Why I Founded the u.p.: A Self-Portrait of E. W. Scripps
The Scripps-Howard newspapers are known throughout the land, but few Americans have the least knowledge of Edward Wyllis Scripps, their founder, who withdrew entirely from the public scene ns the power and wealth of his papers mounted. He died, an ocean-going recluse, aboard his yacht, the Ohio, in Monrovia Bay. Liberia, in 1926. During his years aboard the Ohio Scripps dictated an extraordinary autobiography which has been edited by his son-in-law, C. R. MCCABE, and which is being published by Harper under the title Damned Old Crank.From this book the Atlantichas selected the following characteristic episode.
Edited by C. U. MCCABE
I CANNOT pretend that I went into journalism because I had a call to serve humanity. The spirit that moved me as a journalist was the spirit of protest. I just grew by fighting — fighting because it is my nature to fight. No idea came to me in my early days as a newspaperman that I owed the public a duty. I cannot even now recall the time when the idea first dawned upon me that I was working for others than myself. However, I learned, as every editor of a successful newspaper does learn very soon, that an editor has an extraordinarily great influence on the public, and that the influence may be for good or ill.
It took years for me to develop to the point where I was willing to sacrifice any great immediate temporary advantage for the purpose of doing a public service. I do not think that I ever became thoroughly entrenched in the habit of altruism until I had learned by experience that even if honesty was not the best policy, at least it was a policy by which a newspaper editor could enjoy not only business success but something still more valuable — the confidence and respect, and even the affection of a large part of the public.
The profession of journalism is a peculiar one. Its raison d’être is public service. A man who believes in what he is doing can and generally will succeed. A man who does not believe in what he is doing may be successful, but will find it very difficult. It is possible for a hypocrite, by exercising constant self-restraint, to appear to be as good as the most sincere moralist, but it is hard work.
The editor who wants to serve the public finds it easy and enjoyable work, and comparatively easy to retain the public’s good will. The editor who wants to serve only himself, and plays a role for the purpose of fooling the public for profit, finds it extremely difficult, day after day and year after year, in all emergencies of temptation and personal irritation, so to control his actions as not to reveal his true character.
I have a high opinion of my journalistic work as public service. I believe the most valuable service I have rendered to my country has been that of thwarting the plans of greater, abler, and richer men than myself to establish a monopoly of news in the United States and a dominating influence over all the newspapers of the country.
When, if ever, an accounting is made of my life’s work, I would require, in fairness to me, that account should be taken not only of the huge effort but of the great outlay of money that I have made personally to secure freedom of the press in this country. I refer to the foundation of the United Press in competition with the Associated Press.
Around 1895 a warfare broke out between the two press associations of the country. These were the old Western Associated Press (later known as the Associated Press) and the old United Press. The old UP was the direct result of a series of weak efforts to establish a press association to oppose the old Western Associated Press.
The United Press, under Walter Phillips, was then at the zenith of its power. It included in its membership the leading New York City newspapers of the time — the Herald, Tribune, World, and Sun. Its principal financial backer and controlling spirit was John P. Walsh, the owner of the Chicago Chronicle, and a Napoleon of finance who ended his days in the state prison. All the Scripps papers were then included in the United Press as clients or members or stockholders.
At this time the idea occurred to such men as Bennett of the New York Herald, Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune, Laffan of the New York Sun, and some others, to create a great news monopoly out of the United Press. This organization, it was felt, was sweeping everything before it, while the Western Associated Press was constantly losing clients and members. The United Press, as it existed then, threatened even the existence of a free press in this country.
To match this development a number of newspapermen, headed by Victor Lawson of the Chicago News, my brother James, Frank Noyes — then editor of a Washington paper — and some others, undertook to reorganize the Western Associated Press with the aim of making it a great monopoly. In the early days of the reorganization of the Associated Press, when it was proposed to make it a regular stock company rather than the mutual company it later became, I was visited by a representative of the reorganizers. He offered me, jointly with James E. Scripps, 25 per cent of the stock of the proposed new association if we would take all our papers out of the United Press and join the new association.
