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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