• U.S.

The Press: Barometer–

6 minute read


Last month, the Messrs. Simon and Schuster presented their crossword* goose with a new nesting lure, the monthly Crossword Puzzle Magazine. They sat back awaiting more of the golden deposits that had established them in the publishing business. Crossword quips, crossword portraits, crossword biographies and several huge crossword puzzles filled the magazine’s pages.

The new moon of April was unable to say how this lure was going to succeed, but noted that the patient fowl, still laboring over the crossword puzzle books, was beginning to fly unmistakable signals of fatigue. Some bookstores reported their crossword sales to be one-fifth to one-tenth what they were last fall. Others reported the puzzle books to have continued their bestsellers for March, but expected them to fall to eighth or tenth this month.

Anticipated decline of the book sales, may, however, have been calculated with the Crossword Puzzle Magazine in mind. The cross-section of the U. S. press examined by TIME on Jan. 5 , showed but two changes. The following newspapers were still publishing crossword puzzles last week: Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution, Detroit Free Press, Omaha Bee, Chicago Tribune, Buffalo News, Cleveland Press, Cincinnati Enquirer, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Philadelphia Public Ledger, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Transcript and nine Manhattan dailies. Crossword puzzles had ceased to appear in The Kansas City Star, The Minneapolis Tribune.


The housewives of Iowa are practical women. They realize that garbage is an inevitable concomitant ok housekeeping, but they keep their garbage pails on the back porch or under the kitchen sink, out of sight. They realize that crime news is unavoidable in newspapers−indeed to some extent salutary for its purgative effect upon society−but they do not see that the front page is the logical repository for society’s daily wastage−murder, arson, theft.

Lately, the Federated Women’s Clubs of Des Moines petitioned The Des Moines Register that crime news be segregated on an inside page, so that children and general readers would not have to search through crime to find the worthwhile news of the day. Last week, all week, the Register tried this “experiment.” Crime became a department, along with Sport and Market news.

Because of its central location in the U. S., Des Moines is frequently the scene of large conventions of various kinds of moral uplifters, in particular the Student Volunteers of America. The spirit of such gatherings is notably infectious. Hence, if the Register’s temporary eschewal of lurid headlines loses the sheet no circulation, editors elsewhere are likely to grunt: ”Oh yes, in Des Moines,” and continue to await the arrival of another Leopold-Loeb attraction for their display columns. Indeed, even the Des Moines Register tied a string to its promise. It reserved the right to print on its front page during the test week “any story of outstanding criminal importance.”

How unsympathetic with Des Moines clubwomen are most newspaper editors of the U. S. was demonstrated, a fortnight ago, when, with the customary exception of the Christian Science Monitor and a few others, every newspaper of any dimensions cast of the Mississippi set aside one or more columns a day on Page 1 for glowing accounts of the trial, at Hartford, Conn., of one Gerald Chapman for the murder of a New Britain, Conn., patrolman.

This story was particularized, emphasized, dramatized, sentimentalized, moralized and painstakingly advertised for eight days by newspapers good, bad and indifferent. Chapman’s picture appeared time and again: “Picking his jury. . . . Answering prosecutor. . . . Talking with counsel. . . . Eating lunch.” And the “color” paragraphists described him: “Master criminal mind. . . . Intellec-tual desperado. . . . Misguided genius. . . . Stoic sinner. . . . Finely modeled head of a thinker.* . . . Artistic hands….”

When Chapman was finally sentenced to hang, the editorial pages wound up the affair with: “Served him right,” “Thus always with malefactors,” “Now will you be good,” “A splendid example of American justice,” and similar sentiments reminiscent of the great days of Harry K. Thaw, Nicky Arnstein and “Lefty Louie.”

Had the newspapers been asked to state journalistic precepts by which they were actuated in making the Chapman case of first-page impor-tance, the most honest replies they could have given would have been in effect:

¶(Papers of The New York World type): “Chapman had a long criminal record, was dangerously adroit at fleeing justice. We were out to get him. Publicity for the countrywide network of detection that finally caught him at Muncie, Ind., would scare other super-crooks, of which the underworld is full. Hammer, hammer, hammer on that! Besides, our readers like a sensational murder trial now and then, reported ably and with just a trifle less color than the yellow press lays on. We serve the public what it wants in a way we think we can prove is good for it.” ¶(Papers of The New York Times type): “Ah yes, isn’t it unfortunate! But we are forced to compete with papers like The World and, besides, it is our policy to be encyclopedic. Almost any news is fit to print if treated in the proper spirit. Now here, the sociological import was considerable, really; intensely interesting to scientific students of these matters. . . .” ¶(Papers of The New York Herald-Tribune stamp): “Well, the conservative, law-abiding, well-to-do citizen wants to be kept abreast of the justice of the land. They discuss these cases down at the Stock Exchange, at lunch. Anyway, all the other papers ran it.”

¶(Papers of the Hearst and Chicago Tribune persuasion): “Hot stuff! Sensational! Lay it on thick; run it every day! Great headlines! Maybe it isn’t the best way of reforming the world, but for the present it’s the best way to sell lots of newspapers.” ¶(Gum-chewers’sheetlets): “Meat! Meat for us! Get the pictures, pictures, pictures! But of course we can’t keep Chapman on the front page very long. There’ll be a dozen crimes as good tomorrow!”

*On Jan. 5, TIME measured the extent of the crossword puzzle fad, promised its readers a report directly the barometer showed sign of slightest change. *As anyone could see from the many pictures of him published, Chapman possessed a low, back-sloping forehead, the temples, nose, cheeks, lips of a neurotic type.

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