Thursday, November 30, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 13 Part 2
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
Monsieur Veto (part 2)link to previous installment link to next installment
The cycle from 1909 to 1913 was for me an uninterrupted ride on an international merry-go-round. The longest period devoted to any one panoramic segment lasted four months. That was in 1910, my first trip abroad. Farrelly arranged it. Ostensibly, it was a bonus for services rendered to the Hearst syndicate. Incidentally—if not principally—it was intended to gather information regarding a possible English market for the Hearst output. A study of British humor was, perforce, a preliminary to my research.
In high elation, I brought back a covenant of alliance with Henderson Bros., Ltd. A Scotch publishing organization, this firm issued regularly twenty-odd different periodicals for circulation throughout the British Empire. The price of two hundred guineas weekly was fixed for the right to reproduce in the various Henderson editions a selection of Hearst materials in original or revised form. Farrelly was delighted. The opening of this wholly new field suggested many possibilities. But Farrelly’s exhilaration was short-lived. Hearst peremptorily canceled the deal. Why should a British publishing house turn to its profit the talents of his own staff?
The willingness of a successful English magazine company to make such an indenture was, in effect, a guaranty of British hospitality for these newspaper elements. The reasoning may have been sound, but it was not sustained by the outcome. Hearst launched a weekly in London. Its title was The Budget. It contained a number of the comics and pictorial items most popular in the Hearst papers. Efforts were made to adapt them to English tastes.
The Budget was an amusing plaything. Calculated by Hearst’s standards, it was relatively inexpensive. He dropped it before the losses had gone far beyond a quarter of a million dollars. And that was a negligible sum compared with the profits later returned to him by Nash’s magazine and the English edition of Good Housekeeping, both monthlies of the silk-stocking class. British readers, unwilling to spend a penny for Hearst in dominoes, paid sixpence for him in frills.
My quadrennium of journalistic excursions concluded with the most piquant errand that it was my fortune to undertake. For three months I labored in vain to hand over to the leading citizens of San Francisco, then the metropolis of the Pacific Coast, a substantial favor, with worldwide garniture, from their fellow townsman, William Randolph Hearst. The offering snagged on a disbelief in Santa Claus. An unrelenting newspaper rivalry had something to do with the inception of this skepticism.
The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was in course of preparation to open eighteen months later, in 1915. It was to beckon to California visitors from every quarter of the globe. Hearst wanted to make sure that this beckoning attracted the fullest possible attention. He thought that could be accomplished with a campaign of pictures to be distributed throughout the world. Hearst believed that his own facilities for such a dissemination— his newspaper syndicates and services—would exceed those of anyone else likely to be interested in the work. He decided to do the job.
The effectiveness of such a promotional program would depend largely on control of the sources of pictorial supply. This could be commanded through an exclusive right to the use of cameras in connection with the exposition. That would be the photographic concession. It was my assignment to get this. Why the choice fell on me was never explained. Assumably, it was to be followed by the duty of mapping out a distribution system.
My instructions were to guarantee for the privilege a compensation larger than that proposed by any other bona fide applicant. Hearst was giving, not receiving, a boon. No neighbor would be in position to say that he had bargained for an advantage from his native city. This was practically a subvention. How could it be declined? Why had it been considered necessary to send someone across the continent to urge its desirability? Through the answers—as complex as the questions seemed simple—showed some of the strands of that mystic texture from which was woven the unique mosaic of San Francisco’s Hearst and Hearst’s San Francisco.
|Michael H. DeYoung|
Gen. Michael H. DeYoung was chairman of the concessions committee of the Panama-Pacific Exposition. He was also the owner of the San Francisco Chronicle. Though born in Missouri, DeYoung considered himself a native son of California. Common nativity with one’s neighbors around Golden Gate meant much more than a social coincidence. It spelled an incantation. It laid upon those within this magic circle an inviolable obligation to unite against the outsider. But nothing in this union relieved a member of the need to protect himself from every angle and shadow. And during my sojourn in San Francisco, angles and shadows appeared to enjoy the special auspices of the marvelous California climate. They sprang up everywhere. General DeYoung was disconcertingly courteous. He seemed worried about my safety. His secretary was permitted to whisper an explanation. The general expected me momentarily to be trampled by the Trojan horse I was leading.
