Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: February 4, 1873: Charles L. Congdon

Posted on February 24, 2014

On Feb. 4th, Eliza reported that she attended Mr. Congdon's "lecture on Journalism." We recently found this report on the lecture in the July 1873 Rushlight, and assume that Miss Wier was suffering from "senioritis" when she dated her article. Here is her article, in full.

"Newspapers or Maps of Busy Life."

A lecture delivered

By Mr. Charles L. Congdon, at Norton Jan. 1872

            Dr. Johnson’s remark “it is profitable to talk with any one about his business” may have possibly suggested to Mr. Congdon his lecture on Newspapers.

The New York Tribune, in Printing House Square, 1865.

The New York Tribune,
in Printing House Square, 1865.

The subject was introduced by a question. How many graduates could describe the nature and processes of the food which made up the morning meal or of the covering of the body from the sole of the shoe to the protuberance on the back of the head. Many persons know things superficially, only a few know one or a few things thoroughly. How many outside of a printing office, know whether the printer’s ink is good or bad: who considers for a moment the quality of the paper or thinks the print any the better for its superiority? Who stops to consider the vast amount of labor attending the editing and printing of a paper like the New York Tribune?

An editor ought to be nearly devoid of feeling, else his sensibilities will be constantly harassed with the unfair comments of his readers. The master of the house takes up the damp sheet, which lies upon the table beside the muffins and coffee, and after glancing rapidly over its columns emphatically remarks “there is nothing in it”. The same remark is echoed by mother and daughter, reechoed in the streets, in offices, cars, coaches and upon boats. Such is the appreciation of the dear public. An editor’s life is not to be envied, particularly the night editor, whose work Mr. Congdon says he would not undertake for a dollar a minute. He is obliged to be at his post from eight in the afternoon until three in the morning. Such men are not usually long lived. Let us enter the establishment in the morning. The busy tide of life outside, contrasts with the gloomy lifeless appearance within. Here but a few hours ago all was hurry and bustle, now the dull uninviting apartments are occupied only by a few listless females sweeping and dusting.

New York World, News Room, 1890

New York World,
News Room, 1890

Towards the middle of the day, more life is exhibited; one and another individual appears upon the scene; parties enter with contributions; business men and boys with advertisements, or telegraph dispatches and newsboys with papers. By the time shadows begin to deepen, the gas illumines the before dreary rooms and each is at his post ready for action. “Mr. Reade is here,” is a signal that rouses all to duty. Then begins the setting of type, the clanking of the press and all the noise and apparent confusion accompanying the printing process.

The daily editor remains till eight oclock; his business is to prepare the editorial and this must be the most able article in its columns, otherwise the paper is not so well appreciated and patronized. This article is sent up a spout to type setters and returned in proof sheet. Its appearance in print does not usually satisfy the editor in chief who corrects, adds new statements, and so nearly annihilates it that it is scarcely recognized as the same article. Contributor’s articles are dissected in the same manner, and here it may be noticed that the man or woman that presumes to write for the public, must make up his mind to meet with rebuffs, refusals, insults, and criticisms, not only a first and second time but many times. His only resources is to face all, beginning at the bottom of the ladder, climbing upward and onward as Mr. Greely did.

New York Tribune, Press Room, 1861

New York Tribune,
Press Room, 1861

If an article is essentially necessary he marks on the side of it “must”; on another, he writes “desirable”, on a third, “desirable if possible”, and on a fourth, “include if needed”. He then takes his leave and the responsibility which is no light one, now rests upon the night Editor. Very much yet remains to be done. He endeavors to condense one hundred and forty columns into forty eight but in vain, consequently he decided as to which “desirable” it is desirable to leave out thus incurring the risk of displeasing the day Editor, contributors and people in general. In this way many articles are left over for the next issue that are found on examination to be unsuitable on account of the delay, and consequently much is unavoidably lost. At half past two or three at the latest, it is compulsory that everything must be completed. Bundles of papers are sent away by express, via cars and steamboats throughout the country and across the wide ocean. If not ready, those who but yesterday remarked, “There is nothing in the Tribune,” are now so exasperated at its non arrival, as to make it their business to have a serious quarrel with those concerned in furnishing its columns.

It is the duty of the Reader next morning to peruse the Tribune from beginning to end for the purpose of noting errors, omissions and so forth. Then he must need read all other papers to which he can gain access, and woe be unto him if he have not an iron heart to withstand the comments and criticisms upon the Tribune’s articles. A good reader can secure the contents of two hundred papers in an hour. This rapid reading is only accomplished by practice.

The types are measured by m’s as this letter is the largest in the alphabet. In this paper there are one thousand m’s in thirty two lines, thus making nine hundred and sixty thousand, while in a volume of six hundred pages we shall find but eight hundred and thirty six thousand. It costs but four cents, and the written matter equals a book of eighty nine pages, sold for three dollars and a half. The composing and printing of a book is attended with much time and labor, but when completed the labor is over the battle fought and the victory (or defeat) won. Such is not the case with a newspaper; the work is always doing and never done. Just so much is required to be completed within a certain time and it is accomplished in such haste, the wonder is, that it is done at all. Much of the work connected with a printing establishment is of necessity at times drudgery; but the same result follows from inaction, as in practicing instrumental music—if one day’s exercise is omitted it puts us back two, therefore the moral from newspaper work is, “Whatever your hands find to do, do quickly and with all your might.”[1]

Melissa J. Wier, Class of 1873

[1] Ecclesiastes 9:10 (King James Version)

10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.



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