"The rough draft of history": what are others' choices for classics of journalism?

Malcolm Redfellow

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Hat tip to IvoShandor (post #261, here), who provoked this train of thought for a grey Sunday afternoon.

The oldest version is supposedly an editorial in The State of Columbia, South Carolina, 5th December 1905:
The Educational Value of "News"

What is news today will be history tomorrow. No one would be bold enough to deny that history is one of the most essential branches of modern education, yet the proposition that the study of the news of the day is of equal value, is, indeed, but a part of the study of history, would be challenged nay many. Those who value history as a study cannot consistently, however, deny to the study of news an equal value, for it is plainly apparent that the happenings of today are but the progress of history. [...]

The newspapers are making morning after morning the rough draft of history. Later, the historian will come, take down the old files, and transform the crude but sincere and accurate annals of editors and reporters into history, into literature.
Perhaps better known — and more romantically-expressed — than that is George H Fitch: better known because he was syndicated by George Matthew Adams’ news service across the American Mid West, and was a regular for the Saturday Evening Post. So we have:
A reporter is a young man who blocks out the first draft of history each day on a rheumatic typewriter.
That first appeared (and probably elsewhere) in the Lincoln, Nebraska, Daily Star, for 3rd July 1914.

I have a reputation among the fortnightly recycling collectors for these parts, when they are humping half-a-hundredweight of discarded newsprint each cycle. I am an addict.

But what are the truly memorable "first drafts"?

This one might qualify:

And, infamously, so might this:


A personal favourite, if more of a "second thoughts", would be John Hershey's Hiroshima. That was originally for the New Yorker magazine (31st August 1946), but I knew it from the Penguin paperback reprint:

Today we get our "first drafts" from television, or even from Twitter. So, before the dead-tree media is laid to rest, what are the classics of the genre?
 


Lumpy Talbot

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Pretty much anything H L Mencken chose to write for the Baltimore Sun I would expect.

'Baltimore Evening Sun/November 18, 1910

In the city of Toledo one evening lately a Socialist spellbinder named William Patterson tramped the downtown streets with a soap box under his arm. Coming at last to a roomy corner, he deposited the soap box at the curb, mounted it, removed his hat, mopped his brow, flapped his wings—and began to exhort. Two messenger boys and a Chinaman stopped to listen; in a minute they were joined by half a dozen idlers; in five minutes the crowd had grown to 25 or 30, and whenever Patterson delivered a particularly effective wallop at the Money Power there went up a feeble cheer.

Off To the Lock-Up

By and by a policeman appeared, contemplatively swinging his stick. He paused a minute, ran his eye over the crowd, and then, without further delay, ordered Patterson to be silent. When the latter refused the cop rushed upon him, dragged him from his soap box, summoned a patrol wagon and sent him off to the watch-house. The charge was that of “interfering with the free passage of persons passing by and along a public highway.” In support of this charge there was no evidence whatever. A crowd, true enough, had gathered about Patterson, but plenty of room remained for passersby. There had been no disorder. No one had been molested. An intelligent magistrate, hearing the case next morning, dismissed Patterson without a moment’s hesitation. He was clearly guiltless of any offense against the laws.'

https://thegrandarchive.wordpress.com/the-moral-mind/


 
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owedtojoy

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Richard Dimbleby's radio broadcast from Bergen-Belsen, April 1945.

[video=youtube;2hLYavpMSFs]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hLYavpMSFs[/video]
 

owedtojoy

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And, infamously, so might this:

The picture is fake, but it does capture the moment after at least two major news outlets wrongly announced that the Supreme Court has struck down the American Care Act. Apparently, even the President fleetingly thought it was done for.


I remember getting the CNN newsflash and going "Aw, f*ck!". The correction took a few moments. What had happened was that the Chief Justice struck down the mandate, but allowed it as a tax.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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The late great Hunter S Thompson. Love-child of Mencken and Edgar Allen Poe.

'If the current polls are reliable… Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states… This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes… understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose… Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?'

and some of the best obituary writing I've ever read...

'If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.'
 
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Malcolm Redfellow

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I am impressed.

Lumpy Talbot [post #2] neatly bridged journalism and literature. For a cynical old monster, Mencken had a deep, philosophical tone:
I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.
I first encountered Mencken by chasing up the many mentions made to him in Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. Which would make me propose Cooke at the Ambassador Hotel, in The Guardian, 6th June 1968. At this distance, I cannot tell if that is also the script of Cooke's read broadcast: somehow it feels like it.

Addition on post #8: I've a couple of anthologies around here of the "New Journalism" (new as of the 1970s?) and Gonzo journalism. That extract (Fear and Loathing...?) seems horribly relevant all of a sudden. If we have HST, we'd better look for some Tom Wolfe — I'd probably opt for Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers: and that was long, long before (or even what made) political correctness becoming a joke.

The Eagle of the Ninth and the suicide of Emily Davison [post #3]: oh, yes! And there's the Pathé News piece to go with it. Clear to me which has the better "news sense".

Owed to Joy [post #4]: Dimbleby at Bergen-Belsen. Good grief! That's playing the Ace of Trumps on my trey. Added to which there's the story of how good-old-straight-Tory Dimbleby had to threaten the Beeb with resignation were the posting censored. See Jonathan Dimbleby's follow-up for the 70th.

Dadaist and the California earthquake [post #7]: I doubt I'd seen that one. What an illustrative headline: money and death. Says more than it intended, perhaps.

Now, can I come back in extra time?
 
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Lumpy Talbot

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First came across references to Mencken in the essays of Gore Vidal. Vidal obviously revered him.

Norman Mailer with his piece on the Rumble in the Jungle. Essay writing having basically died out since Mailer, Vidal and Wolfe's day I still fetch out Vidal at least for the dry and acerbic wit the best journos always used to mine out of an inexhaustible seam.

