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Correspondence Stories

=285. Correspondence Work
In style and construction correspondence
stories are not different from the preceding types of news stories. They
are taken up for separate examination because their value as news is
reckoned differently, because the transmission of them by mail,
telegraph, and telephone is individual, and because so many reporters
have to know how to handle correspondence work. Statistics show that
20,000 of the 25,000 newspapers in the United States are country papers;
and it is from the reporters on these weeklies and small dailies that
the big journals obtain most of their state and sectional news. In
addition, every large daily has in the chief cities its representatives
who, while often engaged in regular reporting, nevertheless do work of a
correspondence nature. It is highly advisable, therefore, that every
newspaper man, because probably some day he may have to do
correspondence work, should know how to gather, write, and file such

=286. Estimating the Worth of News
A correspondent is both like and
unlike a regular reporter--like, in that in his district he is the
paper's representative and upon him depends the accurate or inaccurate
publication of news; unlike, in that he is comparatively free from
supervision and direction, and hence must be discriminating in judging
news. It is the correspondent especially who must have the proverbial
"nose for news," who must know the difference between information that
is nationally and merely locally interesting, who must be able to tell
when a column story in a local paper is not worth a stick in a journal a
hundred miles away. The best way to develop this discrimination in
appreciation of news is to put oneself in imagination in the place of a
resident of Boston or Atlanta or Chicago, where the paper is published,
and ask oneself if such-and-such an item of news would be interesting
were one reading the paper there. For example, one has just learned that
Andrew Jones, the local blacksmith, has had an explosion of powder in
his shop, causing a loss of a hundred dollars, with no insurance. One
should ask oneself if this story would be worth while to readers who
know nothing of Andrew Jones or the town where the accident has
occurred. Manifestly not; and the story should not be sent. But if one
learns that the accident was caused by the premature explosion of a bomb
Jones was making for the destruction of a bridge on the Great Southern
and Northern Railway, then the information is of more than local
interest and should immediately be telegraphed with full details. Every
correspondent should recognize such differences in news values, for
papers pay, not according to the amount of copy they receive, but
according to the amount they publish. And on the other hand, when
correspondents telegraph too many useless items, editors sometimes
reverse charges on the unwise writers.

=287. What Not to Send
The first thing to know in correspondence
work, therefore, is what not to send. Never report merely local news,
such as minor accidents, burglaries, and robberies; obituaries,
marriages, entertainments, and court trials of little known personages;
murders of obscure persons, unless unusual in some way or involved in
mystery; county fairs, fraternal meetings, high-school commencements,
local picnics and celebrations; crop and weather conditions, unless
markedly abnormal, as frost in June; praise of individuals, hotels,
amusement gardens, business enterprises generally; in fact, any press
agent stories. Stories trespassing the limits of good taste or decency
should of course be suppressed. Local gossip affecting the reputations
of women, preachers, doctors, and professional men generally should be
held until it can be verified. Any sensational news, indeed, should be
carefully investigated before being put on the wires. But as the
Associated Press says in a pamphlet of instructions to its employees:

A rumor of sensational news should not be held too
long for verification. If the rumor is not libelous
it should be sent immediately as a rumor, with the
addition that "the story is being investigated."
Should the news, however, involve persons or firms
in a charge that might be libelous, a note to the
editors, marked "Private, not for publication,"
should be bulletined that "such and such a story has
come to our attention and is being investigated."

While accuracy in The Associated Press despatches is
of the highest value and we would rather be beaten
than send out an untruthful statement, there is such
a thing as carrying the effort to secure accuracy so
far as to delay the perfectly proper announcement of
a rumor. So long as it is a rumor only it should be
announced as a rumor.

