The Experiment of a Christian Daily
AT the close of the year 1899, the Twentieth Kansas Regiment, after its famous record in the Philippines during the Spanish War, was being reviewed on the Topeka State House grounds, and the whole city was out to see it. With a number of friends I happened to be watching the event from the home of the owner of the Topeka Daily Capital.
After the review was over and people had begun to go away, the conversation turned, I do not remember how or why, to that part of the story, In His Steps, in which there is a description of the attempt of a newspaper man to do everything as he believed Jesus would do it in the management of a daily paper.
It was the general opinion expressed by the friends who were discussing the subject that any such attempt was so visionary that it could not be carried out in actual practice. One or two thought it might be possible up to a certain point, but all believed that people were not ready for it, and that whoever tried it would not be able to make it pay financially.
As the discussion went on, everyone present grew more and more interested, until the proprietor of the Capital said to me, in jest, as I supposed, ‘How would you like to try the experiment, for one week?’
I answered him in the same vein, saying that it would be interesting. And in reply he said that he was in earnest, and went on to state the terms under which the Topeka Daily Capital might be turned over to me for one week in order that I might carry out my idea of what a Christian daily ought to be.
These terms as finally discussed included the following general agreements, which were carried out almost without change: —
The entire paper for one week to be under my direction with the understanding that nothing would be done to jeopardize the property or the future of the paper.
The entire working force of the paper to remain intact, including the mechanical, editorial, reportorial, and office force.
Advertising rates to be on the basis of circulation, but weekly subscriptionrates to be twenty-five cents instead of ten cents, which was the regular city and local rate, in order to cover outside expenses and foreign postage.
The editor’s rulings to be accepted in every department, including advertising matter, all editorial and submitted articles; and also in matters of personal conduct which involved such practices as the use of tobacco, drink, and profanity.
‘News’ was defined as any event worth knowing or telling, always published in the right proportion to its real importance.
All prize fights, scandals, crime, vice, or human depravity, if published at all, to be defined as evil, and an attempt made in each case to discover the cause, and, if possible, the remedy.
All editorials to be signed by the writers, and all reporters’ items to be signed by the reporters in order to ensure reliability, to reward good reporting, and to fix responsibility.
The editor to receive no financial compensation.
The rule to govern all the management of the paper, including the political, social, and financial interests, was to be determined as nearly as possible by the standard of what Jesus would probably do if He were publishing the paper as the owner of it.
The time set for the beginning of the experiment was the second week in March, 1900. Before that time, and following the published announcement of the plan, clubs were formed all over the country by churches, young people’s societies, and various religious and social organizations, and subscriptions were sent in by the thousand. One church in Ohio sent in a list of nine hundred and twenty names. Subscriptions came from all over Great Britain, from almost every South American republic, from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. A persona! subscription came from Paul Kruger, President of the Boer Republic. The Boer War was going on at the time, but Oom Paul seemed interested in the plan, at least enough to send on twenty-five cents in stamps for the paper. In one day’s mail I received subscriptions sent to me personally in over twelve hundred letters and I soon discovered that I needed secretarial help.
Before the month of January, 1900, was over, the force in the Capital
office had been increased by more than forty persons, and the clerks at the general post office had been increased by the addition of six new carriers and office men. On Monday morning, one week before the experiment on the paper began, the Capital received, in the first mail delivered, 100,000 subscriptions which came from all over the United States and Canada. The total number of subscriptions was 367,000, and that number of copies of the paper was published every day for six days, in addition to a Saturday afternoon edition which took the place of the regular Sunday morning paper.
The size of the paper had to be determined by the mechanical conditions in the Capital office and also by the fact that one man could not possibly pass on every item, including advertising and articles, in a paper exceeding eight pages.
The normal circulation of the Capital up to that week had been 15,000 copies daily. The reserve capacity of the plant made it possible to handle 25,000 copies a day. As the subscriptions came pouring in, newspaper men all over the country were curious to know how the mechanical difficulties could be met in printing 367,000 copies on a press that had never turned out more than 25,000 a day. Innumerable inquiries came in asking about the plan.
