Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Back to the future:
lessons from a press baron

You might not think advice that's more than a hundred years old would be especially helpful in navigating today's media turbluence, but I find continued refreshment in the words of E.W. Scripps. These are from the memos to editors reproduced in Faith In My Star (my emphasis added):

EWS let a former secretary, George Putnam, start the Spokane Press, but scolded him:

Your paper is dull. Your staff is spreading itself too thin . . . All any paper needs is one column of news the public must have . . . every day.” [Putnam couldn’t take it, resigning in a few weeks.]
–April 28, 1903

Sending William Strandborg to the Seattle Star as new editor, EWS advised:

“Be yourself . . . hard, and definitive, and pervasive. Make a paper that everybody will read and at the same time be a certificate of your character as a gentleman . . .Do what [the other papers] are not doing . . . so that all people will take the Star to know what is going on. Don’t be too correct. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

Don’t be afraid of trying experiments. Whatever you feel right hard about, that do . . . Better an enthusiastic damn fool than perfectly correct and prosy . . .

Don’t be afraid to act promptly in dealing with your staff . . . If you have a bad man, let him go. If you don’t trust a man, let him go . . . Don’t permit anyone – myself or the president of your company – to persuade you to employ a man you don’t want, or discharge a man you think you can make good use of.”
–May 10, 1903

As they say, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

–Howard Weaver

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