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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

To the Young Man at the Door

By Murat Halstead (1829–1908)

[Born in Paddy’s Run, Butler Co., Ohio, 1829. Died in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1908. Address on “The Maxims, Markets, and Missions of the Press,” delivered before the Wisconsin Press Association, 23 January, 1889.]

WE need to guard against ways of exclusiveness—against the assumption that for some mysterious reason the press has rights that the people have not; that there are privileges of the press in which the masses and the classes do not participate. The claim of privilege is a serious error. One neither gains nor loses rights in a profession. We have the same authority to speak as editors that we have as citizens. If we use a longer “pole to knock the persimmons,” because we have a larger constituency for our conversational ability, that doesn’t affect rights. It simply increases responsibility. One can say of a meritorious man or enterprise, or of a rascally schemer or scheme, as an editor the same that he could say as a citizen, a tax-payer, a lawyer, minister, farmer, or blacksmith. It conduces to the better understanding of our business to know that we are like other folks, and not set apart, baptized, anointed, or otherwise sanctified, for an appointed and exclusive and unique service.

It is in our line of occupation to buy white paper, impress ink upon it in such form as may be expressive of the news and our views, and agreeable to our friends or disagreeable to our foes, and sell the sheet, when the paper becomes, by the inking thereof, that peculiar manufactured product, a newspaper, for a margin of profit. We should not go about magnifying our office. We are as gifted and good as anybody, so far as our natural rights are concerned, and are better or worse according to our behavior. It is our position to stand on the common ground with the people, and publish the news, and tell the truth about it as well as we can; and we shall, through influences certain in their operation, find the places wherein we belong. No one can escape the logic of his labor.

Communications from young gentlemen in, or fresh from college, or active in other shops, who propose to go into journalism or newspaperdom, and want to know how to do it, are a common experience, for there is a popular fascination about our employment. There is nothing one could know—neither faculty to perform nor ability to endure—perfection of recollection, thoroughness in history, capacity to apply the lessons of philosophy, comprehension of the law, or cultivated intuition of the Gospel—that would not be of service going into newspaperdom. But it is beyond me to prescribe a course of study. It is easier, when you have the knack, to do than to tell.

When the Young Man comes to say that he would be willing to undertake to run a newspaper,—and we know that Young Man as soon as we see his anxious face at the door, and sympathize with him, for we may remember to have been at the door instead of the desk, and willing to undertake the task of the gentleman who sat at the desk and asked what was wanted—when perhaps the youth at the door had in his pocket an essay on the Mound-builders that he believed was the news of the day—and we don’t like to speak unkindly to the Young Man. But there are so many of him. He is so numerous that he is monotonous, and it is not always fair to utter the commonplaces of encouragement. It is well to ask the Young Man, who is willing to come in and do things, what he has done (and often he hasn’t done anything but have his being). What is it that he knows how to do better than any one else can do it? If there be anything, the question settles itself, for one who knows how to do right well something that is to do, has a trade. The world is under his feet, and its hardness is firm footing. We must ask what the Young Man wants to do; and he comes back with the awful vagueness that he is willing to do anything; and that always means nothing at all. It is the intensity of the current of electricity that makes the carbon incandescent and illuminating. The vital flame is the mystery that is immortal in the soul and in the universe.

Who can tell the Young Man how to grasp the magic clew of the globe that spins with us? There is no turnpike or railroad that leads into journalism. There are no vacancies for didactic amateurs. Nobody is wanted. And yet we are always looking out for Somebody, and once in awhile he comes. He does not ask for a place, but takes that which is his. Do not say to the Young Man, there are no possibilities. There certainly are more than ever before. Young Man, if you want to get into journalism, break in. Don’t ask how. It is the finding of it out that will educate you to do the essential thing. The Young Man must enter the newspaper office by main strength and awkwardness, and make a place for himself.

The machines upon which we impress the sheets we produce for the market—and we all know how costly they are in their infinite variety of improvements, for the earnings of the editor are swept away by the incessant, insatiable requirements of the press-maker—this facile mechanism is not more changeable than The Press itself, in its larger sense—and the one thing needful, first and last, is Man. With all the changes, the intelligence of the printer and the personal force of the editor are indispensable.