A temporary job at the Monitor
The worn Congressional Directory beside me is dated "1921" and has Cora Rigby's name on the cover. Harding is President -- "born in Blooming Grove, Morrow County, Ohio, November 2, 1865," says the biography, and "has been a newspaper publisher since 1884."
Newspapers are well represented in the directory from the White House down; under "Press" are listed 14 papers from New York City and seven from Boston. Where have they all gone?
Three celestial bodies from New York, alas, shine no more: the World, the Globe, the Sun, let alone the Herald and the Tribune. Boston papers have lost the Post, the Advertiser, and the Evening Transcript. (Ted Joslin is listed on the 1921 Transcript staff -- he will be Hoover's press secretary some day; and Charlie Ross of the St. Louis Post Dispatch will be Truman's.)
The National Press Building hasn't been built yet, and there are nests of newspaper bureaus scattered around town; a cozy group of them is on the ninth floor of the Colorado Building -- th Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Detroit News, Newark Evening News, Saginaw News, Seattle Times, and The Christian Science Monitor side by side.
Washington is a provincial town. The State Department and the War Department are so small they are compressed into one building -- the great rococo granite pile on Pennsylvania Avenue next to the White House. Racially, the city is desegregated though blacks can't buy orchestra seats at theaters or get served at downtown hotels. Over in Virginia blacks sit in rear seats or stand up.
Street cars trundle down Pennsylvania Avenue. They draw electricity from an underground third rail through a slit in the pavement; at Georgetown the conductor gets out, loosens the rope in back and lets the pole find its overhead wire: the is a throb, a shudder, the motor hums and the trolley clangs off to Chevy Chase. But you don't need a trolley if you have a Model T; you can park it all day in the ellipse behind the White House.
When a Washington correspondent goes home he finds a "battle room" in his home office. Take the Boston Post, for example.It has the "largest circulation in America" it advertises, and it certainly is one of the most parochial. The guide proudly shows you the big room where 40 telephones are wired together; they are waiting for election night. Who's winning -- Harding or Cox? Excited readers jam the wires and office boys and secretaries hold two or three of the longnecked telephones in their hands and read bulletins from the board.How else could America get the news so quick, asks the guide proudly; it's pretty exciting -- you ought to see it!
Even more than now, journalism is a freelance trade: the war loosened a lot of roots. Across the land there's an easy camaraderie in city rooms, a specialized language, a difference between "us" and "them", a satisfaction in writing it down fast: art-in-a-hurry. One Post reporter, for example, out of Amherst, says he missed the war but has been traveling ever since, right across America from job to job. He couldn't try anything else, he says, not for a while anyway.
Newspapers are hiring reporters. Over on the Monitor a shrewd little Scot, Walter Cunningham, runs the foreign news desk. His test for a newcomer is to hand him a cable and tell him to edit it. The cable is just in from Japan; cut it a third, says the editor with an appraising look. The newcomer is trapped. Catch the newspaper's style, cross out the flowery stuff in the cable -- yes, and here's a better lead down in the third paragraph. So there, Mr. Cunningham!
The latter goes into Mr. Dixon's office. He is the managing editor, a tall, informal, mildmannered man. He summons the newcomer in, says that Cunningham is pleased, asks questions. Where did you last work -- London? Worked your way over, eh, and came home by way of Ireland? Got an interview with the fugitive Lord Mayor of Cork? (When will those Irish stop killing each other!) By the way , how much pay do you want??
Pause. Forty a week? Hum. That's a lot of money. Wait a week and we'll see.
. . .And so I write down in my journal that I have taken a job in Boston, on the Monitor. Temporary, of course. The date is June 13, 1921.