Friday, June 27, 2014
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Alma Reed serenaded by los Hermanos Hernadez, New York City, 1936.
Enrique Riverón papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
World War II absorbed thousands of men from the newspapering business for soldiering and brought many women into the newsroom, including one improbable sojourner to The Mobile Press Register, Alma Marie Reed.
Mrs. Reed’s “extraordinary life” is profiled in the biography Passionate Pilgrim by Antoinette May.
Mrs. Reed already had earned something of an international reputation as a woman reporter in her younger days.
Born Alma Marie Sullivan in 1889 in San Francisco, Mrs. Reed (who married young and divorced young) shocked her family by becoming a reporter at the San Francisco Call. Reporting wasn’t considered an honorable vocation for women.
Author May says that writing under the pseudonym byline of “Mrs. Goodfellow,” Mrs. Reed crusaded through her articles and one feature story resulted in California sparing the life of a Mexican youth and reforming its laws on capital punishment.
That made Reed a heroine in Mexico and won her a tour of the country where she made many friends, including the Yucatan Gov. Felipe Carrillo Puerto, to whom she became engaged. Before they could be married, Carrillo was executed during the Mexican Revolution.
In Mexico, Mrs. Reed reported on the discovery of the Mayan temple Chichen Itza and its treasures for The New York Times. She developed a lifelong interest in archaeology and reported on many other discoveries around the world.
She even went on an underwater quest for the lost continent of Atlantis, setting a deep-sea diving record.
In the 1930s she ran a struggling art gallery in New York and her Greenwich Village apartment was a gathering place for foreign artists and intellectuals to discuss the cause of world peace.
The world was not at peace, and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 not only sank U.S. battleships, but also Mrs. Reed’s gallery business as the public concerned itself with issues more serious than art.
When the New York art gallery went under, May says, an art collector in Mobile suggested that Mrs. Reed apply for a vacant position as art editor at the Press Register. At first rejecting the idea, Mrs. Reed eventually decided to go to the Port City.
Ann Battle Hawkins, officially the Society Editor during the war years, but forced by the manpower shortage to serve as “everything but the breakfast food editor,” told me more than 20 years ago that the 52-year-old Mrs. Reed contrasted sharply with the mostly young Press Register staff.
“She was a little intimidating to the younger people,” the late John Fay told me many years ago. Fay worked with Mrs. Reed for a few months in 1946 before replacing her as arts editor. She walked through the newsroom like a ship under full sail, Fay said.
Mrs. Hawkins said Mrs. Reed had a “right pretty face,” but “dressed differently than other women,” favoring long, flowing skirts, flamboyant shawls and large hats. A tall woman, Mrs. Reed’s flowing skirts served to cover her ample girth.
She said that editors who handled Mrs. Reed’s copy “swore that she wrote in Sanskrit.”
One-time Living Today Editor Tommye Miller recalled how Mrs. Reed’s desk was piled so high with papers that she could barely be seen behind them. She said one day Executive Editor George M. Cox ordered her to clean off her desk. Mrs. Reed declined saying she had “a date with destiny.” Cox responded, “I wish you would keep it.”
Jeanette Keyser Maygarden, who was the Women’s Department editor from December 1941 to August 1951, remembered how Mrs. Reed often held soirees in her apartment for young people on the newspaper’s staff. After consuming the finger-food Mrs. Reed offered, the young staffers where then required to listen to her reading poetry.
Besides working for the newspaper, Mrs. Reed produced a weekly radio show discussing cultural events, her biographer says. And when the International Peace Conference was scheduled to open in San Francisco in 1945, Mrs. Reed got a consortium of newspapers to sponsor her coverage of the event.
Mrs. Reed left the Press Register about October 1946, returning to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to re-establish her gallery. In 1950, at age 60, she moved to Mexico to write a weekly column for the recently established, English-language Mexico City News. She died in November 1966, a colorful footnote in the long history of journalists at the Press Register.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Former Press Register colleague Sam Hodges pointed me to the autobiography of Edward Osborne Wilson, who was a teenage newsboy for The Mobile Register in the 1940s.
|A young Edward O. Wilson collects insects with a net|
behind his grandfather's home in Mobile in 1942.
Photo from the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Wilson grew up to become a biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author. His is considered to be the world's leading authority on ants.
In his autobiography, Naturalist (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1994), Wilson recalls his time as a newsboy:
By the fall of 1942, at the age of thirteen, I had become in effect a child workaholic. I took a job with backbreaking hours of my own free will, without adult coercion or even encouragement. Soon after the start of the war there was a shortage of carriers for the city newspaper, the Mobile Press Register. Young men seventeen and over were departing for the service, and boys aged fifteen to sixteen were moving up part-time into the various jobs they vacated. On the lowest rung of unskilled labor, many paper routes came open as the fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds moved up. Somehow, for reasons I do not recall, an adult delivery supervisor let me take over a monster route: 420 papers in the central city area.
