Chapter 18




HOWARD EXPLAINS HIS MACHINE.


In August Marian and Mrs. Carnarvon came to the Waldorf for two days. Howard had offered to show them how a newspaper is made; and Mrs. Carnarvon, finding herself bored by too many days of the same few people every day, herself proposed the trip. The three dined in the open air on Sherry's piazza and at eleven o'clock drove down the Avenue, to the east at Washington Square, and through the Bowery.

"I never saw it before," said Marian, "and I must say I shall not care if I never see it again. Why do people make so much fuss about slums, I wonder?"

"Oh, they're so queer, so like another world," suggested Mrs. Carnarvon. "It gives you such a delightful sensation of sadness. It's just like a not-too-melancholy play, only better because it's real. Then, too, it makes one feel so much more comfortable and clean and contented in one's own surroundings."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jessie." Marian spoke in mock indignation. "The next thing we know you'll sink to being a patron of the poor and go about enjoying yourself at making them self-conscious and envious."

"They're not at all sad down this way," said Howard, "except in the usual inescapable human ways. When they're not hit too hard, they bear up wonderfully. You see, living on the verge of ruin and tumbling over every few weeks get one used to it. It ceases to give the sensation of event."

Their automobile had turned into Park Row and so reached the News-Record building in Printing House Square. Howard took the two women to the elevator and they shot upward in a car crowded with telegraph messengers, each carrying one or more envelopes, some of them bearing in bold black type the words: "News!--Rush!"

"I suppose that is the news for the paper?" Mrs. Carnarvon asked.

"A little of it. Our special cable and special news from towns to which we have no direct wire and also the Associated Press reports come this way. But we don't use much Associated Press matter, as it is the same for all the papers."

"What do you do with it?"

"Throw it away. A New York newspaper throws away every night enough to fill two papers and often enough to fill five or six."

"Isn't that very wasteful?"

"Yes, but it's necessary. Every editor has his own idea of what to print and what not to print and how much space each news event calls for. It is there that editors show their judgment or lack of it. To print the things the people wish to read in the quantities the people like and in the form the most people can most easily understand--that is success as an editor."

"No doubt," said Marian, thinking of the low view all her friends took of Howard's newspaper, "if you were making a newspaper to please yourself, you would make a very different one."

"Oh, no," laughed Howard, "I print what I myself like; that is, what I like to find in a newspaper. We print human news made by human beings and interesting to human beings. And we don't pretend to be anything more than human. We try never to think of our own idea of what the people ought to read, but always to get at what the people themselves think they ought to read. We are journalists, not news-censors."

"I must say newspapers do not interest me." Marian confessed it a little diffidently.

"You are probably not interested," Howard answered, "because you don't care for news. It is a queer passion--the passion for news. The public has it in a way. But to see it in its delirium you must come here."

"This seems quiet enough." Marian looked about Howard's upstairs office. It was silent, and from the windows one could see New York and its rivers and harbour, vast, vague, mysterious, animated yet quiet.

"Oh, I rarely come here--a few hours a week," Howard replied. "On this floor the editorial writers work." He opened a door leading to a private hall. There were five small rooms. In each sat a coatless man, smoking and writing. One was Segur, and Howard called to him.

"Are you too busy to look after Mrs. Carnarvon and Miss Trevor for a few minutes? I must go downstairs."

Segur gave some "copy" to a boy who handed him a bundle of proofs and rushed away down a narrow staircase. Howard descended in the elevator, and Segur, who had put on his coat, sat talking to the two women as he looked through the proofs, glancing at each narrow strip, then letting it drop to the floor.

"You don't mind my working?" he asked. "I have to look at these things to see if there is any news that calls for editional attention. If I find anything and can think an editorial thought about it, I write it; and if Howard is in the humour, perhaps the public is permitted to read it."

"Is he severe?" asked Mrs. Carnarvon.

"The 'worst ever,'" laughed Segur. "He is very positive and likes only a certain style and won't have anything that doesn't exactly fit his ideas. He's easy to get along with but difficult to work for."

"I imagine his positiveness is the secret of his success." Marian knew that Segur was half in jest and was fond of Howard. But she couldn't endure hearing him criticised.

"No. I think he succeeds because he works, pushes straight on, never stops to repair blunders but never makes the same kind of a blunder the second time."

Segur's eye caught an item that suggested an editorial paragraph. He sat at Howard's desk, thought a moment, scrawled half a dozen lines in a large ragged hand on a sheet of ruled yellow paper, and pressed an electric button. The boy came, handed him another thick bundle of proofs, took the "copy" and withdrew. Just then Howard returned.

"We'll go down to the news-room," he said.

