Janesville32.5°

Old textbook had intriguing title

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Greg Peck
April 5, 2013

Former receptionist Judy Olsen was antiquing recently and found a book she thought Gazette Publisher Skip Bliss would enjoy. The other day, he showed it to me. It’s called “How to Read a Newspaper,” a 1941 textbook by Edgar Dale of the Bureau of Educational Research at Ohio State University.

An insert revealed that the book at one time was part of the textbook library at Boys’Technical High School in Milwaukee.

Some of Dale’s introductory comments are still relevant today: “Never before in all our history was enlightenment so vital. Never before in all our history was ignoring or distorting the news so dangerous. Each individual in a democracy must learn to get the facts—study the facts—make up his own mind—act. No one should escape this responsibility.

“The newspapers of America are free and, if we know how to use them, can give us real facts and informed opinions.”

I found an illustration on newsroom makeup particularly interesting. It detailed staffers who were common in newspapers covering larger cities but I’m certain included some who were never employed here at The Janesville Gazette, even in the 1940s. For example, besides typical reporters, the newsroom had “leg men.” These, explained Dale, were reporters who collected news items or covered beats without writing much, usually telephoning news to the office’s “rewrite bank.” No less than seven “copy readers” surrounded a “slot man” at a large horseshoe-shaped desk. Dale’s newsroom had a foreign editor and a telegraph editor who gets wire news from all over the country.

(Note the gender-biased terms that today wouldn't be politically correct. I check The Gazette's newsroom roster, and more than one-third of my co-workers are women).

The author began his “explanation for the teacher” like this: “The newspaper is democracy’s textbook. If it is clearly and truthfully written—and if it is read intelligently—then and then only will we have an informed, alert citizenry here in America.”

In his conclusion, Dale wrote: “Because newspapers will be in closer touch with their readers, and because they will feel responsible to them, tomorrow’s newspaper will be better written, better printed, better illustrated. Every editor, every reporter, every employee will be concerned with the question: How can I present the news in such a way that people everywhere will be entertained, refreshed and enlightened?”

I only hope we’re fulfilling Dale’s vision. However, budget cuts, the rapidly evolving “information superhighway” and social media have created a journalism environment that Dale couldn’t have imagined more than 70 years ago.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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