=288. What to Send
After cautioning the correspondent against sending
stories containing merely local news, unfounded rumors, and details
offensive to good taste, one must leave him to gather for himself what
his paper wants. Big news, of course, is always good; but those special
types of news, those little hobbies for which individual papers have
characteristic weaknesses, one can learn only by studying the columns of
the paper for which one corresponds. Some newspapers make specialties of
freak news, such as odd actions of lightning, three-legged chickens,
etc. Others will not consider such stories. One daily in America wants a
bulletin of every death or injury resulting from celebrations of the
Fourth of July. Another in a Middle Western state wants all sporting
news in its state, particularly that concerning colleges and high
schools. Still another, an Eastern paper this time, wants educational
news--what the colleges are doing. Other kinds of information in which
individual publications specialize are news of nationally prominent men
and women, human interest love stories, odd local historical data,
humorous or pathetic animal stories, golfing anecdotes, increase or
decrease in liquor sales or the number of saloon licenses, etc.

=289. Conducting a Local Column
When conducting a column giving the
news of a particular locality or neighborhood, the one thing not to
write is that there is little news in the community this week or to-day.
The readers of a column should not be allowed to suspect that one has
little information to present. All about one are unnumbered sources of
news if the correspondent can only find them--humorous incidents,
reminiscences of old pioneers, stories of previous extremely wet, dry,
hot, or cold seasons, recollections of Civil, Spanish American, and
European War battles, etc. Such stories may be had for the asking and
played up when there is "nothing doing this week." The use of good
feature stories bearing directly on the life of the community will fill
one's column, put money into one's pocket, and add readers to the
subscription list of the paper.

=290. Stories by Mail
A correspondent's stories may be sent in any
one of three ways--by mail, telephone, or telegraph. The mail should be
used for any stories the time of publication of which is not important,
such as feature stories, advance stories of speeches, elections, state
celebrations, etc. One may use the mail for big stories, provided there
is certainty of the letter reaching the office by 10:00 A.M. for
afternoon papers and 8:00 P.M. for morning papers. If the news is big,
it is best to put a special delivery stamp on the envelop and wire the
paper of the story by mail. If there is doubt about mail reaching the
paper promptly, use the telegraph every time. When sending photographs
illustrating important news events, one should use special delivery
stamps and wire the paper that the pictures are coming. In the case of
advance speeches, where the manuscript is forwarded several days ahead,
the reporter should specify not only the exact day, but the precise hour
for release of the speech, and at the time stated he should wire
definite release,--that the address has been given, the speaker
beginning at such and such an hour. The necessity of keeping close
future books and of keeping the state or telegraph editor in intimate
touch by mail with coming events may be urged upon all correspondents. A
single event properly played up by a skillful correspondent may be made
productive, before its occurrence, of three or four attractive mail
stories. And it is the quantity of such stories that adds to the
reporter's much desired revenue.

=291. Stories by Telephone
The telephone is used when the mails are
too slow or a telegraph office is not convenient, or when there is need
of getting into personal communication with the office. In using the
telephone one caution only may be given, that the correspondent should
never call up the state editor with merely a jumble of facts at hand.
Long-distance messages are costly and editors watch all calls closely in
an effort to reduce tolls to a minimum. If possible, the correspondent
should have his story written--certainly he should have it sketched on
paper--before calling the office, so that he may dictate his news in the
shortest possible time.

=292. Stories by Telegraph
The telegraph is for stories demanding
immediacy of print, and certain rules govern their handling that every
correspondent should know. Suppose at six o'clock some afternoon an
automobile owned and driven by Otto Thomson, receiving teller for the
local Commercial Bank, skids over a slippery, tar-covered pavement into
a telegraph pole on one of the main streets of the town, killing him and
severely injuring two women in the car. What should the correspondent do
in such a case? The accident is good for a half-column in The Herald,
the local morning daily, but because Thomson was only moderately
prominent, one is doubtful if it is worth much in The World, the great
daily a hundred miles away. After considering all the details,
however,--Thomson's position locally and the fact that the city may be
held liable for the excess of tar at a dangerous turn in the
streets,--the reporter may conclude that the story is worth four hundred
words. He is still doubtful, however, whether the city paper will
consider it worth publishing. His message, therefore,--technically known
as a "query"--should be:

