[PDF Notes] High Standard Makes a Newspaper Good – Essay

The institutional character of the newspaper requires that it pays full attention to mass standards of good taste. The newspaper reaches all literate ages. What is suitable for an adult may not be suitable for a child.

The New York Times slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” conveys the importance which that great newspaper places on good taste. The publisher of a smaller paper put it in even more specific terms. Dan Cloud, publisher of the Montesano (Washington) Vidette, said “his rule is to put nothing in the paper that any good mother would hesitate to read aloud to her girls and boys.”

On the other hand, Charles A. Dana has been quoted as saying, “I have always felt that whatever Divine Providence permitted to occur, I was not too proud to print.”

Neither of these positions is really tenable in the daily news­paper of today. Whether or not distasteful or un-tasteful, news is printed not on question of taste alone. To suppress a story because it has some unpleasant aspects is to fail to discharge the principal duty of the newspaper. On the other hand, some newspapers which deliberately include material of doubtful character as a lure to readers of low taste lay themselves open to censure.

Hence the question is one of balancing questions of taste against questions of suppression or partial withholding of the news. A story which has little or no significance and only titillation value can reasonably be kept out of the paper. The story which is part of the mainstream of the news but which contains unpleasant detail cannot ‘be killed off’ altogether. Sometimes it is possible to delete those parts of the story which are fallacious without failing to tell it in its main outlines.

The important thing for our purposes here is this: that such decisions must be based on balanced judgment, not on any rules about “good taste”, and that such judgments must be made by editors.

This was clearly pointed out by J. Russell Wiggins, editor of the Washington Post, when he said:

“Those who get the news have the responsibility to gather all the news. The editors will decide what part of the news cannot, for any reason (of taste), be put into print. They may conclude, in many cases, that the public importance of some news that violates (considerations of taste is so great that their publication is essential nonetheless.

“Such decisions are to be made by the editors. Responsibility to get the news, failure to write it, and failure to print it is not to be shifted to another….”

Of course such decisions rest, in the final analysis, at a higher level than the news copy desk. Here again, it is the copy desk that detects-decides in some cases and gets decisions at a higher level in others.

Does the copy editor encounter such copy often enough to waste much worry on the question? It does not often arise in local copy. The city editor is on guard in the same matter. But it does often turn up in wire service copy. Generally, the wire services take Mr. Wiggins’ advice: They gather the news and send it, even though it may not meet the taste standards of individual newspapers. They assume, with Mr. Wiggins, that it is up to the editors to make the decision.

Newspaper Departments:

Bruce Westley divides newspaper work into three basic categories. Each of these departments is distinctly different yet each is wholly dependent on the smooth functioning of the others. These areas of responsibility are usually referred to as “business”, “mechanical” and “editorial”. Working newsmen are more likely to call them, in order, ‘the front office”, “the back shop” and “the newsroom”.

Newspaper editing is actually only one operation among several in “the newsroom” but the editors, particularly, must know how other branches of the total newspaper operate in order to do their job with maximum efficiency. The copy desk is essentially the “crossroads” between the editorial and mechanical branches of the business. The copy editor must know the mechanical phase pretty thoroughly in order to perform his editorial function.

Business Administration:

The business office is the “counting house” of the newspaper profession. It has an obvious duty to keep the organization afloat financially (It could even be argued that the newspaper has a duty to its readers to keep solvent).

The newspaper business office operates pretty much like any other business office. Ordinarily, it has major divisions: an advertising department (which might be broken down into two autonomous departments, classified and display advertising); a circulation depart­ment, a promotion department, and an accounting or auditing department.

Each of these branches is typically headed by a major officer of the business staff. Usually the entire operation is directed by a “business manager,” to whom each of these departments heads. is responsible. The business manager function often is handled by the publisher himself, especially in the case of smaller dailies.

Advertisement Department:

The advertising department, headed by an advertising manager, ordinarily has four divisions:

(a) The local or retail division consists of a staff of specialists who solicit, lay out, correct, and sometimes “merchandise” local advertising accounts. This can be expected to be the largest of the advertising department subdivisions and offers the most creative employment in newspaper advertising for journalism graduates with advertising training.

(b) Another group of specialists concerns itself with obtaining and handling “foreign”, or “national” advertising accounts. This division deals directly with advertising agencies which handle the accounts of the big advertisers, usually with the help of an advertising representative in metropolitan cities, a service which intercedes for the newspaper directly with the agencies.

(c) Another concern of the advertising manager is “classified”, although this may be a separate department. Classified ads have gained steadily in recent years as a source of newspaper revenue and hence are receiving increasing attention by newspaper executives.

(d) A fourth division of an advertising department is the “merchandising” or “service” division. Its purpose is to assist the advertiser in getting the maximum return on his advertising budget. This is the most recent and rapidly growing phase of newspaper advertising and ranges from a part-time trouble-shooter to a complex research organisation ready to provide a potential advertiser with detailed information on the buying habits of the newspaper’s readers with reference to his particular product.

The advertising manager coordinates all these activities and is the person ordinarily responsible directly to the business manager, and sometimes directly to the publisher, for their successful operation.

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