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Within a month after Hal's acquisition of the "Clarion," Dr. Surtaine had become a daily caller at the office. "Just to talk things over," was his explanation of these incursions, which Hal always welcomed, no matter how busy he might be. Advice was generally the form which the visitor's talk took; sometimes warning; not infrequently suggestions of greater or less value. Always his counsel was for peace and policy.
"Keep in with the business element, Boyee. Remember all the time that Worthington is a business city, the liveliest little business city between New York and Chicago. Business made it. Business runs it. Business is going to keep on running it. Anybody who works on a different principle, I don't care whether it's in politics or journalism or the pulpit, is going to get hurt. I don't deny you've braced up the 'Clarion.' People are beginning to talk about it already. But the best men, the moneyed men, are holding off. They aren't sure of you yet. Sometimes I'm not sure myself. Every now and then the paper takes a stand I don't like. It goes too far. You've put ginger into it. I have to admit that. And ginger's a good thing, but sugar catches more flies."
The notion of a breakfast to the staff met with the Doctor's instant approval.
"That's the idea!" said he "I'll come to it, myself. Lay down your general scheme and policy to 'em. Get 'em in sympathy with it. If any of 'em aren't in sympathy with it, get rid of those. Kickers never did any business any good. You'll get plenty of kicks from outside. Then, when the office gets used to your way of doing things, you can quit wasting so much time on the news and editorial end."
"But that's what makes the paper, Dad."
"Get over that idea. You hire men to get out the paper. Let 'em earn their pay while you watch the door where the dollars come in. Advertising, my son: that's the point to work at. In a way I'm sorry you let Sterne out."
The ex-editor had left, a fortnight before, on a basis agreeable to himself and Hal, and McGuire Ellis had taken over his duties.
"Certainly you had no reason to like Sterne, Dad."
"For all that, he knew his job. Everything Sterne did had a dollar somewhere in the background. Even his blackmailing game. He worked with the business office, and he took his orders on that basis. Now if you had some man whom you could turn over this news end to while you're building up a sound advertising policy--"
"How about McGuire Ellis?"
Dr. Surtaine glanced over to the window corner where the associate editor was somnambulantly fighting a fly for the privilege of continuing a nap.
"Too much of a theorist: too much of a knocker."
"He's taught me what little I know about this business," said Hal. "Hi! Wake up, Ellis. Do you know you've got to make a speech in an hour? This is the day of the Formal Feed."
"Hoong!" grunted Ellis, arousing himself. "Speech? I can't make a speech. Make it yourself."
"I'm going to."
"What are you going to talk about?"
"Well, I might borrow your text and preach them a sermon on honesty in journalism. Seriously, I think the whole paper has degenerated to low ideals, and if I put it to them straight, that every man of them, reporter, copy-reader, or editor, has got to measure up to an absolutely straight standard of honesty--"
"They'll throw the tableware at you," said McGuire Ellis quietly: "at least they ought to, if they don't."
The two Surtaines stared at him in surprise.
"Who are you," continued the journalist, "to talk standards of honesty in journalism to those boys?"
"He's their boss: that's all he is," said Dr. Surtaine weightily.
"Let him set the example, then, jack the paper up where it belongs, and there'll be no difficulty with the men who write it."
"But, Mac, you've been hammering at me about the crookedness of journalism in Worthington from the first."
"All right. Crookedness there is. Where does it come from? From the men in control, mostly. Let me tell you something, you two: there's hardly a reporter in this city who isn't more honest than the paper he works for."
"Hifalutin nonsense," said Dr. Surtaine.
"From your point of view. You're an outsider. It's outsiders that make the newspaper game as bad as it is. Look at 'em in this town. Who owns the 'Banner'? A political boss. Who owns the 'News'? A brewer. The 'Star'? A promoter, and a pretty scaly one at that. The 'Observer' belongs body and soul to an advertising agency, and the 'Telegraph' is controlled by the banks. And one and all of 'em take their orders from the Dry Goods Union, which means Elias M. Pierce, because they live on its advertising."
"Why not? That's business," said Dr. Surtaine.
"Are we talking about business? I thought it was standards. What do those men know about the ethics of journalism? If you put the thing up to him, like as not E.M. Pierce would tell you that an ethic is something a doctor gives you to make you sleep."
"How about the 'Clarion,' Mac?" said Hal, smiling. "It's run by an outsider, too, isn't it?"