I declined on the grounds that the new Associated Press proposed to have exclusive contracts; that is to say, those newspapers belonging to the new association in any city would have the right to keep any new paper in their city from receiving the news report of the AP. In other words, the plan was to establish a monopoly pure and simple.
Both the Western Associated Press and the United Press were overwhelmingly controlled by the publishers of morning newspapers. The result was that evening newspapers all over the country were slighted. It was the custom of the news associations to hold back important news developments that occurred in time for publication in evening papers. This gave the morning papers a monopoly of important news. The Scripps papers were ev ening papers.
Because of this condition in the press associations, I set up a sort of mutual press association for the Scripps papers. This association, later known as the Scripps-McRae Press Association, had representatives in New York, Washington, all of the Scripps newspaper cities, and at other points. These men sent us special telegrams of important events. By this means I greatly increased the news value of our several papers. To keep costs down, I succeeded in making contracts with both the Western Union Telegraph Company and the old Baltimore & Ohio Telegraph Company. I got practically Associated Press transmission rates.
THE Associated Press, a magnificently reformed organization, won a great victory over the United Press and seduced away from it all of the big New York newspapers except the Sun. This move was followed by a country-wide stampede of United Press clients to the Associated Press.
Although the AP was still solicitous to get my papers, it was no longer offering me stock as a special inducement. The AP representatives were now warning me that I was in danger of being left out in the cold, and were threatening me with destruction if I did not join them.
I was irritated to the highest pitch of anger by the insolence and arrogance of those who had once so humbly petitioned me. My brother George had a very pugnacious disposition so long as he had someone to lead him in a fight. My partner Milton McRae, however, was panic-stricken, and begged and pleaded with and implored George and me to get on the Ark before the deluge came.
The UP by now was on the rocks. Not only was its treasury empty, but as a concern it was largely in debt.
The AP, in a new move, set a date after which no newspaper that was not then a member could ever get the Associated Press reports. The fateful final meeting at which new members would be accepted into the AP was, I believe, held in the summer of 1897 in Chicago.
Early in the morning of that day McRae made haste to see Melville Stone, Victor Lawson, Charles Knapp, and others of the inner circle. They all assured him that, even though we presented ourselves at the eleventh hour, we would be cordially welcomed. McRae returned to us, his face beaming, saying he had no doubt we could get into the association on a full plane of equality with the best of all the other papers represented.
I knew better, I knew better because I had other channels of communication to the AP directorate, and had taken pains to have them hear reports of our internal dissensions and weaknesses. I had, in fact, paved the way to have any petition we made turned down so hard and with so much insolence and arrogance as to rearouse my brother George’s fighting instinct.
At the last hour, and almost the last minute, Mr. McRae went with our application, in written form, to be admitted to the Associated Press not as clients but as first-class voting members of the association. Much to his chagrin, his proposal was met — as I had expected it would be — with ridicule and laughter and contempt. That was what I desired and expected. I wanted him to be fighting mad. I wanted to stir up the pugnacious Scotch blood in him. I knew that if I could get McRae fully aroused I could depend on him to do more than half of the fighting that was sure to result.
McRae returned to us with face red and eyes shining with resentment and anger. Our telegrams to the different newspapers were all written out, together with our prospectus. We said the firm of Scripps-McRae was going to start a press association and finance it, and that we would, on the instant of application, serve all would-be clients with the evening report. Our organization was actually so complete that it was sending out a news report even while McRae was making his application to the Associated Press, although the report was only going to our own papers.
I do not recall the figures, but I imagine that in founding the new United Press the Scripps papers actually paid out several hundred thousand dollars more than they would have paid out had they been members of the Associated Press. Notwithstanding these comparatively large payments, I felt that the investment, bad as it was financially, was a good one, since it secured for the Scripps papers, and all the other papers in the country, freedom from the temptation of one huge news monopoly. Not a small part of our own gain was that we were able to found evening newspapers in any city that we chose.