The Staats-Zeitung of New York printed 120,000 copies from sets of matrices sent on each day from Topeka. A like number was printed by the Chicago Journal. The remainder of the issue was actually printed on the straight-line Goss press in the Topeka pressroom by running the machine day and night. It was kept swimming in oil and the press foreman, who was and still is one of the finest pressmen in America, overcame apparently insurmountable difficulties, including one unexpected overflow of a sewer which backed up into the pressroom one night and submerged the press above the rollers.
The paper was sold on Broadway and Wall Street two days after it had appeared in Topeka, and in Chicago one day after. A fourth set of matrices was sent to London to the Westminster Review and there reproduced and issued as soon as received.
The presswork of the Capital that week was a problem, but it was child’s play compared with the mailing out. Twenty-four years ago the mailing system of a daily newspaper was perhaps one of the least efficient of its activities. The only apparatus the Capital had for its l5,000 list of subscribers was the modest hand-machine known as a ‘Dick’ mailer. It was, of course, out of the question to use this machine for mailing over 360,000 personal subscriptions.
The only way out was the method that we used. A large force of typists, over thirty, made lists of the names in column form, six copies of each, one for each day’s paper. These lists were all arranged by states and sections and were expressed to Chicago and New York for the use of the Journal and the Staats-Zeitung in mailing the papers which they printed in their respective plants. All the copies of the paper for subscribers east of Pittsburg in a line running north and south, and in foreign lands, were dispatched from New York. All copies for subscribers between the Alleghenies and the Missouri River were sent out from Chicago. Topeka took care of all local subscriptions west of the Missouri as far as the Pacific Coast. To facilitate the mailing out, the Santa Fe loaned a mailing car from which, as headquarters, the papers were dispatched with comparatively little delay or confusion.
In relating my experiences during this week of experiment I am going to mention some things which have never been reported, not even by the crowd of uninvited newspaper correspondents, about forty in all, who came on that week to get a story for their papers. So far as they themselves were concerned, they came largely out of curiosity, but of course they all felt obliged to get something startling and new for their papers. I may as well confess that I did not welcome them, and that I shall always consider that their presence was undesirable and unfair. I was constantly hampered in my attempts to carry out my original plans, since each correspondent wanted special interviews, and each one was sending on to his paper every day some story that contained more imagination and less fact than the most brilliant writer of fiction ever dreamed. For a period of six days, during which I averaged less than three hours’ sleep in each twenty-four, there was not an hour of the day that the newspaper correspondents did not try to interfere with my engagements; I was not even allowed to eat and write uninterrupted.
Therefore I may as well say frankly that the Press, as represented by the men and women who were sent on to get a story, did not give me a fair chance to illustrate in my own way the thing I was trying to do; and in looking over the press reports which were made during that week I might be indignant, even after the lapse of a quarter of a century, if they were not so tremendously untrue as to be humorous. One of the commonest reports published by nearly every paper was to the effect that the whole affair was a piece of the most astounding hypocrisy, because I was receiving between $10,000 and $25,000 as my share of the week’s profits! This story and hundreds of others as preposterous were published, and I suppose thousands of readers believed them. ‘It was in the paper,’ they said. ‘It must be true.’
It is true that toward the end of the week the proprietor of the Capital sent to my house by messenger a roll of bills amounting to $1000; but that same messenger took them back to the office at once.
Having spoken my mind concerning the embarrassment and handicap arising from the presence of the newspaper men, I now want to testify to the wonderful helpfulness and loyalty of every person connected with the Capital, from the business manager to the Negro janitors and the youngest cub in the pressroom. They were the most enthusiastic and responsive group of human beings I have ever seen. They were not individuals whom I had trained and taught to carry out my ideas, but they could not have been more eager to make them a success if they had been in training for years. They obeyed every rule posted up, to their own discomfort and even against their own judgment. Every smoker went without his pipe or cigarette while on duty. There were countless occasions for profanity as the men faced unusual and unknown problems, but 1 do not remember hearing a single swear-word during the entire week, even from the men in the composing and mailing rooms where the tasks were stupendous and involved. In the pressroom, where a press that had never turned off more than 25,000 copies a day was being driven day and night to print 127,000, the foreman and his assistants lived a life of continual anxiety and were under a strain that was nerve-stretching every moment, but if they swore, it was silently; and to some of them it must have been an experience in suppression that cost them much sweat and anguish of spirit.