Sharp as a Naples stiletto.
 

owedtojoy

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Russian novelist Vasily Grossman, as a reporter with the Red Army newspaper Red Star, wrote the first reports of the Holocaust. He reported also on Kursk and Stalingrad, about which he wrote one of his novels.

'Grossman described Nazi ethnic cleansing in German occupied Ukraine and Poland, and the liberation by the Red Army of the Nazi-German Treblinka and Majdanek extermination camps.

He collected some of the first eyewitness accounts — as early as 1943 — of what later became known as the Holocaust. His article The Hell of Treblinka(1944) was disseminated at the Nuremberg Trials as evidence for the prosecution.'


The Hell of Treblinka is worth reading. While Grossman got the numbers wrong, his emotional and intelligent reporting is of the finest order. In his early career a chemist, he know what it was like to be poisoned by carbon monoxide.

The Hell Called Treblinka full text - desiquintans.com

PS Grossman's family, including his mother, were murdered by Nazi Death Squads in Ukraine.
 

RasherHash

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Russian novelist Vasily Grossman, as a reporter with the Red Army newspaper Red Star, wrote the first reports of the Holocaust. He reported also on Kursk and Stalingrad, about which he wrote one of his novels.

'Grossman described Nazi ethnic cleansing in German occupied Ukraine and Poland, and the liberation by the Red Army of the Nazi-German Treblinka and Majdanek extermination camps.

He collected some of the first eyewitness accounts — as early as 1943 — of what later became known as the Holocaust. His article The Hell of Treblinka(1944) was disseminated at the Nuremberg Trials as evidence for the prosecution.'


The Hell of Treblinka is worth reading. While Grossman got the numbers wrong, his emotional and intelligent reporting is of the finest order.

The Hell Called Treblinka full text - desiquintans.com

PS Grossman's family, including his mother, were murdered by Nazi Death Squads in Ukraine.
Did he get anything else wrong or was it only the numbers?
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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By virtue of the website here, I feel the need to chuck in a local connection, even if neither iteration quite makes the Premier League.

I haven't all of the Revolution Papers, but what I did collect amounted to a pretty mixed bag. The American papers for Easter Week and the aftermath are a study in themselves: the "nativists" versus the Irish-Americans, perhaps.

Then there's the Unionist Weekly Irish Times, weakly playing catch-up:

Credit where it's due, on VE-Day R M Smyllie rescued the paper's reputation and did for the "Emergency" censorship:
as Draconian and irrational as anything that ever was devised in the fertile brain of the late Josef Goebbels . . . We have been living and speaking in conditions of unspeakable humiliation.
To my frustration I cannot find a .jpg, acceptable to this site, to illustrate that. Instead here's Joe Carroll:
The front page of The Irish Times appeared on VE Day, May 8th with the headline "Peace To-day in Europe" and seven pictures of the Allied leaders and generals. The Editor, R.M. Smyllie, had fooled the press censor yet again.

The late Tony Gray, who was on the staff at the time, later described that when the country edition came out, "these single column pictures appeared at random scattered throughout the front page. It was an unusual, scrappy kind of layout, but not in any way objectionable from the censor's point of view.

"However, when the final city edition appeared, Smyllie had personally re-made up the front page, arranging the single column photographs into the form of an enormous V for Victory.

"There was nothing the censor could do about it," wrote Gray in his book, Mr Smyllie, Sir. "In the final moment of victory, Smyllie had played the trump card."
 

owedtojoy

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First came across references to Mencken in the essays of Gore Vidal. Vidal obviously revered him.

Norman Mailer with his piece on the Rumble in the Jungle. Essay writing having basically died out since Mailer, Vidal and Wolfe's day I still fetch out Vidal at least for the dry and acerbic wit the best journos always used to mine out of an inexhaustible seam.

Sharp as a Naples stiletto.
Love the H.L.Mencken quote: "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

A good current manifestation is Donald Trump.
 

drummed

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Annything by Walter Duranty. Particularly his reports from Ukraine claiming there was no famine. And of course his Pulitzer prize.

:roll:
 

PeaceGoalie

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Smylie Should have Been Arrested

By virtue of the website here, I feel the need to chuck in a local connection, even if neither iteration quite makes the Premier League.

I haven't all of the Revolution Papers, but what I did collect amounted to a pretty mixed bag. The American papers for Easter Week and the aftermath are a study in themselves: the "nativists" versus the Irish-Americans, perhaps.

Then there's the Unionist Weekly Irish Times, weakly playing catch-up:

Credit where it's due, on VE-Day R M Smyllie rescued the paper's reputation and did for the "Emergency" censorship:

To my frustration I cannot find a .jpg, acceptable to this site, to illustrate that. Instead here's Joe Carroll:
1. Smylie probably helped instigate the sectarian anti Catholic riots that took place at the front of Trinity and which the late Charlie Haughey and others were victims of.
2. Your 1916 bit was good BUT it reminds one of all the valuable newspapers and other material that have been razor bladed and robbed form copyright libraries, the national Library and Trinity included. 1916 has been very thoroughly looted.
 

owedtojoy

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The footage, by Eddie Adams of AP, shown on TV of a South Vietnamese general shooting dead a communist suspect may have been the moment the US lost the war in Vietnam.

It took place during the Tet Offensive, which was a military defeat for the communist forces, but undermined morale in the US, where it was believed the war was winding to a close. The sight of a suspect being murdered in plain sight struck at the idea that the US was on the side of "right".

[video=youtube;7iQ7LTsaZyY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iQ7LTsaZyY[/video]
[video=youtube;BGrsw6m9UOY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGrsw6m9UOY[/video]
 
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