"That's what I want to know." There was no answering smile on Ellis's somber and earnest face. "I've thought there was hope for you. You've had no sound business training, thank God, so your sense of decency may not have been spoiled."
"You don't seem to think much of business standards," said the Doctor tolerantly.
"Not a great deal. I've bumped into 'em too hard. Not so long ago I was publisher of a paying daily in an Eastern city. The directors were all high-class business men, and the chairman of the board was one of those philanthropist-charity-donator-pillar-of-the-church chaps with a permanent crease of high respectability down his front. Well, one day there turned up a double murder in the den of one of these venereal quacks that infest every city. It set me on the trail, and I had my best reporter get up a series about that gang of vampires. Naturally that necessitated throwing out their ads. The advertising manager put up a howl, and we took the thing to the board of directors. In those days I had all my enthusiasm on tap. I had an array of facts, too, and I went at that board like a revivalist, telling 'em just the kind of devil-work the 'men's specialists' did. At the finish I sat down feeling pretty good. Nobody said anything for quite a while. Then the chairman dropped the pencil he'd been puttering with, and said, in a kind of purry voice: 'Gentlemen: I thought Mr. Ellis's job on this paper was to make it pay dividends, and not to censor the morals of the community.'"
"And, by crikey, he was right!" cried Dr. Surtaine.
"From the business point of view."
"Oh, you theorists! You theorists!" Dr. Surtaine threw out his hands in a gesture of pleasant despair. "You want to run the world like a Sunday-school class."
"Instead of like a three-card-monte game."
"With your lofty notions, Ellis, how did you ever come to work on a sheet like the 'Clarion'?"
"A man's got to eat. When I walked out of that directors' meeting I walked out of my job and into a saloon; and from that saloon I walked into a good many other saloons. Luckily for me, booze knocked me out early. I broke down, went West, got my health and some sense back again, drifted to this town, found an opening on the 'Clarion,' and took it, to make a living."
"You won't continue to do that," advised Dr. Surtaine bluntly, "if you keep on trying to reform your bosses."
"But what makes me sick," continued Ellis, disregarding this hint, "is to have people assume that newspaper men are a lot of semi-crooks and shysters. What does the petty grafting that a few reporters do--and, mind you, there's mighty little of it done--amount to, compared with the rottenness of a paper run by my church-going reformer with the business standards?"
A call from the business office took Hal away. At once Ellis turned to the older man.
"Are you going to run the paper, Doc?"
"No: no, my boy. Hal owns it, on his own money."
"Because if you are, I quit."
"That's no way to talk," said the magnate, aggrieved. "There isn't a man in Worthington treats his employees better or gets along with 'em smoother than me."
"That's right, too, I guess. Only I don't happen to want to be your employee."
"You're frank, at least, Mr. Ellis."
"Why not? I've laid my cards on the table. You know me for what I am, a disgruntled dreamer. I know you for what you are, a hard-headed business man. We don't have to quarrel about it. Tell you what I'll do: I'll match you, horse-and-horse, for the soul of your boy."
"You're a queer Dick, Ellis."
"Don't want to match? Then I suppose I've got to fight you for him," sighed the editor.
The big man laughed whole-heartedly. "Not a chance, my friend! Not a chance on earth. I don't believe even a woman could come between Hal and me, let alone a man."
"Or a principle?"
"Ah--ah! Dealing in abstractions again. Look out for this fellow, Boyee," he called jovially as Hal came back to his desk. "He'll make your paper the official organ of the Muckrakers' Union."
"I'll watch him," promised Hal. "Meantime I'll take your advice about my speech, Mac, and blue-pencil the how-to-be-good stuff."
"Now you're talking! I'll tell you, Boss: why not get some of the fellows to speak up. You might learn a few things about your own paper that would interest you."
"Good idea! But, Mac, I wish you wouldn't call me 'Boss.' It makes me feel absurdly young."
"All right, Hal," returned Ellis, with a grin. "But you've still got some youngness to overcome, you know."
