SEARCH ARCHIVES - click here

Inside the Newsroom at the Republican

George Brown was the highest-salaried newspaper reporter in St. Louis about 1875. He came here with some experiences on an English paper, but wholly unacquainted with this country. Yet he stepped into a good position within a week and advanced rapidly to star place on the local staff. One day the door of Mr. [William] Hyde’s room at the Republican office opened. A stout young man entered just far enough to expose his presence and without a word of introduction, asked:
“Want a reporter?”
“Not today,” said Mr. Hyde, without looking up from his paper.
The visitor began to back out and was just about to close the door when the editor called after him:
“Hold on! If you want to show what you can do, you may go up to Dr. Finney’s church tomorrow morning and make a report of his sermon.”
“How much do you want?” asked Brown in the matter of fact manner which was his striking characteristic.
“Half a column,” replied the editor. Not another word was said. The door closed. The editor told his city editor, Mr. MacAdam, of the occurrence.
On Monday morning Mr. Hyde, looking over the paper, saw the sermon story occupying exactly half a column to the line. In a little while George Brown came in. Mr. Hyde nodded to him and said:
“I told you to give us half a column on Dr. Finney, didn’t I?”
“Yes sir, I did,” said Brown
“I see you did,” continued Mr. Hyde. “But tell me; how did you happen to make just half a column, no more, no less?”
With not a smile or suggestion in tone that he had done anything more than what was ordinary, Brown replied: “I took a copy of your paper and folded it once so as to make a half column. I counted the lines in the half column. I counted the words in enough lines to strike an average. I multiplied the number of lines by that average, and then I wrote just that number of words about the sermon.”
Mr. Hyde was a man of few words and of quick action. He employed Brown.
Reporter, city editor, manager, Frank R. O’Neil was a figure in the newspaper life of St. Louis. The quality of his work was far above the ordinary. His associates first discovered his talent and then came the public appreciation. What Frank O’Neil wrote could be identified by the daily reader. The man enjoyed his work. He was wonderfully accurate in statements and rigidly faithful in portrayal. More than this he had a capacity for turning out “good copy” which was the envy of his fellows. The revelations of life to the newspaper man sometimes beget cynicism and hardness. Frank R. O’Neil never lost his inborn kindness of heart. Weaknesses of human nature strengthened his feeling of charity. He never glossed wrong doing in his writing. Perhaps a more politic man would have won greater personal renown with those who did not know him so well, but he would not have won to such a degree the confidence, the admiration, the love of those with whom he worked day by day. In 1883, after the death of Jesse James, when Frank James had a price of $10,000 on his head and was being hunted by detectives, O’Neil met with the noted bandit, through arrangement of a mutual friend, remaining with him for two days, and, under a promise not to reveal his whereabouts, returned to St. Louis and wrote a graphic interview with him, which he held for release, faithful to his promise, until James surrendered, when it was published.
In 1878, during the yellow fever epidemic in the South, Quarantine Station, below Jefferson Barracks, full of refugees, became infected, scores of deaths being reported daily. The people of the city were panic stricken. Health Commissioner Francis invited the newspapers to send reporters to the station to investigate conditions. O’Neil and two other reporters accepted the dangerous assignment, spending an entire day there. On their return O’Neil wrote a vivid description of the prevailing conditions, which was widely copied. Just as he finished this story, O’Neil was sent to cover an assignment at the Insane Asylum, where several patients had been mysteriously poisoned. He returned in time to write a graphic two-column account of this for the regular edition, thus in one day having accomplished a task that ordinarily would tax the capacity of several men.
When Frank R. O’Neil and Clarence N. Howell were the central figures of the Republican local staff, a kid reporter was taken on. He was a slender boy, laughing-eyed, interrogation-faced. He was at the age and of the temperament to absorb knowledge. He had adopted mankind for his study and the newspaper office for his school room. The boy looked up to O’Neil and Howell with all the admiration and confidence the youthful collegian gives to favorite professors. His daily assignment was the school board offices in the old Polytechnic building at Seventh and Locust streets. A cultured woman, a lady of breeding, Mrs. Bernoudy, who had charge of the office of the superintendent of schools saw what the boy needed. She talked books to him. She opened to his mind the opportunities for reading. In time knew more of what the public library contained than any other one person except the librarian, himself, Mr. Crunden.  The faculty to self-educate runs strong in the Irish blood. The boy reporter gained from his reading, first, information of wide range, then style of expression and finally, ideas which put him on the road to become the writer of more than local fame. The evolution of William Marion Reedy belongs to the history of St. Louis journalism.
(Originally published in St. Louis, the Fourth City by Walter Barlow Stevens, 1911).