The reporters and telegraph men, the city editor who sat up with me all night to see the thing through, the business manager who turned down thousands of dollars’ worth of questionable advertisements without an audible murmur, all entered into the week’s trial with a whole-hearted and unquestioning faith which was in marked contrast to the attitude of the press representatives, most of whom ridiculed and criticized and sent garbled reports of the week to their papers down East.
I do not wish to seem unfair to the Press as it was at that time, but I have not mentioned any of these things for more than twenty-four years, and I mention them now, not in any spirit of malice, but to state some facts which have never been published about that week. I could have carried out my plans with far greater freedom and happiness if the Press had let me alone. The reports sent out were so misleading that the public never had an opportunity to know what had really been done or what results were finally obtained.
According to the definition of the word ‘news’ which we had made, the most important news item that came in on the night of March 12, 1900, was a brief notice of the India famine. No paper in the United States had given this great calamity any prominence. It seemed to me to be the most important world-news; therefore, supplementing the meagre Associated Press item with letters which I had received from missionaries, I featured the India famine in the first issue of the Capital, printing it on the first lefthand column on the front page, the Capital’s regular place for the most important news.
Along with this news item I printed a call for famine relief asking the readers of the news to send in contributions. This appeal followed the account of the famine on the front page. I may say that I still believe that news of this kind should be edited; that editorial comment on great world-events should be made directly on the page which prints the event. The first great daily in this country to print editorial comment directly under Associated Press news calling for such comment will have a reading that editorials printed on the editorial page do not now have. Very much of what is called news needs intelligent comment in order to be understood by the average reader of newspapers. In very many cases the newspaper reader does not know what the news item means. The editor ought to be able to tell him. If the editorial were written immediately under the news it would be read. It is a question whether the average editorial in the regular dailies of this country is read by more than two per cent of the readers. If it were written with the news everyone would read it. If editorials are written to be read, why not put them where the reader will read them?
As a direct result of the appeal for help in the case of the famine sufferers, a trainload of Kansas corn was sent by Kansas farmers to New York, and the Christian Herald of New York chartered a ship and sent the cargo to Bombay, where it was handled by the missionaries and distributed all over the famine district. In correspondence which came to me months afterward, the missionaries told me that this Kansas corn saved thousands of children from starving, and I have learned that some of them have since held responsible positions under the British government. Sometimes when people have asked me if the paper was not a failure, as the press reports for the most part said it was, I have replied that if it accomplished nothing more than saving several thousand children from starving to death I should always feel that the paper was a success.
Besides the shipload of corn that was contributed, I forwarded from the Capital office that week and for weeks afterward money contributions for the famine amounting to more than $40,000, which were disbursed by different church and missionary organizations. This money came from all over the world in response to an appeal that took up less than two inches of space in the paper.
During the remainder of the week the Christian Herald carried a halfpage advertisement making an appeal for the people of India, and stating that the British Secretary of State for India would pay all transportation charges for food sent from America. The Herald received in response to that appeal over $100,000 in cash, besides the shipload of corn given by the Kansas farmers. It is within modest bounds to say that over $150,000 worth of food and relief was sent to a starving people from the first item of real news published in the Topeka Daily Capital of March 13, 1900. I hope the reader of this article will not think that I write in any spirit of cheap boastfulness. I am trying to tell the whole story of that week’s experiment as if I stood outside of it. If anyone else knew all the facts, I should be more than glad to have him tell them.
