Thursday, December 28, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 14 Part 3

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 14

The Magic Back of "The Funnies" (part 3)

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The biggest single bundle in the Newspaper Feature Service budget consisted of the pages composing its Sunday magazine section. That represented the syndicate’s No. 1 weekly operation. It required a species of skill more difficult to develop than any other journalistic talent. In 1913, I could list in all America only ten men who had shown fitness for such a post as the editorship of our Sunday supplement. Of these, eight were unavailable. They were bound by contractual or other commitments. The ninth indulged appetites that periodically went totalitarian. The tenth, Alexander Black, accepted the position, to remain with the organization until his retirement twenty-two years later. He had been a successor of Arthur Brisbane and Morrill Goddard as Sunday editor of the New York World.

Black was at heart and in practice an artist. He could not be happy unless he saw some part of himself in the job he performed. It might be only a curlicue; but it must be Black’s. Author of more than a dozen novels—among them The Great Desire, an acclaimed success—he both enjoyed and suffered an odd temperament. His life was a constant struggle between contrary urges, one to create and the other to suppress. He sought escape through a passion for form.

It was my policy to merge the Sunday magazine into a homogeneous whole with the other elements of Newspaper Feature Service. My aim was to harmonize the spirit and the appearance of the entire budget. An obstacle arose in Black’s yearning to express his own individuality. There was a twitching temptation to prove that, with a free hand, he could turn out pages second to none.

Alexander Black
The most effective supplement currently published was indisputably the magazine section of the Hearst Sunday papers. It came to be known some years afterward as The American Weekly, with the world’s largest circulation. It was the work of Morrill Goddard. It embodied a distinctive editorial philosophy. It was viewed as highly sensational. Without any appreciable modification, without the slightest softening of tone or refinement of substance, it became remarkable in the course of time for its comparative conservatism. Its striking difference from competitive units—represented in an infinitude of detail—was due primarily to Goddard’s rejection of a hampering tradition. He discarded the prevailing notion that a Sunday editor’s duty was to put together a subsidiary part of a main edition. Instead, he created the equivalent of an independent periodical.

Black’s eagerness to match Goddard’s triumphs did not curb his bent toward roads that veered away from my program. There was no doubt of his loyalty. But there was the plain difficulty of submerging the predilections of one specialist in the will of another. It became advisable for me to set forth certain definitions of purpose and procedure. Black accepted them as “chalk-lines to chart his gait.” That wasn’t inspiriting. So to the chalklines were added the talents of Jack Lait. He took the saddle and Black the layout table. They carried on through the making of more than 14,000 different feature pages, the distribution of which mounted into billions. The policies and methods employed to actuate such a mass of reading material should be recorded, if only in outline. They were epitomized in a series of memoranda I addressed to Lait and Black. Some of these notes are given here by way of characterization:

Let us recognize the magazine as a paradox. It is that publication of current intelligence which extracts larger values from old than from fresh news. It is read not for first but for later information. Eligibility for its pages is heightened by perspective. Aging of the primary facts is an essential process in the making of magazine material. The longer a story has held the public memory, the more desirable it has become as a candidate for space in our weekly.

The Sunday supplement which fails fully to authenticate its magazine label, misleads the reader and blocks the ends for which it is published. Properly edited, it should attain a longer reading life than any other newspaper section. That is one of the theories on which its higher advertising rates are based. The assumption is that, unlike other parts of the edition, interest in its contents will not be affected by the news of succeeding days. Its readability should endure indefinitely.

Emphasizing the supplement’s distinctiveness as a magazine assists in the ever-present duty of making the newspaper easy to read. The headings afford the most efficient medium for this emphasis. To imply a level of service different from the bulk of the issue, they must avoid the form of headlines identified with spontaneous or spot news. They should plainly promise new lights on corners in the reader’s ken—angles beyond or behind what is already known to him. They should unite in giving to the magazine section the relish of the dessert course of a reading repast.

These elementary understandings should expedite the selection of stories. Two tests for availability are indicated—first, the title, and second, the illustrations. The editor should decline the yarn that he cannot summarize in an arresting or attractive line. The feature for which suitable photographs are unobtainable excludes itself from the supplement.