As our corporation was not a mutual one, but a stock company for the purpose of profit, we were governed by the same laws that govern common carriers. We could not legally refuse a report to any newspaper that wanted it, even if we desired to do so. We could not refuse an applicant who might come in direct competition with our own newspapers, and cause them to suffer seriously. In one city in particular I think my own paper was never profitable for the simple reason that a rival paper taking the United Press was founded. It was being conducted, furthermore, not only to compete with my paper but to ruin it.
IN 1905 a young man named John Vandercook, who had worked for the Cleveland Press and the ScrippsMcRae Association in New York and Europe, demanded a promotion of me. His approach impressed me. I had him named editor of the Cincinnati Post, where he demonstrated great ability He then demanded a greater field of operations. He proposed that we buy the East Coast Publishers’ Press Association, consolidate it with our two others —the Scripps News Association and the Scripps-McRae Press Association — and form a large united institution.
We had discovered before this negotiation began that corrupt influences were working on the Publishers’ Press Association, so that important, news from Washington and New York and other places was being colored or suppressed for the purpose of affecting the stock market. Even false reports came over the wire. During Vandercook’s negotiations, a flagrant incident of this kind occurred. I felt that this incident and its predecessors absolved me from all moral obligation toward the Publishers’ Press Association. Meantime, the term of the contract for exchange and coöperation between the two associations had expired.
On the basis of the flagrant abuse of their power over a news association for their personal gain, I sent Mr. McRae to deliver an ultimatum to the officers of the Publishers’ Press Association. This stated that unless they sold their whole business to us at a figure which Mr. McRae would fix within our maximum, we would discontinue the exchange of news and all coöperation, and enter their field as competitors.
McRae had furnished himself with information that a stockbroker of the New York Exchange, of a very questionable reputation, was a large creditor and stockholder of the association, and was using it to further his stock-manipulating enterprises. With this information Mr. McRae concluded the purchase of the association, free of debt, for $150,000. When I acquired ownership of the Publishers’ Press I united all three press associations on June 21, 1907, giving the name of the United Press Association to the consolidated institution.
The original United Press corporation issued $300,000 of preferred 6 per cent stock and, I think, $100,000 common stock. I personally endorsed and guaranteed the $300,000 preferred stock and then distributed this preferred stock to the owners of record of the three associations. I had 51 per cent of the stock of the Scripps-McRae Press Association, 51 per cent of the Scripps Press Association, and, of course, 100 per cent of the Publishers’ Press Association. Therefore, my own share of preferred stock was practically $202,000. The preferred stock I received, I used to pay off certain personal debts; so that in the end, I had no other interest in the United Press Association than 51 per cent of its common stock. I apportioned the other 49 per cent to young men I put in charge of the management of the institution. As there was practically not a dollar paid in by the common stockholders, the new institution, the United Press Association, started its existence in 1907 with $300,000 of liability and what might be termed a bag of wind.
At the time I was organizing the UP in its present form, I told my associates we were embarking on a business that would either have to be a flat failure or a property worth many millions, not less than $3,000,000. This kind of business, I said, must be large in order to exist.
Now the United Press has been in existence ten years [this was written in 1917], and it is worth not less than $1,000,000. I assumed the risk of guaranteeing the preferred stock; beyond this, I have paid no money into the concern. I have put no labor into it that would be recognized as labor. I have practically done no more for the institution than exercise my judgment, based on a knowledge and skill I had acquired in other business fields.
Up to the present time, during the past ten years, I have received as my share of dividends perhaps $200,000, an average of $20,000 a year. Beyond that, I am the owner of a block of stock worth $500,000. This has grown from what might be considered nothing at all. As a matter of fact, the preferred stock that I had guaranteed was considered by me, as I have said, a liability.
