Wick Communications

If No News, Send Rumors

In Books on January 7, 2016 at 4:01 pm

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The first journalism book I’ve read in 2016 is a hoot. It’s also 30 years old – before online commenters, Facebook and even websites. It’s called, “If No News, Send Rumors.” It will crack you up.

It’s a collection of anecdotes from our trade. Stephen Bates’ book is also evidence that, while change has touched everything we do since the book was published in 1988, some things aren’t much different from 1690 when the continent’s first newspaper, Publick Occurances Both Foreign and Domestick was grappling in its very first edition about whether to report a suicide. (It did.)

Among the tidbits:

  • White House staff are said to have regularly passed out amphetamines to reporters in the press room throughout 1955.
  • Cops in New York gave influential columnist Walter Winchell his own lights and sirens for his car.
  • James Gordon Bennett of The New York Herald is purported to have conducted the first newspaper interview in 1836. His interview subject? A madam at a brothel where a prostitute was brutally murdered.

Taken as a whole, the book provides a sense that journalism – for all it’s pronouncements of professionalism and somber sermonizing – is largely about winging it. Ethical judgments are made on the fly. Walters Cronkite and Winchell had the same travails as you have today. And competition has always been mother’s milk to journalists.

It is also a testament to the literate and profoundly funny people who have practiced the tradition of journalism through the years. Some of the quotes and ledes remembered here are laugh-out-loud funny. I’ll leave you with one, from F.H. Brennan, late of The St. Louis Dispatch:

“One answer to the problem of how to treat reporters is to treat them frequently.”

Clay

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