• U.S.

The Press: The Great Editors

3 minute read

The history of metropolitan newspapers in the U.S. is rightly written around the names of great editors and publishers. Charles A. Dana, Horace Greeley, James Gordon Bennett, William Randolph Hearst, the first Joseph Pulitzer, Adolph Ochs, Captain Joe Patterson—each left an indelible imprint on U.S. journalism. By publishing newspapers that reflected their own forceful personalities, they helped to create the great tradition of personal daily journalism. But it is a dying tradition. In its place, the complexity of covering world affairs has brought an age of efficient and impersonal news-gathering machines. Few are the publishers who are not dwarfed by them. Last week, within the space of 30 hours, two U.S. publishers died who were part of the great tradition. They created great news-gathering machines, but they were not dwarfed by them. Clearly and unmistakably, their papers reflected their own dominating personalities. Like all great editors, they made their papers the public extension of their private brilliance.

In his rambling, richly decorated home outside St. Louis, a ruptured abdominal blood vessel unexpectedly struck down Joseph Pulitzer II, 70, son and namesake of the founder of the crusading St. Louis Post-Dispatch (circ. 387,398) and the former New York World. Twenty-seven hours later, at Wheaton, Ill., in the splendor of his 35-room Georgian mansion, death after a two-year illness came to Colonel Robert Rutherford McCormick, boss of the Chicago Tribune (circ. 892,058) and nominal boss of its Manhattan cousin, the Daily News (circ. 2,092,455).

Superficially, the character of the two papers was as different as dailies can be. The right-wing, isolationist Tribune viewed the New Dealing Post-Dispatch as a political enemy. But actually, the journalistic ingredients they had in common were more important than those that set them apart. Both the Tribune and the P-D—each in its own way—chose to be independent to a fault. The Trib rarely went along with any political party (see below), while the P-D’s editorial support swung from Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932) to Alf Landon (1936), back to Roosevelt (1940 and 1944), to Dewey (1948) and Adlai Stevenson (1952).

Both papers covered national and international news with the same sharp eye that they kept for local stories, laid away the myth of isolationism in the Midwest, even though Robert McCormick endlessly affirmed it. From their able, highly paid staffs, both got the kind of intense loyalty that only grows out of respect.

Both publishers were without fear of being out of step with their readers or unpopular in the pursuit of their convictions. They tried to lead, even at moments when they had few followers behind them. From their convictions and their determination to tell the truth, rather than their power of the moment, they drew their journalistic strength. Such devotion to independent newspapering— when they were right and when they were wrong—immeasurably enriched not only U.S. journalism but the pursuit of the news and truth everywhere.

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