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Country Journalism

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The following address was delivered )efore the Northwestern Michigan 'ress Association, at its third animal meeting, held in Cadillac, August 224, 1881, by E. O. Rose, of the Big tapida Pioneer Maguet, the retiring 'resident of the Association. Brethren of the Northwestern Michgan Press Association, Ladies and íentleinen: Ju the brief time that will be conistent for me to occupy, I can but arely mention, in a general way, a 'ew of the many subjects of importanee o the journalistic fraternity, upon which a lengthy and profltable paper night be written. In the iirst place, what is a newspaper V I am frank to admit that 11 years experlence in journalism is not sufiicient to enable me to answer the question in a way that will satisfy niyself, or instruct yon. As well might one ask, what is ahuman being? We see the newspaper, and the anímate object called man, every day; we read one, and converse with the other; we know their faces, and are familiar with them; each leaves an impression upon our thoughts and mind; yet what are they ? In one sense, the newspaper is a ble thing; a sheet which you can buy and sell; worth five cents a copy, or two dollars a year. As merchandise, or Ín a property sense, all newspapers are much alike. But in another sense, a newspaper is an iaspiration; an influence; a teacher; a companion; a househuld god. In that sense, there is no merchandise in newspapers, and in that sense, they are very uulike. When one pays tuition at a school or college, he does not bay the building, nor the outfit therein ; he only purchases the privilege of being taught, and of using his own personal advantage in future the infonuation there obtained. So with the newspaper. Payment of subscription don't buy the printing office, nor secure any voice in ils control; it only pays for one copy of the paper, with the privilege of deriving therefrom all the information, prolit, amusement and comfort which a perusal of its columns may afford. The amount of proüt thus to be obtained depends mainly upon the quality of the newspaper, or rather upon the quality of the thought, discrimination and labor expended upon its production. You can purchase and open almost any jack-knife, but some of them will not cut. You can pay tuition at any school, but some will give you much better instruction than others. You can subscribe for any newspaper, but some of them are about as profitable as the knife that won't cut. This leads us to consider the work" expended upon the production of the newspaper. We all agree that it should contain the iiewx, for that is on of the chief objects of the modern news papt-r. Bul no good newspaper wil always print all the news. It wil print all that is good for the people to have, and suppress that whieh is mili for introduciion within the family circle. It will not ad vertise evil things nor discuss objectionable subjects, uu der pretense of condemning thein To decide just what to adiuit and wha to reject, is of tentimes a delicate anu puzling task - one which edito must perform as his judgement an discretion may suggest. AVheneve doubts arise as to the propriety of sa; ing or admitting any particular thin to one's columns, it is always safes to take advantage of the doubt, anc reject it. It tliis rule be adoped ani conscientiously adhered to, your news papers will seldoin eontain anytliin which can offend the most fasüdiou family circle. As a matter of course the countr newspaper, published but once a week cannot vie with its metrojiolitaii dail cotemporary in the publication of iipw in quantity and detail. What th editor of the city daily has in six ii stallments, must be condensed into on by his country cousin. And this tas' of "boiling down," of compilin an epitome which shall convey to thi mindofthe average reader as muc intelligence in four pages of a countr weekly, as is strung out through twei ty-four pages of the city daily, requires a degree of ingenuity and an exercis of judgment seldom found in a large daily office. Hut when I speak of an epitome, I do not mean carelessly taking from twenty-four columns enough to öll four. On the contrary I mean rewriting and condensing into intelligent paragraphs everything of importance, crowding the substance of a half column or column into a few pithy seiitences, giving to each article önly the space which its importance may warrant, and omitting nothing which is really worth mentioning. Such a compendium will give the intelligent reader of a weekly newspaper about as much information and as accurate an idea of the occurrences of the week, as his neighbor will obtain from theperusal of a daily. Doing this work well, is what may be called editing a country weekly. But a newspaper must be printed, as well as edited. The face of a paper may have a pleasant and cheerful look, or it may be dull and forbidding. When neatly and tastily printed, eommonplace things will be read with pleasure, while the most brilliant genius cannot make miserable mechanical work attractive. A carefully made-up and handsomely printed paper, with but an indifferent editor, will outstrip in circulation and reputation, the botohea press work with brilliant writers behind it. There may be poor newspapers with mechanical excellence, but there caimot