Making Room For Good News
The fact that the British Broadcasting Corporation is about to air a radio show of good news had just come to my delighted attention when the boss editorial in our local newspaper brought my joy to a screaming halt. The paper seems to be fomenting a feud `twixt the o'erworked slaves in the sanctum and the high sheriff, who is accused of not providing adequate grist in the way of news.
The editor seems to feel it is a duty of the constabulary to keep his stable informed. The editorial said, ``Each time we check (with the sheriff) we ask if there have been any accidents, burglaries, robberies, assaults, rapes, murders, etc.'' Sort of puts the sheriff in the newspaper business, and it helps us to understand why the BBC wants to bring the public more etc. and fewer accidents, burglaries, robberies, assaults, rapes, and murders.
The first city editor in my aspiring journalistic youth was named Edward J. Dunn, and his paper enjoyed the largest morning circulation in the United States. When the news was shaping up in the early afternoon and Eddie saw that tomorrow's front page would be heavy on accidents, burglaries, robberies, assaults, rapes, and murders, he would sound a general alarm that notified his staff to find him something serene and pleasant for the front page to compensate for and balance the bad news.
As the evening was winding down to press time, Eddie would accordingly have several cheerful stories, and he simply would not put his paper on the press until he was satisfied his readers would not be in complete despair and grief because of a surfeit of sadness. Eddie was smart, and to be sure he would have some jollity ready to mitigate all the horror, Eddy would sometimes send a photographer over to the Joy Street police station to get a picture of a lost kid. Nothing perks people up better than a youngster restored to his Mommy.
Now, the Joy Street precinct station knew all about lost children. Not a day went by but a couple of dozen tots would be led in by the cops on the beats, each bawlin' for Mommy. The photographer would put one of these kids on the sergeant's desk, put the sergeant's police cap on the kid, shove a 10-cent ice cream cone in the kid's hands, and say to Sgt. Timothy Muldoon, ``All right, Tim, give us a grin!'' That youngster's face, smeared with tears and chocolate ice cream, would mitigate the profoundest tragedy, and if it didn't there was the bonus of Sgt. Muldoon in the background, smiling like the sunset on Galway Bay and proud to cooperate with the press.
Even a Lizzie-Borden dispatch will go mellow alongside a lost kid and a smiling Irish cop. The competition used to say Eddie Dunn kept a drawer in his desk full of rubber ice cream cones for when the soda fountain was closed.
But I think there's more. We weren't expecting to pick fights in print with anybody - even sheriffs. If a reporter couldn't walk up to anybody in town and be welcomed, his fences needed fixing. It was always amusing to think of some of the characters we cultivated. There was one gentleman who happened to be a sheriff, who was sometimes difficult to get along with, and I found out one day that he was the county barber. During court sessions he'd trim the judge and the lawyers, and when court adjourned he'd go back to fighting crime. But he would sometimes shield from publicity a dear little grandmother who got caught shoplifting because he was kind and softhearted, and I could see that he didn't trust me to be discreet.
We didn't print those things in those days anyway, but I didn't like to be distrusted. So I'd go to the courthouse, whether I needed a haircut or not, and as he clipped me his barber's instincts prevailed over his sheriff's, and he'd spout the gossip. When we had an unusually good paper, readers would know I'd just had a haircut.
Journalism has, we all know, embraced the bad and the quirky, at the expense of clean and wholesome stories that abound in all directions because nobody uses them. There are the accidents, burglaries, robberies, assaults, rapes, murders, fires, floods, earthquakes, famine, and brutality. This is not the era of the journalistic etc.
Who was it - Bennett or Dana - the old-time editor who insisted news be construed in the plural? ``Are there any news?'' he cabled to a correspondent. Back came the reply, ``Not a new.``