An hour later, looking down the long luncheon table, the editor-owner felt his own inexperience more poignantly. With a very few exceptions, these men, his employees, were his seniors in years. More than that, he thought to see in the faces an air of capability, of assurance, of preparedness, a sort of work-worthiness like the seaworthiness of a vessel which has passed the high test of wind and wave. And to him, untried, unformed, ignorant, the light amateur, all this human mechanism must look for guidance. Humility clouded him at the recollection of the spirit in which he had taken on the responsibility so vividly personified before him, a spirit of headlong wrath and revenge, and he came fervently to a realization and a resolve. He saw himself as part of a close-knit whole; he visioned, sharply, the Institution, complex, delicate, almost infinitely powerful for good or evil, not alone to those who composed it, but to the community to which it bore so subtle a relationship. And he resolved, with a determination that partook of the nature of prayer and yet was more than prayer, to give himself loyally, unsparingly, devotedly to the common task. In this spirit he rose, at the close of the luncheon, to speak.
No newspaper reported the maiden speech of Mr. Harrington Surtaine to the staff of the Worthington "Clarion." Newspapers are reticent about their own affairs. In this case it is rather a pity, for the effort is said to have been an eminently successful one. Estimated by its effect, it certainly was, for it materialized with quite spiritistic suddenness, from out the murk of uncertainty and suspicion, the form and substance of a new esprit de corps, among the "Clarion" men, and established the system of Talk-it-Over Breakfasts which made a close-knit, jealously guarded corporation and club out of the staff. Free of all ostentation or self-assertiveness was Hal's talk; simple, and, above all virtues, brief. He didn't tell his employees what he expected of them. He told them what they might expect of him. The frankness of his manner, the self-respecting modesty of his attitude toward an audience of more experienced subordinates, his shining faith and belief in the profession which he had adopted; all this eked out by his ease of address and his dominant physical charm, won them from the first. Only at the close did he venture upon an assertion of his own ideas or theories.
"It is the Sydney 'Bulletin,' I think, which preserves as its motto the proposition that every man has at least one good story in him. I have been studying newspaper files since I took this job,--all the files of all the papers I could get,--and I'm almost ready to believe that much news which the papers publish has got realer facts up its sleeve: that the news is only the shadow of the facts. I'd like to get at the Why of the day's news. Do you remember Sherlock Holmes's 'commonplace' divorce suit, where the real cause was that the husband used to remove his front teeth and hurl 'em at the wife whenever her breakfast-table conversation wasn't sprightly enough to suit him? Once out of a hundred times, I suppose, the everyday processes of our courts hide something picturesque or perhaps important in the background. Any paper that could get and present that sort of news would liven up its columns a good deal. And it would strike a new note in Worthington. I'll give you a motto for the 'Clarion,' gentlemen: 'The Facts Behind the News.' And now I've said my say, and I want to hear from you."
Here for the first time Hal struck a false note. Newspaper men, as a class, abhor public speaking. So much are they compelled to hear from "those bores who prate intolerably over dinner tables," that they regard the man who speaks when he isn't manifestly obliged to, as an enemy to the public weal, and are themselves most loath thus to add to the sum of human suffering. Merely by way of saving the situation, Wayne, the city editor, arose and said a few words complimentary to the new owner. He was followed by the head copy-reader in the same strain. Two of the older sub-editors perpetrated some meaningless but well-meant remarks, and the current of events bade fair to end in complete stagnation, when from out of the ruck, midway of the table, there rose the fringed and candid head of one William S. Marchmont, the railroad and markets reporter.
Marchmont was an elderly man, of a journalistic type fast disappearing. There is little room in the latter-day pressure of newspaper life for the man who works on "booze." But though a steady drinker, and occasionally an unsteady one, Marchmont had his value. He was an expert in his specialty. He had a wide acquaintance, and he seldom became unprofessionally drunk in working hours. To offset the unwonted strain of rising before noon, however, he had fortified himself for this occasion by several cocktails which were manifest in his beaming smile and his expansive flourish in welcoming Mr. Surtaine to the goodly fellowship of the pen.
"Very good, all that about the facts behind the news," he said genially. "Very instructive and--and illuminating. But what I wanta ask you is this: We fellows who have to write the facts behind the news; where do we get off?"
"I don't understand you," said Hal.
"Lemme explain. Last week we had an accident on the Mid-and-Mud. Engineer ran by his signals. Rear end collision. Seven people killed. Coroner's inquest put all the blame on the engineer. Engineer wasn't tending to his duty. That's news, isn't it, Mr. Surtaine?"
"Yes: but here's the facts. That engineer had been kept on duty forty-eight hours with only five hours off. He was asleep when he ran past the block and killed those people."
"Is he telling the truth, Mac?" asked Hal in a swift aside to Ellis.