Effectiveness of a tide may be tried out with a homely criterion. Use the living quarters of a middle-class residence on Sunday afternoon. Assume that the slippered head of the house has just come across your headline. Has it enough lift to jog his tongue? Will he call it out through the open door to his wife at her dressing table in the next room?

No substitute for propinquity as a news meter has yet been found. It is still true that the flood that wipes out thousands of lives in Asia may stir the New Yorker less than the flooded bathroom upstairs. But propinquity is not measured by space alone. Kinship of mind or emotion bridges all distances. Common denominators fuse remoteness into intimacy. Their tokens are convertible into a mesh for the sifting of story values—a colander through which may be strained the items of petty or local limitations, leaving only elements of universal appeal. This work list of ten such symbols has been arranged for use as an editorial tool-rack:

The human heart—love and romance, with the inevitable implications of sex; devotion, sacrifice, passion.

The clock—man’s struggles against the inexorable demands of time.

The Bible—the open or latent craving for spiritual uplift and for the approval of conscience.

The globe—search for adventure, exploration, travel, discovery, magnitude.

The firmament—(sun, moon and stars) the thirst for mystic lore, cults, the supernatural, the phenomena of chance, divination.

The hand—fraternity, skill, enterprise, physical exploits, organization, rivalry.

The palette—beauty in all forms and eras, the fine arts.

Cap and gown—science, history, humanity’s endeavor to penetrate the mysteries and to harness the forces of nature, teacher and student, co-education.

The prison window—the outcast, the derelict, the fugitive, the outlaw and the always keen—sometimes stern and sometimes not so stern —curiosity of sheltered ones concerning the life of the miscreant.

The camera—spectacle, revelation, sports, the human body glorified, hygienics dramatized, entertainment, humor—the world in focus.

The client most important to Newspaper Feature Service was the Boston Herald, a silk-stocking morning paper with which the Evening Traveler had been amalgamated after my deliverance from the inclemencies of Hearst’s New England domain. J. H. Higgins was the publisher. In the year before he took hold of the consolidated publications, they had incurred an operating loss of $575,000. Within twelve months, he converted this deficit into a profit which continued to grow throughout his regime. Of at least fifteen hundred newspaper managers with whom it has been my privilege to become personally acquainted over the years, none left on me a deeper impression of ruggedly wholesome simplicity than Higgins. We became fast friends.

In deportment and attire, Higgins always remained the brisk printer proud to have achieved the ownership of a little daily in Newburyport. That was his bearing when he turned down what W. R. Hearst intended as a flattering offer. This happened in 1916. Higgins had reluctantly accepted an often repeated invitation to meet Hearst with me. Hearst urged him to take charge of the Boston American at an annual salary of $35,000 and five percent of the profits. A courteous declination drew Hearst’s request for a counter-proposal. None was ever made.

It astonished both Hearst and me to learn that his proposal meant no financial advantage to Higgins. The proprietors of the Boston Herald and Traveler were doing violence to a prevailing notion. They were proving that Hearst did not always pay the highest compensation obtainable by top executives. This was not a trifling disillusionment. It recurred to me on several occasions when his penchant for trading showed that Hearst’s prodigality was by no means so promiscuous as it was commonly described.

A number of men whom Hearst, in the course of years, assigned me to enlist in his service, declined salaries greatly in excess of the earnings they enjoyed. Their explanations varied. But none was like Higgins’. It shut off the negotiation with him that Hearst had instructed me to resume. “I called on Mr. Hearst only as a matter of courtesy,” Higgins said. “No matter what terms he might suggest, I would not accept. I would think it indecent to leave an employer from whom I have received generous remuneration and uniform kindness. To dicker for more money under such conditions would be trading in self-respect.” And let no cynic say “baloney.” Higgins was wholly sincere.

The mechanical and manufacturing headquarters of Newspaper Feature Service were established in the plant of the Boston Herald and Traveler. There was a stretch of 240 miles between the syndicate’s editorial offices on Park Row in New York and its production department opposite the Common in Boston. Higgins’ vigilance as voluntary overseer at his end of the operation was invaluable to me. It fortified a relationship that expanded into extensive newspaper ramifications.