be a good one without it. Newspaper men generally will agree with me when I say there are too maay newspapers. There are none too many good ones, but there are too many of a poor quality. One reason for this is because of erroneous judgment on the part of tlieir founders. It is useless to a newspaper beside every blacksmith shop or saw-mill, and expect them to thrive. Where there are too many newspapers, the best will win; the flttest only will survive, for an intelligent public can easily teil the dilïerence between steak and liver, and will not buy the latter when the former can be had for practically the same money. The country newspaper which most systematically collects and attractively publishes the news of the preceding week best worth the attention of average men of intellect, will be the leadingf journal of its locality. A young man once consulted Uaniel Webster in regard to the choiee of a profession, and was advised to adoptlaw. "But,"said the young man, "is not the legal profeasion over-crowded- are there not already too many lawyers?" "There's always room at the top," was the laconic reply of the great New Kngland statesman; and, as in law, so in the journalistic field, "there's always room at the top" for better newspapers. And if I may be allowed to suggest, I will remark that we should stnve each week to make our newspapers better than they were the week before; to make thein better this year than they were last. In this way we will realize much more improvement thnu ifweare content to slide aloug from week to 1 week without an eftoit to surpass previoiHt productions. Every editor should edit hi8 own aper. As the sliip must have a capain and the anny a general, so the ewspaper must have an editor. It is mistake to suppose that writing is ditiiig. Writing is one thing; editing s another. Many of the best editors vrite little for their papers, but they do edit theni. They know what to put into them, and what to keep out. As the editor is responsible, and receives the credit or blame for whatever appears in lus paper, he should not only have the privilege of sa y ing what shall and what shall not be admitted to its columns, but he should actually exercise that prerogative. Candidatos for oflice frequently offer to help the editor; but they are not the only ones. Subscribers often feel called upon to offer their advice and assistance. They sometimes bring a batch of doggerel, by courtesy called poetry, or possibly a school exhibition essay or oration, the 'publication of which, in most cases, tickles the vanity of the author and pleases perhaps half a dozen of his or her personal friendo, but is of no inore interest to the general reader than B last year's alruauac. Compositions are good things in school, uut Ae judicious newspaper manager has [ittle use for thein, and no sensible person should take offense when he politely declines to give them a place in his columns. But the most troublesome ■assiatant" is the business man who wants pufEs and advertisements of his business smuggled in as editorial matter, or as news items. He is not content with their appearance in their proper department, under the heal of business locáis, special notices. or whatever title may be used to indícate reading matter advertisements, lut wants them injected into the editorial and news columns. And because he is willing to pay, he insi3ts upou dictatitig how the-paper shall be made up. Soine editora submit to this, and their pages present an uninvitiug, junaliled mixture of matter, as varied in quality and kind as stale boarding-house hash. In a well ordered hardware store, you don't flnd plow-points in the show case with plated goods, nor horse-shoes on the same shelf with cutlery. Each has its proper department, and the newspaper should be made up on the same plan. Every editor should have nerve enough to manage his own business; to draw the line between tliat which is for general entertainment, information and instruction, and that which is for the advancement of individual purposes, and to so draw it that paid matter shall be so published that the fact that it is paid matter will not be concealed. If every editor in our jurisdiction would adopt such a rule and adhere to it, the standing and dignity of the press of Northwestern Michigan would be imnieasurably elevated; for it is a fact that when it is known that the editorial article is purchasable, the bulk of its force and influence is lost and disregarded. One of the few deplorable things to be found in the conáuct of some engaged in journalism, is the low tone whlch characterizes their treatment of brother editora. To excel in blackguarding, and hurling billingsgate at each other appears to be the height of some newspaper men's ambition; while others, who even make conspicuous pretentions to being the oecupants of a higl moral standard, and of being mode men, not only use their columns as weapons of warfare against those whom they happen to dislike, but actuallj manufacture and retail the basest kinc of falsehoods to gratify personal spite and malice. These things are to be regretted, and every true journalist wil not only avoid them liim.self but rebuke them in others, Our profession is as honorable as any, and their is no gooi reason why we should not treat eacl other with as ïuuch courtesy :md dignity as clergymen are wont to do. Wliat would be