It may be interesting to those who did not see the paper to know what subjects were discussed in the week’s issues, which were being published as nearly as possible according to the standard of what I thought Jesus might do. Considering the fact that a majority of the newspaper correspondents characterized the paper as deadly dull and a failure as a newspaper, it seems no more than fair to let the actual contents of the paper speak for themselves. Here are the titles of some of the articles published, and some of the news items discussed, either editorially or on a news page_ — Starving India; The War-Spirit Denounced (wars going on at the time were the war in the Philippines and the Boer War); Is the Boer War Just? (answer, no); New Books (with reviews by well-known authors); Federal Reforms; Against Cigarettes; Kindergarten Schools; The Philippines (a history of their internal affairs then published for the first time); Letters from Famous People; Sunday Observance (advocated); Market Reports (abbreviated on account of some questionable transactions on the stock market at the time); Prison Reform; Liquor Advertisements in Magazines (a protest against them — this protest was followed by letters written by prominent people in Kansas, and most of the advertisements were dropped by the magazines when their contracts ran out); Kansas Millers; Livestock Market; Mormonism (its menace); The Tax Dodger (with a cartoon by a wellknown artist, M. A. Waterman); The Union of the Churches (advocated; a front page editorial); Woman Suffrage (advocated); Extracts from the National Brewers’ Journal Conceding Progress of Prohibition in Kansas; Municipal Ownership (advocated); In Labor’s Behalf (a plea for better housing-conditions); Appeal for Cleaner Humor; Tenement House Reform; League of Mothers (advocated); Police Department (a plea for decent wages); Women’s Clubs; The Y. W. C. A. (appeal for endowment); Dairying in Kansas (a very remarkable series of articles by Mr. F. D. Coburn, at the time Secretary of Agriculture in Kansas; these articles went all over the world and were copied in scores of journals); Social Settlements; Against War (written by Dr. Farkhurst of New York); Sunday School Lessons; The Churches of Topeka; Letters from Ministers; The Armenian Massacres (a protest against them); Disease Prevention.
These were, of course, only a very few of the topics discussed in the six issues of the paper. All of the outside contributions were freely given, as all the writers agreed to the plan of no compensation. Among the many contributors were Bishop John II. Vincent, who wrote the prayer printed above the news on the first page; Dr. J. E. Abbott, Bombay Mission; C. N. Howard, Rochester, N. Y.; F. D. Coburn; Governor W. E. Stanley of Kansas; Dr. F. W. Gunsaulus; Whitelaw Reid; Associate Justice of the Supreme Court David J. Brewer; Leonard D. Abbott; Frank Beard, the cartoonist. Mr. Myron A. Waterman also contributed some very telling cartoons.
If the paper was characterized by most of the newspaper correspondents as dull, it is also true that the subscribers received their money’s worth in contributed articles which would be able to stand comparison with any table of contents in any periodical of the present time.
One reason for the assumption that the Christian Daily was dull and uninteresting may be found in the fact that crime and scandal and sensational divorce cases were absent from its pages. When crime was reported it was reported briefly and the emphasis was placed on the cause, and if possible on the remedy. This is the only scientific way to report crime. It is the way the Bible always reports it, and the Bible is the most scientific world-news reporter that was ever compiled. It is childish and useless to report human frailty simply for the sake of creating a morbid mental sensation in the reader; yet this is the regular and stupid fashion of reporting human sin adopted by those dailies which print elaborate stories of human lapses. The rule which the Capital observed during the week that it was a Christian Daily was the Bible rule, and in time that will be the rule observed by all the daily Press.
A signal opportunity to practise this method of dealing with sensational news occurred in the office of the Capital itself during the week I was in charge. Senator Peffer of Kansas, who was as highly respected and honored by his townspeople generally as he was caricatured and dishonored by the public that did not know him, had a son who happened to be an employee in the advertising department of our paper. During the week, this son of the Kansas senator went down to Kansas City, and in a fit of despondency committed suicide, leaving a note addressed to his father, saying, ‘Father, I don’t like to do what I am doing, but I am tired.’
The fact of the suicide was published briefly in the Thursday edition of the paper, together with the note he had left, and after the item I wrote, ‘The Capital extends to Senator Peffer and his family profound sympathy in the time of their trouble. May the God of all comfort bless and strengthen all those who mourn.’