The Boston Herald led a procession of metropolitan journals in the restoration of colored comics at the instance of Newspaper Feature Service. On various pretexts, “the funnies” had been dropped by dozens of Sunday newspapers throughout the country. In not a few cases, the pretense was made of bowing to adverse criticism. It was the vogue in confessedly superior circles— especially among club-women—to denounce “the vicious influences exercised on the juvenile mind by the atrocious perversions of humor that desecrate the Sabbath.” Publishers who, in other circumstances, would have pooh-poohed these strictures, pondered them gravely.

The Sunday edition profits were dwindling. Disapproval of advertising on the day of rest was increasing. The automobile had changed popular customs. The week-end outing had widely supplanted week-end reading. Maybe the ladies were right. A noteworthy public service might be performed by withholding from their children what they felt was a vitiating nuisance. Anyhow, it would be politic to avow an ethical prompting instead of an economic purpose for the abandonment of an entire section of the paper.

As the novelty of the automobile wore off, the home center began to regain its own on Sundays. The return drift was soon accelerated by the radio, enchanting amateur myriads first with crude crystal sets and later with dialed instruments. Then the seventh-day newspaper issue started its “come-back.” The momentum of this trend is reflected in the circulation reports at opposite ends of the most eventful cycle in journalistic or any other history.

In 1914, there were 2,580 daily newspapers in the United States. Of these, 571, or roughly 22 percent, published Sunday editions, with 16,479,943, or approximately 57 percent of the daily distribution of 28,777,444. By 1940, the total newspaper list had shrunk to 1,878—nearly 28 percent—but the Sunday roster showed a reduction of only 8 percent. Meanwhile, the Sunday circulation had grown to 32,371,092, or over 78 percent of the combined morning and evening output of 41,131,611 copies.

Just desserts for der Kidders
Practically every publication that gave up its “funnies” suffered a set-back. For managers of a number of these properties, Newspaper Feature Service arrived at a psychological juncture. It brought a philosophy for reinstatement of the supplement without stultification of the newspaper. It rationalized the presence of a piety in the place of an evil. Buster Brown was cited as the clincher for this dialectic. The last scene in that comic invariably emphasized both punishment and repentance for a mischievous action. Similarly salutary lessons for the kiddies were contained in pages put out by competitors. The Katzenjammer Kids, for instance, were always spanked in the final panel.

Specious as may have been this reasoning, its recollection imposes no strain of conscience. Publishers who adopted it would have been constrained in time to revive their comic supplements with or without this salving grace. Nevertheless, for millions of youngsters, the privilege of laughter was conditioned on tears. To share the pictured pranks of their favorites, they must attend their chastisement.

The back-to-the-funnies caravan included, besides the Boston Herald, other newspapers, such as the Milwaukee ]ournal, the Indianapolis Star and the New York Tribune, all of which frankly admitted or delicately intimated a propensity for class circulation. Their collective prestige unquestionably stimulated enrolment of Newspaper Feature Service clients. A more persuasive factor in winning new patrons, however, was an economic arrangement unexplainably overlooked by other syndicates. It made possible an organization for the world’s largest distribution of ready-printed comic supplements.

A majority of the publishers in the market for “funnies” lacked machinery on which to produce them, except in monotone. They could buy from Newspaper Feature Service the stereotype matrices of its features, but they were forced to turn elsewhere for their conversion into color sheets. Four independent establishments were engaged in that work. They maintained an evenness of price which left no doubt about its control.

The cost of preparing a press for the run was the chief expense in the production of a color section, outside the white paper. Newspaper Feature Service eliminated that make-ready item. It concluded contracts with a number of clients whereunder supplements for customers in other cities were printed from the same plates that had been used for the local edition. This made possible a saving of fully a third of the outlay for labor and materials. Without any capital investment, the syndicate operated a set of central manufacturing stations. Eventually there were nine of these depots—the Boston Herald, Buffalo Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Birmingham News, Indianapolis Star, the Packer Press in Kansas City, World Color Printing Company in St. Louis, Washington (D. C.) Herald (Brooklyn plant), and International Color Printing Company in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Important significances arising from this operation are shown in later pages.

