April 23, 2008
Kissing and Fighting

In 1884 at the age of 28 Frank Harris was hired to run the Evening News, a London daily that was losing £40,000 a year.

As the paper was sold principally on the streets, Harris went to a 12-year-old newsboy for advice on what the public was buying. The boy showed him a competing paper’s lurid “bill” — the list of the day’s stories that newsboys displayed on their corners:

“I took the boy critic and a friend of his into my office and with the paper before us sat down to get out a new and sensational bill. Then I sent for the chief sub-editor, Abbott, and showed him the difference. To my amazement he defended his quiet bill. “It’s a Conservative paper,” he said, “and doesn’t shout at you.”

“The boy critic giggled. “You come out to sell paipers,” he cried, “and you’ll soon hev’ to shout!”

The end of it was that I gave the boy ten shillings and five to his friend and made them promise to come to me each week with the bills, good and bad. Those kids taught me what the London hapenny public wanted and I went home laughing at my own high-brow notions.

The ordinary English public did not want thoughts but sensations. I had begun to edit the paper with the best in me at 28; I went back in my life, and when I edited it as a boy of 14 I began to succeed. My obsessions then were kissing and fighting: when I got one or other or both of these interests into every column, the circulation of the paper increased steadily.

That was then. This is now:

The resignation of [managing editor] Marcus W. Brauchli from The Wall Street Journal was less shocking, if only because Mr. Brauchli was appointed by the previous owners of the paper. Since he bought Dow Jones in December for $5.2 billion, Mr. Murdoch has moved swiftly to remake the stately paper, calling for shorter articles and more coverage of politics, culture and even sports — and fewer business articles on the front page.

“Plus ça change,” as the fella said, “plus c’est la même Scheiss."


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at April 23, 2008 03:36 PM
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