Divide the $500,000 worth of property by the number of years involved — ten — and we have $50,000 as a net annual gain for myself. Add $20,000 a year, or the average dividend, and it would appear that I received $70,000 a year for my services in founding this institution. UP General Manager Roy Howard’s estimate of the 1917 value of the concern as being $2,500,000 is, at least, possibly correct. My share of this, being one half, would amount to $1,250,000, which would be equivalent to an average salary for ten years of $125,000. Add to this $20,000 average annual dividends, and it would appear that my annual earnings on account of the UP have been so far $145,000.
OFTEN, in retrospective mood, my thoughts center on some man or group of men — youngsters whose lives I have more or less molded — molded in part for my own business purposes, and perhaps, even in a larger part, experimentally. A very large portion of my life’s enjoyment, in fact, has come from the curious and inquiring attention I have given to the development of my young helpers. I am inclined to dispute the truth of the saying that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I put very little reliance on the equally vulgar and often sneering comment, Blood will tell.
It was around 1885 that I went to live in the country house of Colonel Gano of the U.S. Army, about 16 miles outside Cincinnati, on the old turnpike leading from Cincinnati to Dayton. On this little turnpike, not 100 yards from my host’s home, was a tiny cottage occupied by the keeper of the tollgate. The tollgate keeper had a family of several children, sons and daughters. Now it is easy enough for anyone to form an opinion of the general characteristics of a tollgate keeper and his family. Certainly tollgate-keeping is anything but the occupation of an industrious, ambitious, and enterprising man.
I kept a saddle horse at that time for exercise purposes. It was provoking to me always to have to stop my ride and to call the tollgate keeper, to wait for the tollgate to be raised when I paid my little fee. Actually, I seldom submitted to this indignity. Sometimes I would make my horse jump the tollgate, and sometimes the hedge fence at the side of the road. I would jump into the adjoining field, passing around the tollgate, in order to bring the horse back again into the pike.
The reason I had to encounter this tollgate was that it extended straight across the road that led from my lodging place to the door of the young lady who afterwards became my wife.
I never made the acquaintance of the tollgate keeper or any member of his family. Being a newcomer to the neighborhood, I knew nothing of the past of the family. It was not until many years afterward that I learned that there was a man in the employ of one of my newspapers who was a son of one of the daughters of this family. That man wars Roy Howard.
What could be expected of a tollgate keeper’s grandson? Had I not known so much about his origin, I would have had no more curiosity about or interest in him than I would have had in any of the other hundreds of my employees. Although I did not see young Howard until several years after I heard of him, my interest in him certainly had its effect in opening opportunities for him.
I do not recall having seen Howard until he had made considerable headway in the way of promotion. When I finally met him for the first time, I think it was at Miramar. He was a striking individual, very small of stature, with a large head and speaking countenance, and eyes that appeared to be windows for a rather unusual intellect. His manner was forceful, and the reverse of modesty. Gall was written all over his face. It was in every tone and every word he voiced. Ambition, self-respect, and forcefulness oozed out of every pore of his body.
Since those days Howard has learned to affect some degree of deference in his speech and manner in my presence; but in my first interview with him he did not reveal, and I do not believe he experienced, the least feeling of awe. However, so completely and exuberantly frank was he that it was impossible for me to feel any resentment on account of his cheek.
He passed from his reportership on the paper to a subordinate position in the United Press. When he went with the UP he might have been twenty-one years of age. Of course he was only an employee.
I do not suppose he, or anyone else, ever thought he would be anything else. He demonstrated his ability to be a good assistant to the general manager while the institution was still in almost an embryo state. Then, fortunately for him, its first manager, John Vandercook, died as the result of a surgical operation. Learning of this, I immediately gave attention to the appointment of a successor. I had no idea of appointing Howard. If my remembrance is correct I had not seen Howard, even then.
I suggested to my associates several names, any one of whom I would have been willing to name as Vandercook’s successor, had the other man who worked on the association agreed. I was surprised at being urged to let Howard be tried out for a time, at least, on the job.