Cultivation of reader expectancies seemed astonishingly difficult for many editors. Few recognized more than one dimension in a serial. Continuity of publication was generally regarded as the only requisite. Position and typography counted relatively little. A colorful demonstration of this attitude held my memory. It had led to a Pittsburgh newspaper sensation, which occurred during my survey of the local publication field in 1910. Pittsburgh then boasted five afternoon dailies—the Press, Chronicle- Telegraph, Sun, Dispatch and Leader, and three morning editions, the Gazette-Times, the Post and the Morning Dispatch. Every daily in the city was a client of the Hearst syndicate.

Alexander P. Moore, afterward husband of Lillian Russell and ambassador to Spain, was publisher of the Leader. Disclaiming familiarity with technical details, he invited me to discuss the situation with his editor, John K. Emge. That gentleman, short both of stature and amiability, was long on acidity. My intention was to recommend that readers be encouraged to look for the same Hearst feature in the same spot in the Leader every day. This was a routine—my preliminary exhortation for a policy to foster feature continuity with easy-to-read make-up. Emge interrupted me. He objected to “wise guys from New York coming to Pittsburgh to tell him how to edit his paper.” Further civilities were omitted.

Emge’s rebuff hastened me on the way to a Pittsburgh journalist of different kidney. Charles W. Danziger, courteous to the point of ceremony, had been the managing editor when I was a reporter on the Times before its union with the Gazette. Now he was editorial chief of the united publications.

Danziger’s greeting bowled me over. “Didn’t you write a first page lead for the Times on a G. A. R. convention back in 1894?” he asked. He never learned of the anticlimax which followed that thrill. The next day, I turned to the files for the story that had stirred a managing editor’s remembrance after sixteen years. What a disappointment! It was an abrupt let-down from Danziger’s flattering recollection. If it was not less than commonplace, it was at best an indication of the long strides that newspaper writers had taken in the interim. Those strides, doubling and redoubling, reached a new world of letters. At the turn of the century, it had been generally regarded as an act of commiseration to refer to journalism as “literary work.” In the succeeding generation, no field of contemporaneous print was richer with real literature than the columns of the dailies.

My call on Danziger resulted in a complete rearrangement of all the Hearst features appearing in Pittsburgh. The entire list was massed in the Gazette-Times and Chronicle-Telegraph. George S. Oliver, publisher of those newspapers, found a special satisfaction in this outcome. His multimillionaire father, United States Senator Oliver, had a predilection for big deals. In newspaperdom this was a major transaction. It raised the Hearst Pittsburgh revenues from $180 to $500 weekly. That was “cigarette money” beside the price paid for the same catalogue in the same territory within ten years. George S. Oliver had been captivated by the thought that he “was hiring the Hearst organization to work for him in Pittsburgh.” His coup so spurred local publishing competition that Pittsburgh shortly became the foremost feature market in America, yielding a bigger syndicate harvest than New York, Chicago, Philadelphia or Boston.

Before Newspaper Feature Service had been in operation a year, Carvalho called me on the telephone “to discuss a disagreeable problem.” That was in August, 1914. The war in Europe was upsetting everything in America. Ordinary prudence demanded rigid conservation of resources. It would be necessary at any time now to withdraw financial support from my syndicate. Did I have any suggestions? Carvalho gulped audibly at my reply. Newspaper Feature Service was prepared to stand on its own feet. In eleven months it had drawn cash advances totaling $65,000. Thereafter it showed an annual profit exceeding $50,000 until it passed out of my hands fourteen years later.

While Newspaper Feature Service went unscorched by the European conflagration, the flames were begriming American journalism with a layer of ashes never since removed. Until the summer of 1914, the word “propaganda” had been seldom heard in the United States. Its definition was practically unknown to the man in the street. Even among intellectuals, its meaning had been limited almost exclusively to a religious program. The World War inducted it into overtime use in speech, in writing and in practice. Its first employment on a large scale in the western hemisphere impelled me to undertake an investigation in Europe.

New York newspapers had published a dispatch from Boston forecasting the early arrival there of a ship bringing an extraordinary group of passengers. Twenty-three refugee children from Belgium were aboard. Where each child’s arms should have been, only mangled stumps remained. Not one of these mutilated infants knew what had befallen its parents. The story was unbelievable. I telephoned Higgins in Boston. He agreed to spare no expense in running down the facts. At the end of three days he admitted utter defeat. He was unable to trace even the origin of the tale.

