The History of The New York Newspapers

New York City Newsstand (circa 1902)


This is a historical reference post consisting of material from the book “The Night Side of New York” by Frank Beard. The book was published in 1866 and is in the public domain. Take a few minutes to read about the various perspectives of the newspaper industry back in 1866. If you enjoy this reference material please feel free to download the entire PDF book for FREE by going to the bottom of this post.


The History of The New York City Newspapers

A Daily newspaper is only half awake while the sun shines, but when the gas is lit, and the last of the down-town merchants and clerks is in his-uptown or Brooklyn home, then the newspaper establishments begin to wake up. The red-eyed and sallow-looking prints, whom we saw lounging about the corner of Spruce and Nassau during the day, have all disappeared, and have become alert workmen in the composing room. The night editor has taken his seat, and the boy has brought in the evening mail. The mail editor turns over the exchanges with a rapid and practiced hand, eye and scissors. The latter seem to rush by instinct at an available paragraph. Occasionally he jumps up with a paragraph and puts it in the night editor’s desk. Neither say a word; the latter takes it, sees that it needs more mention than an ordinary bit of news, and makes an item of it in this summary, or makes a special editorial paragraph of the news contained. The messenger comes in from the Associated Press Telegraph with yellow, ill-smelling sheets of tissue-like paper, that contain Congressional news. It is rapidly examined; no compression can be done there – it is already boiled down for newspaper use. The fire reporter rushes in with not only a report of a great fire, but with a list of the losses and the amount of the insurance – very nearly correct. That is a good item; the night editor doesn’t cut that down. In comes another who has been detailed to give a report of a lecture. The Night editor reads; it is dull, very, and would make a column of print. His pencil goes mercilessly through it until it becomes a mere paragraph – as much as it deserves. Up comes the editor-in-chief, who asks to see the telegraphic news that has just gone up a little while before. Perhaps the compositors have had it long enough to give him proofs. These he looks over; something done by the Radicals, or the Conservatives, or the Democrats, according to his own
politics, motivates him with an idea and he proceeds to put it on paper with lightning-like velocity, and probably in a penmanship to which a cuneiform inscription would be plain. At the head of it he writes “Brevier leaded – Must go in.” Whatever else stays out excepting the important news, this editorial must be inserted. Then various reporters come in with paragraphs and reports of political meets, police items, accidents, etc., etc., until after twelve o’clock. The dramatic critic has sent a boy from the green-room of a theatre with his judgement of, or remarks upon, a new play, (for a dramatic editor’s talk is not always criticism) and he has done his share toward the author’s success of failure. Generally the critics are kind enough to dramatic authors, unless they happen to be on of themselves. Dramatic critics have less esprit du corps than any other class of writers or workers, and the great successes of Mr. Charles Gayler in his dramas, or that of Mr. Augustine J. Daly in his version of Leah, have received, comparatively, very little assistance from the Press. By and by an eager, unprofessional and fatigued-looking man rushes in, asks for the editor, tells him some story of a great disaster on a steamboat or railroad which he has seen, and of which he nearly became a victim. The editor wastes no time, but asks him to write out the account or to tell it. This is done; the foreman above is informed that he must reserve a column or more for Frightful Accident on the “——“. The copy is sent up as fast as each sheet is completed, and when the work is done the editor says simply, “It is understood, Mr. —–, that this information is not to be furnished to an other office.” “Certainly, sir,” or “I have already given the Tribune the particulars.” If the first answer is given, the stranger is requested to call the next day at 11:00 am when he will receive 25 to 100 dollars accordingly to level of sensation the article would impose. In one case, the loss of the “Arctic” steamship, which must be fresh in the minds of all our elder readers, the Herald gave the first survivor of the disaster who reached the city of New York, and who could give a connected account of the wreck, a thousand dollars. The recipient of the sum was Mr. George Burns, then in the employ of the European Express Company. He was kept under lock and key while writing out his account, and no compositor who had worked on the MSS. was allowed to leave the building until the paper was on press. The liberal price paid for the news was a trifle, compared with the profit made by the Herald and the prestige it gained thereby. This is the secret of the success of the Herald. It has never hesitated at any price, where important news was to be had by paying for it, and if anybody that can add value to the paper will always find the Herald as a ready and liberal purchaser. Of course, all the other papers do so in a measure, but they are apt to hesitate when the sum reaches any large amount.

Sometimes they all brace themselves up for a struggle as to who shall be first. To this, occasionally, it is necessary to get hold of, and keep hold of, the means of telegraphic communication, for the rule in telegraphic offices is first come, first served; but you may
have secured the telegraph, and have nothing to send. You cannot keep possession of the line by merely paying for it. This would be contrary to the provisions in the charters of the Telegraphic Companies, and against public interest. You must have something to send! and as long as you are sending dispatches, no matter of what character – for the Company has no right to criticize your message – you keep possession of the line. So it was once when the Prince of Wales was on this side of the ocean, all the great dailies had representatives at Niagara, (the Herald had two) where he was momentarily expected. The Herald’s correspondent, while all were waiting for the Prince, had nothing to do, and as the time when he was to appear had gone by, he began to fear that when he did get the news from his colleague, who was traveling with the Prince, and writing out his notes for instant dispatch as soon as he reached the lines, he might lose the line. At the moment there was nothing going on in the telegraph office, so he stepped in and dictated a dispatch.

JAS. G. Bennett Esq., Herald Office, NY
“Prince has not come. Is expected every minute. The wire is unoccupied. What shall I do?”

It wasn’t long before the answer came.
“Telegraph the Book of Genesis.” J.G. Bennett, NY Herald Office.

The correspondent was a little puzzled; he had no Bible, and while he was out getting one, a Tribune or Times man might come in and get the line. But he rummaged around in his pockets and found a page of print, which he handed to the operator with the proper heading, and then he rushed out to retrieve a Bible. He was soon back, and so kept the telegraph going until the Prince appeared, as also did his colleague with his report, which was then rapidly transmitted over the wires. When the reporters for the other papers came in, they found, much to their disgust, that the Herald was not only in the occupancy of the line, but likely to remain so too long for their reports to be of any avail for the next day. And so the Herald beat the other papers on that, and so it probably will on the next great affair, unless they become as liberal and as wide awake as Mr. Bennett or his alter ego, Mr. Hudson are.

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