existence. News of some kind is happening every moment. Every minute of the twenty-four hours of every day in every community, there occurs something worthy of public mention, something that newspaper men term news or "copy." It is the reporters business to find this out, and to find it out as soon after it happened as he possibly can. It may be only a small item of seeming importance, but it is news nevertheless, something that some one somewhere is interested in hearing about. You might wish to ask me what is news? The answer is surprisingly simple. News is nothing more or less than a record of the happenings in which some one is interested. There are various degrees in which people are interested in these happenings, and importance of the news corresponds to the degree in which the public is interested. The fact that a dog bit a man interests but a few people unless the dog is pretty well known and the man quite popular. But if you ever hear of a man biting a dog, tell it to the reporter as quick as you can for you have got a red hot news item that is good for at least a column of space no matter how worthless the dog is, or how humble and obscure a person the man may be. It is these items of interest to someone that are occurring every moment of the day. It is the newspaper's task to collect these items, to judge their relative importance, to know almost by instinct to what degree the public is interested. When a record of these happenings has been collected it must be written in a readable manner. The story must be written concisely, yet as fully as possible. Care must be excised to tell the facts; the story must be written so clearly that the reader can understand just what occurred as well as though he had been a witness of the affair. To secure the facts is one of the hardest tasks the country newspaper or indeed any newspaper encounters. Seldom does a reporter fail to secure three or four versions of an accident, or any ordinary occurrance, and each of them different from the others. It is clear to the reporter that at least three out of four informants are mistaken, and upon his shoulders devolves the burden of selecting the most plausible and reasonable account for publication. He may be lucky and choose the correct one, and if he is fortunate enough to do so, there are at least three persons ready to declare that he is a liar.

Upon the editor devolves the duty of deciding the relative importance of the news. What stories are worthy of blaring headlines and what interest so few people that a line or two of local readers covers it fully. To decide what shall be published and what shall not. To consider whether the public welfare is promoted by the things that are to appear in print or whether it is best to leave it out.

It is important to know what shall be published, but it is equally important for an editor to know what not to publish. Every newspaper, even the little country newspaper wields a tremendous power for good or evil in a community. The experienced and trained newspaperman who understands his business thoroughly knows that he can by the power placed in his hands make or break any other business venture in the town and do it so cleverly that the injured party has no recourse at law, and in part may never know the real cause of his failure. It is to the everlasting credit of the newspaper profession that this power is never used except in occasional instances as a means to repel a vicious attack. The power is there nevertheless and every newspaper man who knows his business knows it is there. You may doubt this. Let me ask how long the average minister would succeed if he failed to have the assistance and support of his home newspaper; How long would the average physician continue a successful practice if the newspaper contained an account of every patient he lost; how long would the aver merchant continue a successful business if the newspaper excluded all mention of his store from his columns or on the other hand told of the complaints his patrons sometimes made.

The editor if frequently asked to keep things out of the paper as he is to publish them; and a great many readers imagine that the only way in which to keep things out of the paper is to keep quiet and say nothing about it. They could make no greater mistake than this. If it an item of anything more than ordinary importance the reporter is sure to get some clue of it. To refuse him information or pretend ignorance is only to pit his wits against yours, with the odds in the reporter's favor. He enters into the fame with glee for he knows that what information he is able to gather is his own and can be used as he sees fit, and he soon gets to the bottom of the story and has all of the facts. If, however, you treat him frankly and offer all the information in your power, you tie his hands on that particular story, until such time as you give him permission to publish it. The information is till yours and the reporter is in honor bound to respect your wishes in the matter. No trained reporter will ever ender any circumstances violate the confidence placed in him in this way, for he knows that to do that will cost him your confidence and respect. Tell the reporter frankly and freely, give him your confidence and ask him not to publish it until you say the word, and you seal his lips effectively. Let him go ahead and dig up the facts himself, and he will break his fool neck to do it and when he does get the fact, they are his property and the first thing he does is to put it right on the front page.

A newspaper man never apologizes for anything unless someone makes him.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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