Other accounts of atrocities, professedly relayed from Belgium and France, spread along the Atlantic seaboard and across the United States. Their volume and persistence left little doubt of organized instigation. What was the objective? The theory forming in my mind contemplated a force seeking disruption or confusion of national sentiment. Whether or not this suspicion could be confirmed, it held promise of a momentous story. But that was obtainable only at a center of authority—London or Paris.

Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan didn’t approve my proposed trip. My application for a passport was held up. Bryan believed it highly indiscreet for anyone with a name so emphatically German as mine to risk the displeasure of war-inflamed Englishmen or Frenchmen. An appeal, based on our long-time friendship, brought his advice to forego the journey. Finally my traveling credentials were issued at the insistence of Robert Ewing, publisher of the New Orleans States, whose help I besought. Ewing was one of my staunchest allies. He also happened to be a stalwart member of President Wilson’s unofficial cabinet.

The steamship Philadelphia, leaving New York on May 8, 1915 —the day after the sinking of the Lusitania—took me to England. Bryan’s misgivings about the hostile reactions that my cognomen might evoke, proved baseless. “Some of our best Englishmen,” commented a British official, “have names with as much if not more Germanic flavor than ‘Koenigsberg.’ ” Neither Bryan’s psychology nor his philosophy ever disentangled itself fully from the corn tassels of Nebraska.

Hall Caine
My errand on the fringes of the war zone was facilitated by two old friends in London. One Major Burke-Roche, afterward Lord Fermoy, who had married Fanny Work of New York, was my guide and counselor in intricacies that only a Briton of his type could solve. Though commanding an anti-aircraft battery, he found ample time to help me daily. My other coadjutor was Hall Caine (Sir Thomas Henry Hall). He had a warm affection for America. His novels, among them The Manxman, The Christian, The Woman Thou Gavest Me and The Eternal City had enjoyed record sales in the United States. Hall Caine made a deal with me. He expected to be in The States shortly. He would help in the gathering of whatever proper information I sought and these efforts would be reciprocated when he reached America.

My mission was rewarded with three salient facts of varied import. First was the assurance that both the British and the French governments were without satisfactory knowledge of either the origin or the design of the narratives of revolting barbarity that were harrowing people in the United States. Second was the amazing combination of British sportsmanship and deliberateness in the face of calamity. The disastrous gas surprise at Ypres was more than a month old. Yet Englishmen were still uncertain whether it would be cricket to use poison vapors in retaliation.

Third was the discovery that the simplest institutions were treasured with as fierce a pride as some of Britain’s most glamorous traditions. A Londoner was willing to debate the martial or business efficiency of his countrymen. But he winced with shame over the dilemma of Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. For generations that eating place had been world-famous for its incomparable roast beef.

The savoriness of the meat was heightened by a popular legend. Each joint, sliced in the diner’s presence, came from a steer representing the last degree of selectiveness in breeding and feeding. Only on specially tended farms in Scotland could such cattle be raised. It was unbearable that war-time exigencies should blight this gastronomic conceit. It didn’t mar my appetite to learn that the toothsome cuts had really come from corn-fed herds in Ohio. But few topics of conversation in my hearing in London met a quicker glumness.

Back in America, concoctions of frightfulness from the war area assumed for me something of a personal challenge. There were two schools of opinion. One accepted the reports as credible. The other attributed them to Franco-British fabrication. Confirmation of either view would prove my investigation footless. Channels of inquiry, pursued without result before my departure for Europe, now yielded a clue. It led to John R. Rathom, then one of the managing editors and afterward editorial director of the Providence ]ournal and Bulletin.

John R. Rathom
Rathom was the type of onrushing individual for whom there is no refuge from conspicuousness. With a gigantic torso, an aura of good fellowship and the carriage of an American hustler, he would bulk forth in almost any company. Acquaintances were disconcerted to learn that he was a native of Australia. Few were told that much of his life had been spent in the Far East and Africa on trails that Kipling was making legendary. In Chicago, where Rathom worked for several years on the Times-Herald, we had been fellow-members of an intimate coterie. So, an inordinate amount of tact was not necessary for my consultation with Rathom in 1915. It was reassuring to learn from him that an organization was already carrying out, on an expanding scale, the work I had attempted to do single-handed.