"If he says so, it's right," replied Ellis.
"What do you call that?" pursued the speaker.
"Murder. I call it murder." Max Veltman, who sat just beyond the speaker, half rose from his chair. "The men who run the road ought to be tried for murder."
"Oh, you can call it that, all right, in one of your Socialist meetings," returned the reporter genially. "But I can't."
"Why can't you?" demanded Hal.
"The railroad people would shut down on news to the 'Clarion.' I couldn't get a word out of them on anything. What good's a reporter who can't get news? You'd fire me in a week."
"Can you prove the facts?"
"Write it for to-morrow's paper. I'll see that you don't lose your place."
Marchmont sat down, blinking. Again there was silence around the table, but this time it was electric, with the sense of flashes to come. The slow drawl of Lindsay, the theater reporter, seemed anti-climatic as he spoke up, slouched deep in his seat.
"How much do you know of dramatic criticism in this town, Mr. Surtaine?"
"Maybe, then, you'll be pained to learn that we're a set of liars--I might even go further--myself among the number. There hasn't been honest dramatic criticism written in Worthington for years."
"That is hard to believe, Mr. Lindsay."
"Not if you understand the situation. Suppose I roast a show like 'The Nymph in the Nightie' that played here last week. It's vapid and silly, and rotten with suggestiveness. I wouldn't let my kid sister go within gunshot of it. But I've got to tell everybody else's kid sister, through our columns, that it's a delightful and enlivening mélange of high class fun and frolic. To be sure, I can praise a fine performance like 'Kindling' or 'The Servant in the House,' but I've got to give just as clean a bill of health to a gutter-and-brothel farce. Otherwise, the high-minded gentlemen that run our theaters will cut off my tickets."
"Buy them at the box-office," said Hal.
"No use. They wouldn't let me in. The courts have killed honest criticism by deciding that a manager can keep a critic out on any pretext or without any. Besides, there's the advertising. We'd lose that."
"Speaking of advertising,"--now it was Lynch, a young reporter who had risen from being an office boy,--"I guess it spoils some pretty good stories from the down-town district. Look at that accident at Scheffer and Mintz's; worth three columns of anybody's space. Tank on the roof broke, and drowned out a couple of hundred customers. Panic, and broken bones, and all kinds of things. How much did we give it? One stick! And we didn't name the place: just called it 'a Washington Street store.' There were facts behind that news, all right. But I guess Mr. Shearson wouldn't have been pleased if we'd printed 'em."
In fact, Shearson, the advertising manager, looked far from pleased at the mention.
"If you think a one-day story would pay for the loss of five thousand a year in advertising, you've got another guess, young man," he growled.
"He's right, there," said Dr. Surtaine, on one side of Hal; and from the other, McGuire Ellis chirped:--
"Things are beginning to open up, all right, Mr. Editor."
Two aspirants were now vying for the floor, the winner being the political reporter for the paper.
"Would you like to hear some facts about the news we don't print?" he asked.
"Go ahead," replied Hal. "You have the floor."
"You recall a big suffrage meeting here recently, at which Mrs. Barkerly from London spoke. Well, the chairman of that meeting didn't get a line of his speech in the papers: didn't even get his name mentioned. Do you know why?"
"I can't even imagine," said Hal.
"Because he's the Socialist candidate for Governor of this State. He's blackballed from publication in every newspaper here."
"By whom?" inquired Hal.
"By the hinted wish of the Chamber of Commerce. They're so afraid of the Socialist movement that they daren't even admit it's alive."
"Not at all!" Dr. Surtaine's rotund bass boomed out the denial. "There are some movements that it's wisest to disregard. They'll die of themselves. Socialism is a destructive force. Why should the papers help spread it by noticing it in their columns?"
"Well, I'm no Socialist," said the political reporter, "but I'm a newspaper man, and I say it's news when a Socialist does a thing just as much as when any one else does it. Yet if I tried to print it, they'd give me the laugh on the copy-desk."
"It's a fact that we're all tied down on the news in this town," corroborated Wayne; "what between the Chamber of Commerce and the Dry Goods Union and the theaters and the other steady advertisers. You must have noticed, Mr. Surtaine, that if there's a shoplifting case or anything of that kind you never see the name of the store in print. It's always 'A State Street Department Store' or 'A Warburton Avenue Shop.' Ask Ellis if that isn't so."