Certainly, at this critical point in Howard’s career, he owed everything to the fact that he was the tollgate keeper’s grandson. My fancy was tickled with the idea. My propensity for experiment demonstrated itself again. I recall that I was much amused and that I told my wife what I had done. However, Howard made good.
The United Press is, next to the Associated, the largest medium for the dissemination of news in the United States. Consequently Mr. Howard not only had no difficulty in coming in contact with both the political and military leaders of the European countries he visited, but was warmly welcomed by them.
Owing a great deal to his peculiar personality, Howard gained some personal favor among these men. He had interviews with premiers, foreign secretaries, generals, and civilians of the higher grade. Lord Northcliffe, the giant journalist of England, has been particularly int imate with Howard. Owing to Northcliffe’s relations to the powersthat-be in England, Howard of the UP is favored above all other American journalists and journalistic institutions.
Howard once called on me at Miramar and spent an hour or two talking to me. While he occupied the seat at the end of the table, where I usually place my favored guests, I could not restrain myself from looking him over, up and down, and laughing uproariously as I kept comparing in my mind that little old tollgate house with this friend and intimate of a belted earl, great statesmen, and famous generals.
It is characteristic of Howard that when I told him the cause of my mirth he indicated neither confusion nor resentment. He seemed to have his own fancy tickled by it. I do not believe that in this respect Howard will ever change. Of course he is an upstart, and a very innocent upstart. He wasn’t to blame for his origin, and in fact there was nothing blameworthy in his origin. I do not think he would ever be ashamed of his origin. I do not think either that his success in life, or his position in life, would add anything to his vanity or his self-respect. Howard’s self-respect and self-confidence, right from the start, were so great as to make it impossible for them to increase. Doubtless to himself, his situation in life, his successes and his prosperity, all seem perfectly natural, and to be no more nor less than he expected — if he ever wasted his time in forecasting. Of which, I have very much doubt.
AS I said, I regard my life’s greatest service to the people of this country to be the creation of the UP. I have secured to every man in this country who desires to found or purchase a newspaper something that he must have in order to found or own a newspaper. I have given him something that nobody else has been able to give or willing to give. It is quite possible that I am the only man in this country who could have performed this service. I doubt if there was a single newspaperman in the United States, other than those in my employ, who at the time I made the decision to do this believed I would be successful.
The value of the UP depends not upon any patent right or anything the possession of which can be defended in a court of law. It does not depend upon any secret processes or knowledge. It does depend largely on the mental attitudes of many millions of people, who regard certain newspapers highly because of the value that they themselves attach to words that are published by the United Press.
Among other motives in founding the UP was the altruistic one. I do not believe in monopolies. I believe that monopolists suffer more than their victims in the long run. I did not believe that, it would be good for journalism in this country if there were one big news trust such as the founders of the Associated Press fully expected to build up. It was their idea to set up a monopoly that would make it impossible for any new paper to be started in any of the cities where there were AP members. I recognized that this was valuable to an established newspaper manager like myself, but I was just, then feeling very cocky. I considered myself a sort of manof-destiny. I had ambitions for planting a score or more of new papers. I pointed out to my associates that under the proposed conditions no one else could start new newspapers in our town, but, on the other hand, we ourselves would never be able to start another new newspaper.
I not only wanted to start a new paper if I chose, but I wanted to make it possible for any other man to found a newspaper in any city in the Union. Were it not for the UP, I am convinced that the men who hold a controlling interest in the present Associated Press and Mr. Hearst would inevitably combine into a trust.
Perhaps my greatest reason, however, for refusing to join the AP at the critical juncture was that I knew that at least 90 per cent of my fellows in American journalism were capitalistic and conservative. I knew at the time, at least, that unless I came into the field with a new service, it would be impossible for the people of the United States to get correct news through the medium of the Associated Press. I determined to be as free in the matter of gathering telegraph news and printing what I wanted to print as I was in gathering local news and printing what I wanted to print. In those my youthful days of pride I swelled with vanity at the thought that I was to be the savior of the free press in America. Of course, I have learned now that it needs more than one man to guarantee such freedom.