Nearly two years were to elapse before the United States’ entry into the World War. During that time Rathom turned up voluminous data that afterward earned his recognition as a Trojan in counter-espionage service. But he found nothing to set my foot on the right track against what continued to impress me as a national menace. How this sinister agency, incidentally embroiling me in personal discomfort, stenciled a pattern of events that spanned a quarter of a century to disturb America in 1940 and 1941, is told later in these pages.

The selling plan, by which Newspaper Feature Service quickly reached the profit-making point, gradually built an obstacle to its further growth. Up to that time—except in the cases of mutual associations, like Newspaper Enterprise Association—features were usually sold as individual items at individual prices. Newspaper Feature Service introduced the budget system of sales. This provided a regular fixed payment for a minimum supply of listed materials. It grew apparent that a number of publishers had misinterpreted the arrangement. They believed it entitled them to everything copyrighted, or to be copyrighted, in the name of Newspaper Feature Service, Inc. They considered it a sort of insurance against an increase of feature costs.

Disclosure of this misapprehension came in response to a tentative oiler of additional daily and Sunday elements. Specimen proofs evoked a uniformly favorable reception. But the tenor of several messages halted the follow-up routine. One telegram read: “Great stuff. Rush it along. Why delay shipments with queries when you know the answers?” Which was a more or less diplomatic method of demanding the extra features without further parley or payment.

The law of diminishing returns forbade an increase of output without a corresponding increase of revenue. It would be too hazardous at that stage to risk client disaffection with an extensive program of contractual readjustments. The only prudent course open was to curb the volume of production. That would leave disengaged most of my own activities. Some outlet for them must be found apart from the budget of Newspaper Feature Service. From that quest came the idea to form a separate agency for the discovery and development of journalistic talents. The thought grew into what eventually became the world’s largest syndicate.

Full freedom of action was reserved for the new organization. Mistakes connected with my first venture in syndication would be avoided. There was, for instance, the choice of name. The title of Newspaper Feature Service, recommended by Carvalho, had been inadequate. It was descriptive enough, but it lacked particularity of identification. A distinguishing term would be all the more helpful if it designated both the nature of the enterprise and its management. The first part of my name, “Koenig,” translated into “King” was appropriated to make up such a label—King Features Syndicate, Inc.

It is only fair to enter a disavowal here of any monarchic pretensions for anybody or anything except the writers and artists whom it was my hope to enroll. It is true the promise was implied that each would present a “King feature.” But the syndicate’s appellation was not intended as a claim to the sovereignty which it subsequently established in its field. Events conferred upon the title a significance greatly exceeding my expectations.

A snag delayed the inauguration of King Features Syndicate. The funds of Newspaper Feature Service were not legally available for any purpose save its own operations. Formal sanction was required for expenditures in behalf of a separate corporation. Carvalho objected. Conditions were inauspicious for new undertakings. My persistence led to an impasse. In this predicament the dormant compact with R. R. Govin came to mind. Under the terms of that agreement, my uncompleted partnership with Govin could still be perfected. I suggested to Carvalho that Newspaper Feature Service was well enough entrenched to get along without me and that such a course might best serve my interests. Of course, it was necessary to consult “the doctor,” as—already indicated—Hearst was known in the organization code.

At last, in October, 1915, Carvalho notified me with marked reluctance that objection to my plan for another syndicate was withdrawn. Financial authorization would be issued on my written request. Carvalho’s tone gave abundant warning that my signature would be on hand like a grinning specter if the project failed. King Features Syndicate was incorporated on November 16, 1915, by my personal counsel, Eppstein & Rosenberg, 80 Maiden Lane, New York City. Harry A. Rosenberg, of that firm, with Julius Goldman, one of the clerks, and Nathalie Weinberg, a stenographer, were the dummy incorporators. These details are recorded here in correction of erroneous allusions to King Features Syndicate, Inc., which appear in different historical works.

Chapter 15 Part 1 Next Week         link to previous installment   link to next installment


So, that is how King Features Syndicate begin-by using the his name Koenigsberg, angelicianized to King!!!

And, to this day it's still going strong!!!
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