Otto Thomson, receiving teller Commercial Bank,
killed at six P.M. by automobile skidding into
telegraph pole. Two women in car injured. Four
hundred. 8:35 P.M. A. D. Anderson

This means that the correspondent is prepared to wire a
400-word story about the accidental death of Otto Thomson.
It tells, too, that the query was filed at 8:35, so that blame
may be placed if delivery is delayed. There is no need to
ask if the paper wants further details or how much it wants.
The message itself is an inquiry. One other important point
about it is that it bulletins the news. It is not a "blind"
query stating that "a prominent citizen has been killed" or
that "a regrettable tragedy has occurred." It gives the facts
concisely, so that the editor, if he wishes, may publish them
immediately and may decide whether additional details are
worth while.

=293. Waiting for the Reply
While the correspondent is waiting for
the reply, he should begin his story and, if possible, have it ready by
the time the dispatch comes. The most important details should be placed
first, of course, so that if the state editor asks for fewer than four
hundred words, the correspondent will have to kill only the last
paragraph or so and send the first part of the story as originally
written. There is no need of skeletonizing the story to lessen
telegraphic charges: that is, of omitting the's, a's, an's,
is's, etc. The small amount saved in this way is more than offset by
the additional time and cost of editing in the office.

=294. The Reply
In fifteen or twenty minutes, or perhaps a half-hour,
a reply will come, reading, say, "Rush three hundred banker's death."
This means that the correspondent must keep his story within three
hundred words,--an injunction which he must observe strictly. Woe to the
self-confident writer who sends five hundred words when three hundred
have been ordered. He will receive a prompt reprimand for his first
offense and probable discharge for the second. If, however, he has used
his time wisely since sending the query and has written his story
rightly, he will have no trouble in lopping off the final paragraph and
putting the three hundred words on the wire within a few minutes after
receipt of the order.

=295. No Reply
The correspondent need not be surprised or chagrined,
however, if no reply comes,--the paper's silence meaning that the story
is not wanted. The accident may have been covered by one of the regular
news bureaus--the Associated Press, the United Press, or possibly a
local news-gathering organization. Or the bulletin itself may have been
all the paper wanted,--due credit and pay for which the correspondent
will receive at the end of the month. Or the story may have been crowded
out by news of greater importance. This last reason is a very possible
one, which every correspondent should consider whenever a story breaks.
The space value of a paper's columns doubles and quadruples as press
time approaches,--so that a story which would be given generous space if
received at eight o'clock may be thrown into the wastebasket if received
four hours later.

=296. Hours for Filing
The extreme hours for filing dispatches to
catch the various editions are worth noting and remembering. For an
afternoon paper the story should be in the hands of the telegraph
operator not later than 9:00 A.M. for the noon edition, 12:00 M. for the
three o'clock, and 2:00 P.M. for the five o'clock edition. If the news
is extraordinary--big enough to justify ripping open the front page--it
may be filed as late as 2:30 P.M., though the columns of an afternoon
paper are practically closed to correspondents after 12:30 or 1:00 P.M.
Any news occurring after 2:30 P.M. should be filed as early as possible,
but should be marked N. P. R. (night press rate), so that it will be
sent after 6:00 P.M., when telegraphic charges are smaller. For a
morning paper news may be filed as late as 2:00 A.M., though the columns
are practically closed to correspondents after midnight.