The news of the suicide reached one of the Capital reporters before we received it in the office, and I remember how he came running in with it to me, asking for instructions about going right up to Senator Peffer’s home to interview the family so as to get inside facts about the affair. I not only refused to let any reporter go to the house, but I turned down a long account of the tragedy which came up from Kansas City, in which there was a detailed description of the room where the young man was found, and more than a hint at some motive for suicide other than that given in the note which he had left for his father. It seemed to me at the time, it does yet, and it always will, that such human tragedy should be reported, if at all, in the briefest and most sympathetic manner. I see nothing to be gained by relating the ghastly details of human sin. Even the tremendous story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas is told in the Gospel narrative in a space less than one third the length of a newspaper column, and the stupendous event of the Crucifixion occupies what would be less than a single column in a modern metropolitan daily. Yet the great dailies will give whole pages to a robbery in which some silly woman’s jewels have been taken from her hotel; and they will keep it up for weeks at a time.
The greatest examples we have of ideal reporting of wrongdoing are in the New Testament, and they are ideal because they do not attempt to report improper detail.
The Capital, being a morning paper, had a regular Sunday edition, and, owing to the fact that Sunday papers were then and are yet repugnant to me, it was at first something of a problem to know how we were going to give our subscribers a week’s issues. But with the combined and willing cooperation of everyone on the paper, and with enormous loss of sleep and meals, we issued a Saturday afternoon edition in place of the Sunday paper. This edition was off the press at eleven-fifteen Saturday morning, in spite of the fact that the Saturday morning issue did not come off the press until 2.30 A.M. One aid in the overcoming of what seemed superhuman difficulties for a newspaper which possessed every handicap in the way of imperfect equipment and ridiculously cramped physical quarters was the fact that most of the matter for the Saturday afternoon edition had been set up in advance, as the entire edition was made up of extracts from the Bible and articles about the Bible. There was not one line of local or national or world-news in the Saturday afternoon Capital.
The main heading of this edition was ‘The Bible: The Basis of Our Christian Civilization.’ The leading sentences at the head of the first column were from Daniel Webster’s Epitaph, written by himself and copied from his tomb at Marshfield, Massachusetts: —
Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief. Philosophical argument, especially that drawn from the vastness of the universe in comparison with the apparent insignificance of this globe, has sometimes shaken my reason for the faith that is in me; but my heart has assured me that the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be a divine reality. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be a merely human production. The whole history of man proves it.
Immediately following this came the Sermon on the Mount, printed from the revised version, entire. It occupied less than two columns. The remainder of the paper, which was the regular eight-page form, was filled, outside the advertising space, with Bible quotations and Bible teaching. Some of the topics were: Usury; The Sabbath; Money and Riches; Marriage; Evil of Drink; War; The Future; The Love Chapter.
There was a history of the Bible contributed by the American Bible Society. The Christian Herald’s advertisement in this Saturday afternoon issue was given up entirely to featuring a red-letter Bible. I think it may safely be said that after recovering from the shock caused by getting a paper without any news in it many of the subscribers read for the first time, perhaps, the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, and it may have been news to some of them.
In an editorial printed on the front page I took occasion to preach a little sermon on the value of Sunday as a day of rest and worship. I also said to the subscribers, ‘There has been no Sunday work on this paper. The press and mailing work stopped before midnight. The carriers have been instructed to deliver their papers in time to reach home themselves before Sunday. There will be no papers sold or delivered on Sunday with the approval of the editor. May God bless the Press of the world to the glory of His kingdom on earth.’
Years afterward, during the campaign of the Flying Squadron, — an organized body of Prohibitionists under the leadership of Governor Hanly of Indiana, touring the United States in the interests of national Prohibition, — it was my privilege as a member of the company to speak in every state, and in every capital of every state, of the Union. We were in 247 towns and cities in 243 days, and I think there was hardly a place in which someone did not come up after a meeting and say, ‘We took the Capital the week you had charge of it.’ On a few occasions, so few that I do not recall even the states in which they occurred, someone would say, ‘I subscribed for your paper but never got it.’ Then I would have to feel for a quarter of a dollar, and promise to send a copy when I got home if I could find one. But considering the fact that subscriptions were sent in from all over the world, accompanied often with penmanship of the sort that makes editors feel around for the waste-paper basket, it is surprising that so few complaints came in to the Capital office after the week was over.