The windows of the great news-room were thrown wide. Scores of electric lights made it bright. At the various desks or in the aisles were perhaps fifty men, most of them young, none of them beyond middle age. They were in every kind of clothing from the most fashionable summer attire to an old pair of cheap and stained duck trousers, collarless negligee shirt open all the way down the front and suspenders hanging about the hips.

Some were writing long-hand; others were pounding away at the typewriter; others were talking in undertones to "typists" taking dictation to the machine; others were reading "copy" and altering it with huge blue pencils which made apparently unreadable smears wherever they touched the paper. In and out skurried a dozen office-boys, responding to calls from various desks, bringing bundles of proofs, thrusting copy into boxes which instantly and noisily shot up through the ceiling.

It was a scene of confusion and furious activity. The face of each individual was calm and his motions by themselves were not excited. But taking all together and adding the tense, strained expression underneath the calm--the expression of the professional gambler--there was a total of active energy that was oppressive.

"We had a fire below us one night," said Howard. "We are two hundred feet from the street and there were no fire escapes. We all thought it was good-bye. It was nearly half an hour before we found out that the smoke booming up the stairways and into this room had no danger behind it."

"Gracious!" Mrs. Carnarvon shuddered and looked uneasily about.

"It's perfectly safe," Howard reassured her. "We've arranged things better since then. Besides, that fire demonstrated that the building was fireproof."

"And what happened?" asked Miss Trevor.

"Why, just what you see now. The Managing Editor, Mr. King over there--I'll introduce him to you presently--went up to a group of men standing at one of the windows. They were pretending indifference as they looked down at the crowd which was shouting and tossing its arms in a way that more than suggested pity for us poor devils up here. Well, King said: 'Boys, boys, this isn't getting out a paper.' Every one went back to his work and--and that was all."

They went on to the room behind the newsroom. As Howard opened its heavy door a sound, almost a roar, of clicking instruments and typewriters burst out. Here again were scores of desks with men seated at them, every man with a typewriter and a telegraph instrument before him.

"These are our direct wires," Howard explained. "Our correspondents in all the big cities, east, west, north and south and in London, are at the other end of these wires. Let me show you."

Howard spoke to the operator nearest them. "Whom have you got?"

"I'm taking three thousand words from Kansas City," he replied. "Washington is on the next wire."

"Ask Mr. Simpson how the President is to-night," Howard said to the Washington operator.

His instrument clicked a few times and was silent. Almost immediately the receiver began to click and, as the operator dashed the message off on his typewriter the two women read over his shoulder: "Just came from White House. He is no better, probably a little worse because weaker. Simpson."

"And can you hear just as quickly from London?" Marian asked.

"Almost. I'll try. There is always a little delay in transmission from the land systems to the cable system; and messages have to be telephoned between our office in Trafalgar Square and the cable office down in the city. Let's see, it's five o'clock in the morning in London now. They've been having it hot there. I'll ask about the weather."

Howard dictated to the man at the London wire: "Roberts, London. How is the weather? Howard."

In less than ten minutes the cable-man handed Howard a typewritten slip reading: "News-Record, New York, Howard: Thermometer 97 our office now. Promises hottest day yet. Roberts."

"I never before realised how we have destroyed distance," said Mrs. Carnarvon.

"I don't think any one but a newspaper editor completely realises it," Howard answered. "As one sits here night after night, sending messages far and wide and receiving immediate answers, he loses all sense of space. The whole world seems to be in his anteroom."

"I begin to see fascination in this life of yours." Marian's face showed interest to enthusiasm. "This atmosphere tightens one's nerves. It seems to me that in the next moment I shall hear of some thrilling happening."

"It's listening for the first rumour of the 'about to happen' that makes newspaper-men so old and yet so young, so worn and yet so eager. Every night, every moment of every night, we are expecting it, hoping for some astounding news which it will test our resources to the utmost to present adequately."

From the news-room they went up to the composing room--a vast hall of confusion, filled with strange-looking machines and half-dressed men and boys. Some were hurrying about with galleys of type, with large metal frames; some were wheeling tables here and there; scores of men and a few women were seated at the machines. These responded to touches upon their key-boards by going through uncanny internal agitations. Then out from a mysterious somewhere would come a small thin strip of almost hot metal, the width of a newspaper column and marked along one edge with letters printed backwards.

Up through the floor of this room burst boxes filled with "copy." Boys snatched the scrawled, ragged-looking sheets and tossed them upon a desk. A man seated there cut them into little strips, hanging each strip upon a hook. A line of men filed rapidly past these hooks, snatching each man a single strip and darting away to a machine.

"It is getting late," said Howard. "The final rush for the first edition is on. They are setting the last 'copy.'"

"But," Mrs. Carnarvon asked, "how do they ever get the different parts of the different news-items together straight?"

"The man who is cutting copy there--don't you see him make little marks on each piece? Those marks tell them just where their 'take,' as they call it, belongs."