Thrusts from the rear complicated my mission. The former superintendent of police, Fred Esola, announced himself as an associate of Andrew M. Lawrence in an application for the photographic privileges. Only a few years before, Lawrence had been chief executive of the San Francisco Examiner. Now he was Hearst’s agent in the Middle West, and the pull of his relationships was still to be reckoned with in California. Some heads of the exposition company were uncertain whether to fear or to favor him. But it was easier to dislodge Lawrence as a contender than to overcome the negative influence of the resident Hearst viceroy.
Dent H. Robert, once my city editor on the St. Louis Republic and currently publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, found nothing to approve in my presence. It was an intrusion. There was something of the Pharisee in Robert. He was especially intolerant of Hearst men employed east of the Rockies. Most of them, he felt, were parasites subsisting on the wealth that was siphoned from Hearst’s West Coast profits. He believed Hearst had been adequately represented in California before my arrival. He didn’t feel that my coming had bettered this representation. Robert was rather explicit on that score during a wrangle with me. The quarrel occurred in the hearing of several Exposition committeemen.
Hearst did not get the photographic concession for the Panama- Pacific International Exposition. A time limit for the acceptance of his proposal was permitted to lapse. Three months after my return East, a committee of regretful San Franciscoans came to New York. They wanted to revive Hearst’s interest in the project. Maybe there was a strain of Santa Claus in him, after all. My cooperation was requested. It was not painful to say, “Too late.”
There would be small point to the recollection of these trivia if their significance related only to the camera privileges at an international fair. They make an integral chapter of a life that repeatedly touched world crises. In these circumstances, with kindred manifestations, was contained my solution of the engrossing Hearst riddle—the nature of his influence on public opinion. This explanation indexed the amazing fluctuations of that force. It dissected a power capable of pivoting a national movement, yet incapable of budging a city’s electorate. It reckoned the potentialities of a private citizen who might balk presidents, premiers, emperors or dictators while being himself balked by petty local bosses. It traced the phenomenon of a recurrent factor in world affairs incurring futile failures in county politics; Hearst’s major share in campaigns affecting international treaties contrasted with his defeats in municipal contests.
To Hearst must be attributed the breaking up of more political careers than crumpled under the assaults of any contemporary. One need search no farther for that record than a single performance— the publication in 1908 of letters of John D. Archbold, vice-president of the Standard Oil Company. The result went far beyond the discrediting of United States Senators J. B. Foraker and Marcus A. Hanna of Ohio, Boies Penrose and Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania, and Joseph W. Bailey of Texas. It smashed one of the strongest cabals that ever infested our Congressional branch of government. The fact that the correspondence was stolen did not lessen the effects of the exposure.
Crooked politics underwent a memorable setback. But encomiums did not hush the execrations. That was owing mainly to the mode of attack. It stimulated conjecture regarding Hearst’s motives. It gave color to his enemies’ charge that he was more interested in advancing his individual program than in serving the public. It is true that he reserved the Archbold revelations for a special purpose. They punctuated his advocacy of his handmade party and presidential candidate—the Independence League and Thomas L. Hisgen. But that didn’t mar their validity.
Hearst has suffered from the acid reactions of his aggressiveness. He was an explorer of turpitude—of the shadows of sinister or ulterior designs to which he pointed behind nearly every shining light. He inculcated distrust. The counsels for suspicion, that he so forcefully and so continuously directed toward others, now and then turned against himself. In the backwash of currents whipped by his methods, some of his own magnanimities foundered. We have seen his neighbors decline his donation of money and services.
The average intelligence clings to unities. Hearst’s activities were unified in the prevalent understanding with breaking up rather than building up social elements. Superman in political demolition, he. was described as “The Great Wrecker.” The characterization clicked in millions of minds. Hosts hastened to help him tear things down. Few tarried to build anew. That has been the popular custom through the ages. It would be a mistake to think Hearst had wholly lost their allegiance when his followers ignored his summons for special labors. Again and again he rallied the same or as many adherents as before, though they mustered not to toil in the fields, nor yet to tend the flocks, but always and apace to smite the Philistines. Monsieur Veto, after a lapse of a century, once more became a realistic title. Louis XVI gained it through legislative action. Hearst won it through the prowess of his pen.
“The Great Wrecker” bore a connotation more of honor than of opprobrium. The devastation it implied was limited to quarters undeserving of sympathy. Otherwise, it could not have been wrought. Only structures honeycombed with culpability can be destroyed by the light of publicity. Their removal is less an engineering than a sanitary function. Hearst, having performed an Augean renovation, might well—if he chose—swap the appellation “The Great Wrecker” for “The Great Sweeper.”