Payment of subscriptions was made in every conceivable shape, stamps, money orders, bills, silver coin. German marks and French francs probably made their first appearance in Topeka that week. Seven thousand dollars’ worth of stamps was received, hundreds of dollars’ worth from foreign countries, and it was months before these could be cashed, as the banks and business houses had to handle them through their correspondents.
People sent the silver quarters glued and fastened in various ways to paper. We had to soak the paper off by throwing the coins into tubs of water. One night one of these tubs, owing to the fact that every place for locking up money after banking hours had been used, was shoved under a counter in the office room. The Negro janitor stumbled upon it, and in dismay he ran in to the press foreman shouting, ‘Bob, all the money in the world is in a washtub under the front counter!'
One hundred and thirty-five tons of paper and six barrels of ink were used to print the issues. The cost of these two items was $60,000. Ninety thousand dollars were received in subscriptions, and over a hundred persons were employed in the office and pressroom.
In the opening editorial of March 13, I said I would receive no financial compensation, but that a share of the profits, if there were any, would be given to some benevolent work. At the end of the week $5000 was deposited in the bank to my order. One thousand was sent to the India Famine Fund; one thousand was used to build a hospital room for the county jail; one thousand was given to Washburn College, and the balance to the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Orphans’ Home.
During the week I averaged about three hours’ sleep a day. I had a room at a hotel and went home only once. If I had to do it again, I should not change in any radical way the main plan of the paper. It remains to be seen whether what was only an experiment may sometime become a fact. I think it is safe to say that in my correspondence for weeks after the Capital week I had hundreds of letters asking if a paper along the same line could not be established. No one, however, came forward with the millions necessary to establish it. And a Christian daily, like any other, would have to be endowed or financed with a large amount. But the kingdom of God cometh not with observation.
In looking over the press notices which commented on the paper, I find that the most frequent criticism, made oftener by ministers than by anyone else, was the severe objection to the thought of Jesus’ taking any part in such a prosaic and material thing as a daily paper. The terms ‘ blasphemous,’ ‘sacrilegious,’ ‘irreverent,’ are used to describe what the critics called an irreligious attempt to think of Jesus as participating in any of the common everyday things that mere human beings have to do for a living.
This thought of Jesus in history is so strange to me that I cannot let this criticism of an attempt to imitate Him in the work of journalism pass without comment. The entire concept of Christianity, to my mind, is stripped of its tremendous meaning if we do not think of Jesus as more vitally interested in the common doings of men than any other being who ever lived. If Jesus could not take part in the publishing of a daily paper, then He could not direct any other energy that we have to use in order to make a living.
Scores of ministers said in these criticisms that Jesus would never do anything but preach. They seem to forget that the greater part of His life was spent in a carpenter’s shop, and that the tables and benches and common wooden things in many a home in Nazareth were no doubt made by His hands. To place the Redeemer of the world in a position which removes Him from the everyday life of mankind is a monstrous perversion of all our right ideas of Him. The vast majority of mankind are not preachers and teachers, but working men and women, toiling over some task that has to do with material things, with common earthly things, like the production of food and the preparation of it for the table. To say that it is sacrilege to think of Jesus as engaged in any form of honest work is so contrary to His own teaching and life that I cannot understand how any minister of the Gospel ever arrived at that conclusion.
I am inclined to think that the whole false definition of Jesus goes back to the whole false conception of a Divine Being. It takes centuries to clear the human mind of the false idea of a God who sits on a throne and does nothing but meditate on the awful sins of the human beings whom He has made. But the thought of a God who walks with men on the earth, who eats with them and goes out fishing with them in the little boat, and takes His turn with them at the oar, as no doubt Jesus often did, who even goes so far as to provide a meal for a number of tired fishermen with His own hands and to do it after He is a risen and eternal spirit — that thought is so great to me that the idea of Jesus publishing a necessary daily paper is not only not ‘sacrilegious’ or ‘irreverent,’ but any other thought of Him is absolutely contrary to His purpose in coming into the world.
We have no such thing as Christianity unless we have a definition of it in terms of abundant life, as wide as man’s activity, and as sacred as the everyday toil of the hands of Him who was nailed on a cross because He angered the Pharisees by letting His disciples satisfy their hunger as they walked through the wheat fields of Palestine one Sabbath morning two thousand years ago.