They went over to the part of the great room where there were many tables, on each a metal frame about the size of a page of the newspaper. Some of the frames were filled with type, others were partly empty. And men were lifting into them the galleys of type under the direction of the Night Editor and his staff. As soon as a frame was filled two men began to even the ends of the columns and then to screw up an inside framework which held the type firmly in place. Then a man laid a great sheet of what looked like blotting-paper upon the page of type and pounded it down with a mallet and scraped it with a stiff brush.

"That is the matrix," said Howard. "See him putting it on the elevator." They looked down the shaft. "It has dropped to the sub-basement," said Howard, "two hundred and fifty feet below us. They are already bending it into a casting-box of the shape of the cylinders on the presses; metal will be poured in and when it is cool, you will have the metal form, the metal impression of the page. It will be fastened upon the press to print from."

They walked back through the room which was now in almost lunatic confusion--forms being locked; galleys being lifted in; editors, compositors, boys, rushing to and fro in a fury of activity. Again the phenomenon of the news-room, the individual faces calm but their tense expressions and their swift motions making an impression of almost irrational excitement.

"Why such haste?" asked Marian.

"Because the paper must be put to press. It must contain the very latest news and it must also catch the mails; and the mail-trains do not wait."

They descended in the main elevator to the ground floor and then went down a dark and winding staircase until they faced an iron door. Howard pushed it open and they entered the press-room. Its temperature was blood-heat, its air heavy and nauseating with the odours of ink, moist paper and oil, its lights dim. They were in a gallery and below them on all sides were the huge presses, silent, motionless, waiting.

Suddenly a small army of men leaped upon the mighty machines, scrambled over them, then sprang back. With a tremendous roar that shook the entire building the presses began to revolve, to hurl out great heaps of newspapers.

"Those presses eat six hundred thousand pounds of paper and four tons of ink a week," Howard shouted. "They can throw out two hundred thousand complete papers an hour--papers that are cut, folded, pasted, and ready to send away. Let us go before you are stifled. This air is horrible."

They returned in the elevator to his lofty office. Even there a slight vibration from the press-room could be felt. But it was calm and still, a fit place from which to view the panorama of sleeping city and drowsy harbour tranquil in the moonlight.

"Look." Howard was leaning over the railing just outside his window.

They looked straight down three hundred feet to the street made bright by electric lights. Scores of wagons loaded with newspapers were rushing away from the several newspaper buildings. The shouts, the clash of hoofs and heavy tires on the granite blocks, the whirr of automobiles, were borne faintly upward.

"It is the race to the railway stations to catch the mail-trains," Howard explained. "The first editions go to the country. These wagons are hurrying in order that tens of thousands of people hundreds of miles away, at Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and scores on scores of towns between and beyond, may find the New York newspapers on their breakfast-tables."

The office-boy came with a bundle of papers, warm, moist, the ink brilliant.

"And now for the inquest," said Howard.

"The inquest?" Marian looked at him inquiringly.

"Yes--viewing the corpse. It was to give birth to this that there was all that intensity and fury--that and a thousand times more. For, remember, this paper is the work of perhaps twenty thousand brains, in every part of the world, throughout civilisation and far into the depths of barbarism. Look at these date lines--cities and towns everywhere in our own country, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America. You'll find most of the capitals of Europe represented; and Africa, north, south and central, east and west coast. Here's India and here the heart of Siberia.

"There is China and there Japan and there Australia. Think of these scores of newspaper correspondents telegraphing news of the doings of their fellow beings--not what they did last month or last year, but what they did a few hours ago--some of it what they were doing while we were dining up at Sherry's. Then think of the thousands on thousands of these newspaper-men, eager, watchful agents of publicity, who were on duty but had nothing to report to-day. And----"

Howard shrugged his shoulders and tossed the paper from him.

"There it lies," he said, "a corpse. Already a corpse, its life ended before it was fairly born. There it is, dead and done for--writ in water, and by anonymous hands. Who knows who did it? Who cares?"

He caught Marian's eyes, looking wonder and reproach.

"I don't like to hear you say that," she said, forgetting Mrs. Carnarvon. "Other men--yes, the little men who work for the cheap rewards. But not you, who work for the sake of work. This night's experience has thrilled me. I understand your profession now. I see what it means to us all, to civilisation, what a splendid force for good, for enlightenment, for uplifting it is. I can see a great flood of light radiating from this building, pouring into the dark places, driving away ignorance. And the thunder of those presses seems to me to fill the world with some mighty command--what is it?--oh, yes--I can hear it distinctly. It is, 'Let there be light!'"

Mrs. Carnarvon's back was toward them and she was looking out at the harbour. Howard put his hands upon Marian's shoulders and they looked each the other straight in the eyes.

"Lovers and comrades," he said, "always. And how strong we are--together!"




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