In any case, Hearst held regularly the sustained interest of more of his fellow citizens than was commanded over the same span of time by any American outside the White House. Even if this attention were convertible only into one-way dynamics, it was inalienable from Hearst. It maintained his publications in a group supremacy unattained by any of his rivals. The sum total was a record without contemporaneous parallel.
Whether because of training or of a quirk of providence, it has been my experience to be driven to deeper introspection by minor annoyances than by major crises. Important events usually clamped upon my emotions the stern rule of reason, while a petty nuisance prodded an impatient search for the cause of corollary irritations. Realism paved its own firm roadbed. Subjectiveness rode on wobbly rails. So, vexations of the unsuccessful mission in San Francisco led to another survey of my affairs. It was not gratifying. Four years of a unique occupation were drawing to a close. There had been plentiful luck and excitement in hunting, trapping and fishing for journalistic game and in plowing newspaper and adjacent fields. But there was not a bag, a catch or a crop for myself. Bull’s-eyes had been scored often enough, but the trophies were not awarded to me. It was like a travel schedule that embraced all directions with no arrival.
The time had come long since to choose a definite destination. A drastic step was necessary to enforce the choice. There must be a severance of the connection that had kept me drifting. My resignation was forwarded to W. R. Hearst. Twice before in the previous two years, I had resigned. Once, Farrelly persuaded me to remain to work out an especially intriguing problem of telephone news circuits. The second time, the vulgar attraction of more money induced the renewal of my personal service contract. My compensation was increased to $150 weekly. Now, there must be something besides a salary advance to hold me.
If the mettle were in me to reach the top, it must be proved without further delay. My thirty-fifth birthday was approaching. At that age, a journalist should be either aboard or underneath the chariot of destiny. Few men in my profession had undergone a more thorough training for main-event contests. Either my hand was already fitted for the handle of a first prize or it was doomed always to rummage through the grab sack. This must be determined by my next venture.
The doors of one arena stood invitingly open. The newspaper feature syndicate offered measureless opportunities. Most attractive was the absence of time barriers. Signal achievement was possible almost overnight. Practically no capital was needed for plant investment. An organization to serve hundreds, even thousands, of publications could be set up with less cash or labor than would be required to launch one daily. Highly alluring was the expanse of operation. Its limits were fixed only by the merits of the output—the effectiveness of the materials designed to challenge and hold readers. State lines didn’t dim the sparkle of ideas.
The problem of finances had been solved before it arose. The solution was entwined in the gratitude of a publisher who believed it was my advice that had turned a steady loss into an annual profit of $200,000. This over-appreciative friend was Rafael R. Govin. He then owned El Mundo and La Prensa in Havana, Cuba. Later, he added to his string of publications the Post and the Telegram in Havana, the Advertiser and the Telegram in Elmira, N. Y., and the Journal of Commerce in New York City.
Our acquaintance, beginning in Chicago, ripened into a lasting cordiality. It was Govin who, in 1905, authorized me to offer to the City of Chicago an immediate conversion of its street railway system into municipal ownership. At that time he represented the local traction trust. Gradually, he withdrew from the money marts. Our intimacy grew with each step that he took away from Wall Street. Now, early in 1913, he proposed a business partnership. He would supply the funds for the installation or purchase and operation, under my management, of either a news service or a newspaper.
My plans for a syndicate, long in incubation, won Govin’s enthusiastic approval. He regarded such a business as a modified news service. At any time we chose we could expand our activities and add telegraph or other transmitting devices. On my estimate of the sum necessary to safeguard success, he agreed to make available in suitable installments over a period of thirty months, a bank credit of $150,000. Fifty-one percent of the stock would be deliverable to me at a price to be determined by the amount of the aggregate cash investment. Govin worked out a sliding scale exceedingly generous to me. There was no haggling. He expected handsome dividends and he wanted to stimulate my efforts to hasten them.
The conversation that assumably closed the deal with Govin took place ten days after the posting of my resignation to Hearst and three days after my return from San Francisco. That was in February. The date of expiration of my last indenture was two months earlier. Not the slightest doubt occurred to me about complete freedom to devote myself to any work I might choose. Formal announcement of my severance from the Hearst organization had been prepared. It was intended for the scores of publishers and editors who, from time to time during the previous four years, had indicated interest in my plans for the future. It would be the first gun in a campaign for promotion of the syndicate on which I had resolved months earlier. The cards were in the mails before the conclusion of my conferences with Govin. The Rubicon was passed—but not triumphantly. My agreement with Govin was unexpectedly spiked.