For most of that school year I rose each morning at three, slipped away in the darkness, delivered the papers, each to a separate residence, and returned home for breakfast around seven-thirty. I departed a half-hour later for school, returned home again at three-thirty, and studied. On Monday nights from seven to nine I attended the meeting of my Boy Scout troop at the United Methodist Church, on Government and Broad streets. On Sunday mornings I went to service at the First Baptist Church. On Sunday evenings I stayed up through Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio. On other nights I set the alarm soon after supper, went to bed, and fell asleep.
Four hundred and twenty papers delivered each morning! It seems almost impossible to me now. But there is no mistake; the number is etched in my memory. The arithmetic also fits: I made two trips to the delivery dock at the back of the Press Register building, each time filling two large canvas satchels. When stacked vertically on the bicycle front fender and strapped to the handlebars, the bags reached almost to my head and were close to the maximum bulk and weight I could handle. The residences receiving the papers were not widely spaced suburban houses but city dwellings, apartment buildings with two or three stories. It took perhaps a maximum of one hour to travel back and forth to the Press Register dock, load the papers twice, and make two round trips in and out; the delivery area was only a few minutes’ ride away. That leaves three and a half hours for actual on-the-scene work, or an average of two papers a minute—during which I reached down, pulled out the paper, dropped it, or threw it rolled up for a short distance, and passed on, moving faster and more easily after one satchel was emptied.
The supervisor collected the week’s subscription money from the customers on Saturday, twenty-five cents apiece, so I didn’t have to work extra hours that day and had time to continue my field excursions. I made thirteen dollars a week, from which I bought my Boy Scout paraphernalia, parts for my bike, and whatever candy, soft drinks, and movie tickets I wanted.
At the time it did not occur to me that my round-the-clock schedule was unusual. I felt fortunate to have a job and to be able to earn money…I still assumed, without any real evidence, that the same level of effort would be required of me as an adult.
You can read more about Wilson on the Encyclopedia of Alabama website. You can learn more about his work at the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.
|Edward Osborne Wilson in 2009.|
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The Associated Press set up its Mobile bureau inside the Press Register building on Sept. 1, 1945.
According to the Press Register, this was was the first time any news service had assigned a full-time staff in South Alabama.
If true, that seems amazing since the news service had been around since 1848.
In the years after World War II, the newspaper came to depend on the AP and other news services for reports on national and international events.
In recent years, the AP's revenue has suffered along with that of its member newspapers. In the past five years, as newspaper revenues have fallen by 40 to 50 percent, AP has reduced its rates by the same amount.” The news agency had millions of dollars of bank debt.
Mary Junck, chair of the AP Press Board of Directors, told the annual meeting
Monday, March 31, 2014
Journalism historian W. Joseph Campbell noted that among the issues to be discussed at the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association annual meeting in New York in February 1897 was: Do typewriters lower the literary grade of work done by reporters?
By that year, typewriter models had become easier to use and were gaining favor with reporters. But not everyone welcomed the new technology.
“Just as some journalists expressed skepticism about the Internet,” wrote Campbell, “some veteran reporters in 1890s resented the noisy, intrusive typewriter.” They still preferred to write their stories by longhand.
One Mobile Register reporter, George Jeremiah Flournoy, looked on the typewriter as his mortal enemy.
At age 13, Flournoy, who had been given the nickname of “Gummy” because of his fondness for chewing gum, was a scorekeeper for the Mobile’s amateur baseball games in the late 1880s. He also wrote accounts of the games for the city’s newspapers.
Although his formal schooling ended at the third grade, Flournoy landed a job as a copy reader for The Mobile Item. He worked until 2 a.m. each morning, caught a couple of hours of sleep in the press room and then carried newspapers to subscribers. With a bit of hustling he could earn about $23 a week.
In the 1890s, Flournoy went to work as a police and society reporter for The Mobile Daily News. By 1897, he had switched over to gathering news for The Mobile Herald. Flournoy worked again for the Item after it was acquired by the Register in 1916.
Fellow newspapermen called Flournoy “the best leg man in the business,” a term applied to reporters who used the telephone to call in their stories to the “rewrite man.” The rewrite man actually wrote the story from the notes the reporter gave over the telephone.
Flournoy never mastered the use of a typewriter, or the English language for that matter. He either phoned in or handed most of his material to the rewrite man. He let the copy desk worry about grammar, style and punctuation while he turned out the news.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Each New Year newspaper carriers presented their subscribers with a "memorial" souvenir booklet of well-wishes for the year ahead. The purpose, of course, was to get a tip.
In the above photo, carriers of The Mobile Daily Item and their supervisor pose for a photo to go on the front of their memorial. In 1916, Mobile Register owner Frederick I. Thompson bought the Item and kept it as separate afternoon paper to complement the morning Register.