thought of the clergy man whophould stand up in his pulpii and gravely teil his congregatiou tlia that other preacher, holding forth in the church around the corner, was an unmitigated, lying rascal, cali hitn a brainless idiot, and all the other choice epitheta to be found in the blackguard's vocabulary? Yet that is nothing more than some editors do from week to week, such conduct being1 so coramon with them that mauy people regard ability to bandy bar-room slang as one of the essential qualiñcations of an editor. When assaulted by one of these fellows, natural combativeness prompts retaliation in kind, but better judgment forbids it.and time will prove that it is more profltable to practice self-control and follow the suggestions of reason, than to rush after the impetuous promptings of a combative nature. Groundless fault-finding and unjustiñable assaults become apparent to the public in due time, and in the long run do not injure those assailed. Another subject of vital importance to our fraternity, is the matler of subscriptions. Among country newspapers, the credit system is the rule and advance payment the exception. This explains w hy so many newspaper men are "hard up." An inspection of the books of almost any country newspaper that has been established any length of time, will disclose the fact that enough is due from subscribers to pay all its debts, buy a new office outüt, including a power piess, and build a new house for the proprietor of the establishment. Ask the owner of those accounts what he considers them wortl1, and in nine cases out of ten, he will teil you he would be glad to sell them for twenty-five cents on a dollar, I "know how it is myself," for my old books show several ihousand dollars worth of such unpaid accounts, upon which I would b:' delighted to realize ten per cent. of their face value. Now this state of things ought to be reversed; advance payment should be the rule, and credit the exception. Every newapaper man will admit the soundness of this proposition, but many will add with a sigh, "It's impossible; it can't be done." It cxin be done. People don't expect to get a ('hiiago, New York or Detroit paper without payment in advance; and when the subscription has expired, they expect the paper to stop. Country publishers have only theinselves to blame for people expecting anything different from them Xow I speak from experience when I aay that this rule mn be chaiiyed. You have only to adopt the advance pay system, and exercise nerve enough to adhere to it. Suppose you anuo unce next week, or on the flrst of October, and repeat it from time to timo, that on the firat day of January next, the naines of all those in arrears will be stricken from your subscription books, and that from and after that date, your paper will not be sent to any except those who have paid in advance. In making this announcement, you can explain that '-business is business;" that your help has to be paid every week; your bilis for stock and mater ial at stated periods, and that nothing but inoney will pay these and other expenses; that publishersin large cities are always paid in advance, and that there is no good reason wliy you should not be. And when the first day of Jamiary comes, brace up and keep your word; strike off all in arreara, even though it removes from your books the luimes of some of your best . friends. A few may be offended, and threatcn to banknipt you by transferring their patronage to some otlier paper, but every man of coinmon sense will admit that you are right, and that it is just as eagy for him to pay at the beginning of the year as at the end of it. Your eirailation may be reduced ten, flfteen or twenty per cent, but you will not only get pay for what pape, s you do publish, but actually receive more nioney than you did before adopting the advance pay say nothing of the reduction in your expenses. It is vastly better to publish 800 copies er week, and get pay for them, than o publish and circuíate 1000 or 1200, and get pay for only 800. In a year or two, your patrons will become accustomed to the new order of things, and no more expect your paper without ayment in advance than they do one rom Chicago or Detroit. In case you do not use a mailing machine or have no system of markwhich shows date of expiration, it is well to notify subscribers by postul card one or two weeks in advance, stoting the exact date when their subscription expires, and reminding them that prompt renewal is absolutely necessary to secure a continuance of the paper. This was our practice prior to adopting the use of a mailing machine, and we found that it worked admirably. I have endeavored to be practical in Lhis rambling dissertation on country journalism, and if what I have said has in any marnier edilied you, or furnislied a text for profltable thought, my task will have more than niet its antieipation. In looking over the joumalistic field, and conteinplating the possibilities of an enlightened and intelligent press, one is reminded of what Carlyle said of the world: "What a world itmight be.' but what a world we make of il!" Let U3 hope that this and future meetings of the Northwestern Michigan Press Association raay be profltable to all concerned, and that they may tend to elévate the standard of onr profession.


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Ann Arbor Democrat