Racing Time For News Scoops (Apr, 1935)

Very interesting article about how the UPI used to report and distribute news. I’ll bet their operation ran a lot like this up untill about the 70’s when computers started taking over.

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Racing Time For News Scoops


Executive Assistant United Press Associations

NEWS travels fast. It circles the globe like lightning while historic events are still in the making.

The world was reading the tragic details of the Morro Castle disaster while her passengers were still leaping from the burning decks of the doomed Ward Liner into the storm-swept waters of the Atlantic.

Less than 20 minutes after first radio operator Rogers sent his SOS from the Morro Castle, the tragic story was flashed over United Press leased wires into newspaper offices from coast to coast. Cables carried it to Europe, South America and the Orient.

Rogers’ signal was sent at 4:23 a. m. Picked up by the marine radio division of the Radio Corporation of America, it was relayed by telephone to the United Press. Amid the rattling battery of automatic telegraph printers in the New York office, the night editor took the message. He jumped from the telephone, shouted “Flash.” Instantly a deathly silence swept the room.

Loudly but clearly he shouted the sentence to the waiting telegraph printer operators that would mean extra editions and streamer headlines to newspapers throughout the world:


The message completed, each operator rang the bell on his machine ten times. On every receiving machine in newspapers throughout the land a similar bell rang ten times. Again silence while the night editor hurriedly wrote the three line bulletin subflash of the first story of the disaster.

While he was still writing his assistant had grabbed hat and coat and quickly left for Asbury Park, N. J., where the flaming vessel had been sighted eight miles off shore. Between snatches of the story relayed by telephone from R.C.A., the editor put through hurried phone calls, aroused United Press editors, reporters, and correspondents and ordered them to stations along the New Jersey coast to pick up every smattering of the story possible.

Reporters phoned New York from a dozen points—calling in disconnected details of the tragedy, stories from the survivors, condition of rescued passengers and crew, rescues by the Coast Guard and Jersey fishermen. Reporters went to sea, flew in planes, interviewed every one who had the slightest information about the tragedy, patiently listed every rescue and death to bring to the world the tragic story of fire at sea. The hastily assembled editors in the New York office of the United Press in turn gathered the disconnected material by telephone and telegraph and rewrote it into the coherent stories you-read in your daily newspapers.

That first flash of the disaster broke into the routine news that was being sent over the United Press wires. The operator instantly broke the smooth flow of the 60-words-a-minute sending tape, used for ordinary news, switched to the direct keyboard, and punched out the flash as fast as the editor dictated it.

From that time on the story of the Morro Castle disaster, fed to the operators in short “takes,” took precedence over all other news.

When Cornwallis surrendered at York-town, ending the Revolutionary War, it took 49 days for that news to reach England. Today such news would “flash” over United Press wires reaching 1,252 newspapers in nearly every nation of the world within 10 minutes.

Scanning headlines over their morning coffee, few newspaper readers are aware of the vast newsgathering network of telegraph wires and cables, the thousands of correspondents, laboring ’round the world and ’round the clock to bring today’s news to them today.

Bruno Hauptmann testifies in the Lindbergh kidnap-murder trial, a few minutes later millions of newspaper readers know his answer to every question. A noted European statesman dies; within ten minutes the news has reached this country and a few minutes later extras are on the street telling of his death. The first flier to cross the Atlantic alone lands in Paris; within five minutes the news is in American newspaper offices and newsboys are crying “Extra!” 20 minutes later.

A press association is a world-wide news gathering agency. It supplies your local paper with all the important news that “breaks” outside of your city. The press association serves hundreds of newspapers in many countries of the world, each paper paying a fixed fee for the service.

The press association maintains key bureaus in important cities and capitals of the world which in turn control smaller bureaus in each country. Each bureau has a staff of editors, rewrite men and reporters. In addition “string” correspondents in towns and villages in the bureau’s territory send news on a “free lance” basis to the bureau. Anyone can sell worth-while stories to press associations, if he has the story first. If the news is purely regional, the bureau rewrites the story and sends it by telegraph, telephone, or automatic printer only to the client newspapers in its territory.

New York Controls Press Network

If the story is of international importance, it is cabled to all key bureaus which in turn relay it to all client papers in their countries.

In the United States the United Press operates a network of telephone wires leased from the American Telephone and Telegraph company. These wires reach every section of the country and enter every newspaper office served by U. P. Each bureau in the country has sending machines and operators who punch stories on the tape of automatic printer machines. The same machine also receives; similar machines are located in every client newspaper’s office.

From the time service starts until it ends these machines are always going, neatly typewriting the news of the day on a continuous roll of paper. The New York bureau controls the wire. If it has the best story of the moment, it takes the wire and its operator runs his tape through the machine until the story is completed. As stories break in various bureaus they send schedules of the stories to the New York office. The New York chief editor selects the best ones and tells each bureau when it can send a story.

