The Working Press
A TREASURY OF GREAT REPORTING: Literature Under Pressure from the Sixteenth Century to Our Own Time. Edited by Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris. Simon and Schuster, New York. 784 pp.
Here is a rare and remarkable book. The reader can pick it up and read an expose of asylum condition in the London og 1699 or an account of the shooting of John Dillinger in 1934. He can find Alexander Hamilton defending the freedom of the press against the Crown in 1735 or a negro being railroaded in Alabama in 1941. He will find he newspapermen--the good ones--write stories that are as exciting and timely three hundred years after publication as they were when the ink was still wet.
The editors of this anthology have exercised the greatest care in selecting their material. There is not a story in the volume that is dull; the commentary is lively, apparently accurate, and invaluable in establishing the continuity which a simple collation of clippings would of necessity lack.
There are amusing touches. The first accounts of Lincoln's shooting, taken off the New York Tribune wire, are as confused and contradictory as any modern disaster reports. Gettysburg sounds like two different battle from the reports of Virginia and Ohio correspondents--just as the latest war sounded incredible to readers of both American and Japanese dispatches.
The news "beat" is here too, all the way: Horace Greeley in an interview with Brigham Young, in which Young first admitted to 15 wives (1859); Henry Stanley of the Tribune finding Dr. Livingstone (1872); the world's first airplane flight, reported exclusively by the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (1903); the London Daily Telegraph revealing Kaiser Wilhelm's war plans in another exclusive, this time an interview (1908). these are the headline stories of their times, and they cannot but thrill the reader still, for with the dust blown off them they jump from yellowed pages like the four-alarm fires and gangland killings of today.
The "expose" is also well represented. The London Spy goes into a lunatic asylum in 1699, and a New York Evening Post reporter reveals shameful prises conditions in 1917; the New York Times does a job a Boss Tweed in 1871, the Washington Post attacks the Colombians in 1946. There is human interest here, too, and sports, and animal stories--all the departments of the newspaper have their representatives.
This is not a book which lends itself to criticism, for it is made from well-written, timely, lively copy. It is, of course, limited by its subject matter--it only covers war, politics, religion, medicine, death, birth, love, hate, courage, coward-ice, comedy, and tragedy.