Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Associated Press Comes Late to the Port City

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. Gary Pruitt, the AP’s president and CEO, reported at the agency’s 2013 annual meeting that 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.

U.S. newspapers once accounted for 100 percent of AP revenue. They now constitute only about 20 percent of total revenue.

Somewhat cynically, Mary Junck, chair of the AP Press Board of Directors, told the annual meeting “We have tackled costs the same way you have—with a sharp pencil and an ongoing process of transforming the way we do business.” Translation: The AP has cut jobs and frozen pensions.

What will be interesting to watch is whether the AP will continue to have the same kind of influence over news coverage, news style and other news issues in the digital age as it had in the print age.

Monday, March 31, 2014

1897 Question: Do Typewriters Lower the Literary Grade of Work Done by Reporters?

Chicago Daily News stenographer at her typewriter in 1922.
Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum, Library of Congress
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

Newsies of Mobile Deserve to Have Their Story Told

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

Koenigsberg had a Tremendous Influence on Course of Newspapers

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.

Moses Koenigsberg
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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Press Register Moves to a New Home in 1934

The Mobile Press Register moved into this building in 1934.
This photo is from the Eric Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama, and appeared in Mobile Bay magazine.
The building as it looks today at the northwest corner of St. Louis and Hamilton streets.
Photo by Larry Bell. 

The Mobile Press Register expects to have its employees in new digs in downtown Mobile by the end of summer 2014. They will be moving into the former Kress Building at 18 S. Royal Street, just south of where it meets Dauphin Street.

Almost exactly 80 years ago, the newspaper moved into another renovated older building.

After the Mobile Press acquired the Mobile Register in 1932, the owners decided to consolidate the two newspaper offices. The Press had started in a converted church building at the northeast corner of Jackson and St. Michael streets. The Register operated out of a building at the corner of St. Joseph and St. Michael streets.

The Press especially needed a better space. Working conditions in its building were hot and filthy as the Linotypes’ lead pots spread heat and fumes throughout the building. All of the desks had fans in effort to keep those sitting at them cool.

The building’s arrangement was also inefficient. Photo engravings for the Press were made at the Gulf States Engraving Col., which occupied the second story of building on St. Michael Street, next to the Press. Gulf States delivered the engravings across the roof to the newspaper.

In May 1934, the Press Register moved into a 40,000-square-foot building formerly used as a car dealership. The building at the northwest corner of St. Louis and Hamilton streets was owned by the McGowin family, who also happened to be major stockholders in the newspaper.

In 1944, The Mobile Press Register moved again, this time to another former car dealership building at the northeast corner of Government and Claiborne streets. (See the Jan. 4 post.)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Chasing Ads and Readers Not a New Problem

Newspapers today are faced with finding ways to replace revenue lost from rapidly declining advertising and subscriptions. Newspaper classified advertising alone, which accounted for about 40 percent of newspaper industry ad revenue in 2000, had dropped 77 percent by 2012.

On Alabama’s early frontier, The Mobile Register faced a similar problem. Not with replacing lost revenue, but with finding it in the first place.

In 1820, Mobile County had a total population of only 2,672 people, and 836 of those were slaves. That wasn’t much of an advertising or subscription base.

There were businessmen who wanted to buy ads and subscriptions, but the problem was that there just wasn’t much hard money to do so.

The shortage of cash on the frontier forced the Register to adopt a system of credit that often brought it grief.

The newspaper made frequent calls on its subscribers and advertisers to pay what they owed. It issued calls so frequently, in fact, that customers often didn’t take the newspaper seriously. “Lest our patrons should suspect it to be the case with us,” the Register said in 1822, “we assure them, ‘in right good earnest,’ that we are really in want of funds.”

To make ends meet the Register found other ways of making money.

An important source was job printing. The job office printed bill heads, bills of lading, checks, dray receipts, tickets, circulars, cards, notes, insurance policies, labels, handbills, posters, wedding invitations, books, pamphlets and all the forms of paperwork needed in business and society.

During election campaigns, the presses ran almost constantly to print campaign materials. For lawyers, the job shop published and sold a digest of city ordinances.

From the earliest days of the town, businessmen needed a place to gather to smoke and exchange news of ship sailings, cargoes and distant markets. At first, hotel lobbies, the post office and saloons filled the need. The Register and other newspapers soon began to provide more accommodating quarters called reading rooms.

For a subscription fee of about $10 a year, the Register supplied businessmen with newspapers from around the country and from abroad, as well as maps, charts, periodicals, books, shipping lists and prices current (market reports) from the principal markets. Furniture and tables provided businessmen a comfortable place of examining the materials.

In our digital age, The Mobile Register won’t be producing a variety of print products to find more revenue. Just how the Register and other newspapers ultimately will solve their revenue problems can’t be predicted, but there’s no question that it is going to be fascinating to watch.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Some Reporters, Editors Led Interesting Lives Before Going Into Newspapering

Close play at third, Fenway Park, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Boston Public Library
One of the things that made working at The Mobile Press Register exciting in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s was that many of the reporters and editors had led interesting lives outside of journalism before going into newspapering.

One such staffer was Mobile native and sports editor Pat Moulton. He starred in football and baseball at Auburn University before signing with the Boston Red Sox in 1927.

He later played with Atlanta in the Southern Association, Selma and Montgomery in the Southeastern League and Shreveport and Fort Worth in the Texas League. He managed the Henderson team in 1934 and 1935 before retiring to become a sports writer.

Moulton was a popular character in the Press Register newsroom. A steady stream of sports personalities Moulton had met during his professional baseball days visited the newsroom and many of them became the subject of his column, “Heard in the Showers.”

Moulton also liked to play practical jokes. One of the objects of his humor was Sam Willingham, the religion editor.

In the bottom drawer of his desk Willingham kept the “cuts,” or photographic engravings, of the community’s religious leaders. One day, as a prominent minster stood by Willingham’s desk with an article for the religion page, Willingham opened the drawer to pull out the minister’s cut. To his great embarrassment, the drawer was full of whiskey bottles.