Newspapers of the Olden Days

When you think back to the old days of newsrooms, what comes to mind? Large wood desks, typewriters, men in nice outfits with ties and hats, a factory floor, ringing telephones, the clicking of typewriter keys, briefcases filled with research, notebooks filled with facts, the smell of ink and smoke, a large room full of writers, editors, and copy boys, and unending, bustling activity.

I’ve always been fascinated with the “days of old.” A newsroom in the early to mid 1900’s seemed full of excitement and adventure as portrayed in black and white films and pictures. It was a place of work and of speed, and was a wonderful time to be a journalist and a reader. The newspaper industry entered a new era with the advent of television news and now, advertisers have left newspapers for the Internet. Journalism changed as the nation changed, simple as that.

However, I find looking back into the old newsrooms fascinating. Bruce Bliven (1889-1977), the managing editor of the New York Globe, put together a “how-to-write instruction book for kids” (DVorkin). Below are excerpts of Bliven’s work:

  1. First, the ascendancy of the afternoon over the morning paper because papers live on advertising, advertising is directed at women, and women have more leisure in the evening than earlier.”
  2. Second, a consequent premium on haste, which means that the news is more and more presented in fragmentary, “skeletonized,” and often garbled form.”
  3. Third, an increasing use of pictures, which have been found to appeal to large numbers of people who are almost illiterate, but possess the buying power which the advertiser seeks.”
  4. Fourth, with a few conspicuous exceptions, a continuing degeneration and flabbiness of journalistic English. This is primarily due to haste, facilitated by the use of the typewriter, and secondarily to the use of the telephone, because of which the man who writes is less and less often the man who has personally seen.”
  5. Fifth, a steady tendency to condense news articles into mere tabloid summaries. This is due to the great increase in the physical volume of advertising, and the desire nevertheless to hold down the bulk of paper.”
  6. Sixth, a wider and wider use of syndicated material, so that newspapers all over the country are partly identical from day to day in their contents. This is not only true of telegraphic news, obtained from one of the three great news-gathering associations, but of “feature” articles, drawings, even editorials…”
  7. Seventh, the great invested capital and earning power of a successful newspaper today. Because of this fact — the result of the increase in advertising — ownership has slipped out of the hands of the editor, whose type of mind is rarely compatible with large business dealings, and has passed to that of wealthy individuals or corporations.”
  8. Eighth, the passing of rivalry from the editorial to the business office…. Unfortunately, their race for added sales is reflected editorially in the production of journals which more and more represent, not an editor’s notion of a good paper, but a circulation manager’s notion of a good seller.”

Even today, Bliven’s points hold true. There is “evidence of time-shifting and device-shifting among computer and tablet users” (DVorkin), there are over 250 million tweets “tweeted” per day, we live in a world dominated by images, the blogosphere is very predominant, and online is all about the page views and targeted ads.

For the “olde souls” out there, here is a link to a collection of old newsroom pictures on Pinterest.

DVorkin, Lewis. “Inside Forbes: In Journalism, What’s New Is Actually Old… and ‘That’s the Way It Is’.”Forbes. 05 29 2012: n. page. Print. <>.

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