Under an interpretation of law by the New York State Court of Appeals, I was still bound to Star Company, the Hearst holding corporation. The rule was little known. It stipulated that a continuance of relations at the end of a personal service contract might be construed as a renewal of that instrument. Thus, either the payment or the acknowledgment of compensation restored the compact. There had been no interruption of my salary. Therefore, my contractual obligation was binding ten months longer, the remainder of the year.
Notification of my status came from Carvalho. He seemed to get a treat out of my surprise. His statement smacked a good deal of pedantry. The master enjoyed demonstrating a ligature hitherto unknown to the interne. But Carvalho was conciliatory. It was at this meeting that he extended the olive branch. Our business relations thereafter were uniformly pleasant and—to me —stimulating. There had been no design to trick me, he said. On the day my farewell letter to Hearst was written, Carvalho had received instructions to arrange a new assignment for me. Its delivery was timed for my return from the West Coast. That was done to avert any leakage of the facts—Carvalho’s inescapable obsession—and to perfect certain preliminaries.
A wrench came with the recollection of the engraved notices that were speeding to a long list of my newspaper friends. How could that be explained? It would be stultifying enough to affect my usefulness. Carvalho tossed that thought out of the window. What I had done fitted most happily into the plans for the enterprise to be entrusted to me. It would be just as well to face the world as a former member of the Hearst family. Indeed, that course was highly recommended. My work would be performed in complete independence of the Hearst establishment. The success of the project would be determined by the degree of vigor that entered into its rivalry. Mr. Hearst wanted me to organize and operate a new feature syndicate!
Here was a stretch of coincidence to strain its longest reach. There could have been no deliberate synchronization of these incidents. The facts seemed obvious. Yet they got snared in the gullet of credibility. They left a lingering urge to peek under desk pads and table covers. Consideration of Hearst’s motive brought one no closer to the point of this poser. Why should he create and support a competitor? Carvalho had a convincing explanation. But it wasn’t complete. It required several years to envisage the full meaning of this novel strategy.
Carvalho outlined Hearst’s purpose to insure against a let-down in the production of features—not so much in quantity as in quality. Normal incentive wasn’t adequate. It might languish under decreasing pressure from other publishers who didn’t share Hearst’s insatiable desire for more and better elements of newspaper entertainment. He would have two teams on the field instead of one. No race would be thrown, because each crew would strive to its uttermost to surpass the other. Nothing would be permitted to divert the paramount purpose of keeping both squads on edge. Concurrently, Hearst would enjoy an undisclosed vantage in the discovery and development of new talent.
Despite the attractive aspects of Hearst’s syndicate program, it did not turn me from the resolve to secure a proprietary share in both the direction and the fruits of my labors. Unwillingness to work for a regular stipend should disqualify any employee. A candid declaration of this attitude should bring about my separation from the Hearst payroll and thus permit the carrying out of my arrangement with Govin. But Carvalho had a persuasive rejoinder. It was purposed to allot to me the equivalent of a partial ownership. And this would not involve any pecuniary risk on my part. Mr. Hearst wanted me to receive a percentage of the profits. Since that would constitute a portion of my remuneration, there would be no interference with my management. Otherwise grounds might arise for claims that my emolument had been impaired by faulty judgments. My proprietorship might be limited, but my authority would be undivided. I would be my own boss. That was my goal. Yet now that it lay at arm’s length, it gave me no thrill. It was a second choice. There would have been a higher lift in breasting the tape the hard way with Govin. And it was still for him to determine what course I should follow.
Govin was one of those rare mortals in whose presence friendship became an altar at which one felt it a high privilege to stand beside him. First, he released me from any pledge to him. Then he proposed the reinstatement of our agreement as a dormant covenant to be revived at my instance at any time within three years. I was free to carry through the Hearst project with the comforting knowledge that a desirable anchorage lay to windward.
An incorporation certificate was issued to Newspaper Feature Service by the State of New York on August 16, 1913. The usual formalities installed me as president and general manager. The syndicate’s first release of features appeared in newspapers of Sunday, September 7th. Of course, many weeks had been devoted to their preparation. They initiated a service to which may be traced appreciable effects on the reading habits of America.
Chapter 14 Part 1 Next Week
link to previous installment link to next installment
Labels: King News