"Correct," said Ellis.
"Why shouldn't it be so?" cried Shearson. "You fellows make me tired. You're always thinking of the news and never of the advertising. Who is it pays your salaries, do you think? The men who advertise in the 'Clarion.'"
"Hear! Hear!" from Dr. Surtaine.
"And what earthly good does it do to print stuff like those shoplifting cases? Where's the harm in protecting the store?"
"I'll tell you where," said Ellis. "That McBurney girl case. They got the wrong girl, and, to cover themselves, they tried to railroad her. It was a clear case. Every paper in town had the facts. Yet they gave that girl the reputation of a thief and never printed a correction for fear of letting in the store for a damage suit."
"Did the 'Clarion' do that?" asked Hal.
"Get me a full report of the facts."
"What are you going to do?" asked Shearson.
"Oh, my Lord!" groaned Shearson.
The circle was now drawing in and the talk became brisker, more detailed, more intimate. To his overwhelming amazement Hal learned some of the major facts of that subterranean journalistic history which never gets into print; the ugly story of the blackmail of a President of the United States by a patent medicine concern (Dr. Surtaine verified this with a nod); the inside facts of the failure of an important senatorial investigation which came to nothing because of the drunken debauchery of the chief senatorial investigator; the dreadful details of the death of a leading merchant in a great Eastern city, which were so glossed over by the local press that few of his fellow citizens ever had an inkling of the truth; the obtainable and morally provable facts of the conspiracy on the part of a mighty financier which had plunged a nation into panic; these and many other strange narratives of the news, known to every old newspaper man, which made the neophyte's head whirl. Then, in a pause, a young voice said:
"Well, to bring the subject up to date, what about the deaths in the Rookeries?"
"Shut up," said Wayne sharply.
There followed a general murmur of question and answer. "What about the Rookeries?"--"Don't know."--"They say the death-rate is a terror."--"Are they concealing it at the City Hall?"--"No; Merritt can't find out."--"Bet Tip O'Farrell can."--"Oh, he's in on the game."--"Just another fake, I guess."
In vain Hal strove to catch a clue from the confused voices. He had made a note of it for future inquiry, when some one called out: "Mac Ellis hasn't said anything yet." The others caught it up. "Speech from Mac!"--"Don't let him out."--"If you can't speak, sing a song."--"Play a tune on the bazoo."--"Hike him up there, somebody."--"Silence for the MacGuire!!"
"I've never made a speech in my life," said Ellis, glowering about him, "and you fellows know it. But last night I read this in Plutarch: 'Themistocles said that he certainly could not make use of any stringed instrument; could only, were a small and obscure city put into his hands, make it great and glorious.'"
Ellis paused, lifting one hand. "Fellows," he said, and he turned sharply to face Hal Surtaine, "I don't know how the devil old Themistocles ever could do it--unless he owned a newspaper!"
Silence followed, and then a quick acclaiming shout, as they grasped the implicit challenge of the corollary. Then again silence, tense with curiosity. No doubt of what they awaited. Their expectancy drew Hal to his feet.
"I had intended to speak but once," he said, in a constrained voice, "but I've learned more here this afternoon--more than--than I could have thought--" He broke off and threw up his hand. "I'm no newspaper man," he cried. "I'm only an amateur, a freshman at this business. But one thing I believe; it's the business of a newspaper to give the news without fear or favor, and that's what the 'Clarion' is going to do from this day. On that platform I'll stand by any man who'll stand by me. Will you help?"
The answer rose and rang like a cheer. The gathering broke into little, excited, chattering groups, sure symptom of the success of a meeting. Much conjecture was expressed and not a little cynicism. "Compared to us Ishmael would be a society favorite if Surtaine carries this through," said one. "It means suspension in six months," prophesied Shearson. But most of the men were excitedly enthusiastic. Your newspaper man is by nature a romantic; otherwise he would not choose the most adventurous of callings. And the fighting tone of the new boss stimulated in them the spirit of chance and change.
Slowly and reluctantly they drifted away to the day's task. At the close Hal sat, thoughtful and spent, in a far corner when Ellis walked heavily over to him. The associate editor gazed down at his bemused principal for a time. From his pocket he drew the thick blue pencil of his craft, and with it tapped Hal thrice on the shoulder.
"Rise up, Sir Newspaper Man," he pronounced solemnly. "I hereby dub thee Knight-Editor."
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