Compare these well-dressed newsies to those in a previous post photographed by socialist photographer Lewis Hine who visited Mobile in 1914. One of the newsboys in the Hine's photos is selling the Item.
What do you think accounts for the difference in the way the newsies are dressed in the different photos? Did the boys in the Hine photos simply have on their working clothes? Did the boys in the above photo have to turn in these dress clothes after the photo was snapped?
We don't know much about the history of newsboys in Mobile and they deserve to have their story told.
Monday, March 10, 2014
|Troops break down their camp near Three Mile Creek in western Mobile, Ala.|
Discovering the many fascinating characters who passed through the offices of The Mobile Press Register is what makes researching the newspaper’s history fun.
One such character was Moses Koenigsberg. Not many people know his name today, but Koenigsberg had a tremendous influence on the course of newspapers of his time.
Born of Polish parents in New Orleans in 1876, Koenigsberg grew up in Texas with a desire to go into newspapering. He issued his own monthly newspaper at the age of 9. Seeking to be a war correspondent, Koenigsberg ran off to join a small band of Mexican revolutionaries who were gathering near Laredo, Texas, in 1890. An argument with one of the Mexican recruits resulted in Koenigsberg being stabbed in the leg. That ended his revolutionary adventure.
Soon after Koenigsberg began reporting for The San Antonio Times. A story exposing corruption among prosecuting attorneys, who were taking fines from prostitutes, got him sued and fired. Although the suit was dropped, Koenigsberg became a reporter with The Houston Age and then an editor of The Texas World. He left Houston to become a reporter for The New Orleans Item. Back in San Antonio, he launched The Evening Star in 1892. He was just 16 years old.
Koenigsberg job hopped seeking to move up the journalistic ladder. In the late 1890s, he was operating a news service for The New York Sun in St. Louis. As relations between the United States and Spain reached the breaking point in April 1898, Koenigsberg looked for a reporting job that would get him to the Cuban war front.
Koenigsberg thought he’d worked out an agreement with The St. Louis Globe-Democrat for a reporting stunt in which he’d take a message of encouragement from the U.S. government to insurrection leader Gen. Calixto Garcia in Cuba. When the U.S. Army objected, the Globe-Democrat backed out and left Koenigsberg stranded in Tampa.
With the goal of joining a Gulf Coast military outfit headed for Cuba, Koenigsberg hopped a train to Mobile, where troops were gathering. His first stop would be the offices of The Mobile Register.
At the Register, Koenigsberg learned that some of the newspaper’s reporters had enlisted in the Army to fight the Spaniards. Other reporters became war correspondents and joined the soldiers who began arriving in Mobile for encampment in April.
The demand for war news also had caused the Register to put out a Monday morning edition. The long tradition of giving the paper’s workers most of Sunday off had dictated that no Monday morning edition be published. But the demand for war news overcame that tradition.
Register Editor Erwin Craighead hired Koenigsberg to provide coverage of Alabama troops as they moved on to Miami and Cuba. Craighead told Koenigsberg that the surest way of getting to Cuba with the troops would be to join the Gulf City Guards, commanded by Capt. John D. Hagan, a close friend of Craighead’s and an ardent admirer of the Register.
Koenigsberg made his way to the western suburb of Crichton where Alabama troops were encamped along Three Mile Creek. Dressed in a tan derby, pleated shirt and suede-topped shoes, Koenigsberg became a point of sport among the “hillbillies, wharf rats and city dudes” who made up the Guards.
A general free-for-all developed as the troops attempted to relieve the reporter of his clothes. Officers broke up the fight and confined Koenigsberg to his quarters. The troops shipped out to Miami in June 1898 and Koenigsberg went with them. But Miami was as close to Cuba as he would come.
The war ended before the Register’s ability to cover it could be tested.
In 1903, the 27-year-old Koenigsberg became managing editor of William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago American and began a long association with Hearst. Five years later, Hearst named him publisher of The Boston American.
In 1913, Koenigsberg founded the Newspaper Feature Service, Inc., the first syndicate to supply a complete budget of features and comics seven days a week. It was Koenigsberg who conceived of the idea of a daily comic strip.
Two years later, Koenigsberg consolidated all of Hearst’s syndicates under the name King Features. The “Koenig” in Koenigsberg is German for king.
Koenigsberg also promoted innovation. In 1925, he sponsored the talkies and two years later a television demonstration.
In 1927, Koenigsberg, then president of International News Service and Universal Service, negotiated a deal with Benito Mussolini in Italy to write for the Hearst wire services. On Oct. 15, 1927, Editor and Publisher magazine published a photo of Koenigsberg standing beside Il Duce. Well into the 1930s, Mussolini was a paid feature writer for the Hearst newspapers.
In 1928, Koenigsberg had a falling out with Hearst and a year later he purchased The Havana Post and Telegram. In 1930 he became general manager of The Denver Post and the following year became executive director of the Song Writers Protective Association.
Koenigsberg died of a heart attack at his home in New York in 1945.