“Hot” Story is a Bulletin

If a bureau has a “hot” news story, it waits until the story on the wire reaches the end of a “take,” which is seldom 23 lines long, then the operator in that bureau breaks into the line with a “bulletin” bell signal and sends one or two paragraphs of the story.

In the client newspaper office copy editors continually tear printed copy from the machine, select the news wanted, edit it to the desired length, write headlines for it, find a place for it in the “dummy” of the day’s paper, send it to the composing room where it is set up, put in the forms and finally sent to the press.

The bureau that has a “flash” story breaks into the wire immediately, stopping any story that may be moving on the wire. The bureau sends the “flash,” then holds the wire for the subflash which follows immediately.

News is the most perishable commodity in the world. In a few hours it is “stale.” Worldwide news agencies constantly battle time to be the first to get the news to the newspapers. A “scoop” on a big story sells newspapers and the press association that gets the most scoops will get contracts over rival associations with newspaper clients.

Where a newspaper must make, at the most, a half dozen deadlines per day, the press association is up against a deadline somewhere nearly every minute of the day. Serving newspapers in every time-zone of the globe, its dispatches are always going to press.

Prepare in Advance for Scoop

At 6 P. M. in New York, New York afternoon papers have finished their day, but afternoon editions are just beginning to roll from the presses in San Francisco, morning editions are being made up in London, while in Tokyo evening paper staffs are preparing for another day.

Competition to beat the ever-present deadline is keen. Scoring a beat over his rival is to a correspondent what winning a knockout decision is to a pugilist. And similarly, a beat is more often the reward of painstaking preparation than a “lucky break.”

Months in advance the United Press began preparing for the possible death of Reichpresident Paul von Hindenburg. This foresight won a clean scoop on the story.

Scoring Beat on Hindenburg Death

Long before Hindenburg died, the Berlin office had laid down in London, New York, Buenos Aires and other points a complete background of obituary material, speculation on Hindenburg’s successor and the political consequences of his death. During the three days before his death, the United Press lined up twelve sources for protection on the flash. Special arrangements were made to move urgent cables even faster than usual.

At 5:44 on the morning of his death came the final bulletin saying the President was in a deep coma. The United Press staff was mobilized in the office; correspondents waited at Neudeck, the President’s home.

The Berlin office radio was turned on, but silent. Suddenly the announcer said, “We will transfer to the Propaganda Ministry.” That was at 9:45. The bureau manager just got the telegraph office on the phone when his assistant, listening to the radio, cried out, “Hindenburg’s dead.” The bureau manager dictated the flashes for New York and Buenos Aires; they moved immediately. A later checkup showed that the one to New York cleared in two minutes and the one to Buenos Aires in three.

That radio announcement could have been heard by every correspondent in Berlin, but the United Press earned its beat by having facilities ready to move the flash.

Covering bloody uprisings and revolutions in various parts of the world has become, during the last decade, almost part of the day’s work. Bill Lander was one of only two correspondents at the National Hotel during the Cuban revolt when the massacre of officers occurred (Oct. 2, 1933), and was the only one right in the garden where it took place. Here is Lander’s description of the massacre:

Reporter’s Story of Bloody Massacre

“It was around 5 P. M. when the embattled officers surrendered and most correspondents hurried to the cable offices to file their accounts of the battle. I had a hunch, however, that the story was still incomplete. I wanted to see conditions surrounding the surrender myself. Against orders, I got into the hotel garden through a back entrance, posing as one of a group of student leaders.

“I saw the surrendered officers, in civilian clothes waiting to be taken to prison.

“Suddenly and unexpectedly a rifle shot rang out through the palm trees from somewhere. Nobody knows yet who fired it. It set off a torrent of fire by soldiers from their rifles, sub-machine guns and pistols.

“There seemed no possible escape from being killed. I ran to a corner abutment of the building, then dodged further on behind a pillar of the portecochere.

Press Correspondents Are Every Where

“Officers fell to the ground, some of them mortally wounded. Around the corner I saw a student drop, never to get up. Horses jumped and reared. Soldiers began raising guns in the air and shouting, ‘For God’s sake, don’t shoot,’ But the shooting continued.

“Gradually officers imposed discipline on their men. The firing lessened and stopped.

“The garden was a shambles—dead and dying officers, many horribly wounded. I counted the exact number of victims.

“I reached my cab and drove to the cable office where, for nearly an hour I sat, wet with perspiration, writing the story of the massacre.”

Wherever news is breaking—be it a speech by the President, a revolt in Spain, a fire at sea —there you will find a man with pencil and paper scribbling notes, one eye on the nearest telephone or telegraph office, eager to speed the news so that swiftly and surely your newspaper may bring to you the exciting, dramatic picture of life.

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