=297. Big News
When big or unusual news breaks,--news about which
there is no doubt of the general interest,--the correspondent should
bulletin a lead immediately, with the probable length of the story and
the time of filing affixed. Thus:

Marietta, Ga., Aug. 17.--Leo M. Frank, whom the
Georgia courts declared guilty of the murder of
fourteen-year-old Mary Phagan of Marietta, was
lynched two miles from here at an early hour this
morning. Frank was brought in an automobile to
Marietta by a band of twenty-five masked men who
stormed the Milledgeville prison farm shortly after
midnight. Two thousand. 8:35. Sherman

Then--particularly if the hour is nearing press time--the correspondent
should follow as rapidly as possible with instalments of the detailed
story, without waiting for a reply to the bulletin lead. When there is
doubt about the length, editors would rather have one not take chances
on delaying the news,--would rather have too much of a story than too
little. Besides, a writer cannot get further than the second or third
instalment before specific orders will arrive from the paper.

=298. The Detailed Story
After the lead, the details follow as in a
normal story, the individual instalments being given the operator as
fast as he can take them, each one marked "More" except the last, which
is marked "30." Thus the continuation of the bulletin lead of the Frank
lynching just given would be:

Not one of the armed prison guards, according to the
best information now obtainable, raised a hand to
prevent the mob accomplishing its purpose. Frank was
taken from his cell and rushed to a spot previously
chosen for the lynching, about a hundred miles from
the prison. Not a soul, it is said, knew positively
whether the men were his friends or his enemies
until the lifeless body was discovered this morning.
More. 8:45 P. M. Sherman

Then the final instalment might read:

The rope placed around Frank's neck was tied in such
a way as to reopen the wound caused some weeks ago
when a fellow prisoner attempted to kill him by
cutting his throat. Loss of blood from the re-opened
wound no doubt would have caused his death had he
not strangled. Thirty. 9:15. Sherman

The "thirty" is the telegrapher's signal indicating the completion of
the story.

=299. Sporting News
In handling sporting news a few specific
instructions are needful, the first being the necessity of absolute
impartiality in all controversies. Local rival sportsmen in their keen
desire to win are continually breeding quarrels, which frequently make
it difficult for the observer not to be biased; but the correspondent
must be careful to present simple facts only, without editorializing.
The need of filing all afternoon scores by 7:30 P.M., with 8:00 P.M. as
the outside limit, should also be noted. Morning papers put their
sporting news on inside pages and must make up the forms early. There
is need of the utmost caution in having the news correct, particularly
the box scores of baseball games, which have an unhappy way of failing
to balance when one compares individual scores with the totals. In all
contests where a seeming new record has been made, the correspondent
should be sure of the record before telegraphing it as such. If there is
the slightest doubt, report it as "what is said to be a record."
Finally, one should be cautioned against reporting mere high-school
contests, boxing bouts between local men, and other sporting news
possessing limited interest only.

=300. General Instructions
In conclusion, a few general instructions
may be given for the guidance of correspondents:

1. When forwarding time stories, advance manuscript of speeches, cuts,
etc., send by mail. The express companies do not deliver at night.

2. In telegrams spell out round numbers; and mark the beginning of
speeches by the word quote, and the end by end quote.

3. Keep the telegraph companies informed always of your street address
and telephone number. It is well also to maintain friendly relations
with the operators. Frequently they can be of valuable service to a

4. Finish all incomplete stories. It sometimes happens that one will
wire a dispatch of the beginning of a seeming big fire or a seeming
great murder mystery, which the paper will feature as important news,
but which later will prove of no worth. Such stories should be cleared
up and the results made known to avoid keeping the paper in a quandary
over the outcome.

5. When reporting fires, accidents, disasters, etc., locate the scene as
accurately as possible. This is sometimes accomplished by reference to
well-known buildings or landmarks, in addition to the exact street

6. When a big story breaks, go after it, no matter if there is need of
incurring expense. Papers will stand any reasonable expense for valuable

7. Never forget the worth of sending time. Every minute is valuable.

8. Until you have received your first check, clip and keep every story
printed. Most papers keep their own accounts with correspondents, but
some require them to send in at the end of each month their "string:"
that is, all their stories pasted together end to end. Payment is then
made on the basis of the number of columns, the rates varying from $2 to
$7 a column of 1500 words.

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