Monday, January 2, 2017

On Being a Newspaper Editor in the 1850s

Regular readers of The Gossips of Rivertown may have noticed that I sometimes become obsessed with characters I encounter from Hudson's past. An enduring fascination has been with Fred W. Jones, owner of the New York Coral and Shell Marble Company, who, from 1874 to 1889, built the "mountain railroad" from the quarry to the river, which has evolved into what we now know as the "haul road." In 2015, it was Officer Frank Miller and his exploits on the Hudson police force in the early decades of the 20th century. At the beginning of 2017, I confess a special fondness for Alex. N. Webb, editor and proprietor of the Hudson Daily Star.

Image: NiemanLab
Lately, I've been reading issue after issue of the Daily Star, beginning in 1851, the earliest issues of the paper available online at Fulton History. I'm researching a particular topic, but I'm easily distracted. What I'm finding especially intriguing are items in the paper that express the thoughts of Webb himself and provide insight into what it was like to be the editor of a newspaper in Hudson--and probably anywhere else--in the mid-19th century.

There are frequent reminders and admonishments to subscribers to pay their subscription fees. On April 25, Webb elaborated on that problem, along with some others.

Later that year, on July 14, 1851, Webb endeavored to describe for his readers what the job of a newspaper editor entails.

Webb attributes this item to the Rochester Daily Times, but it's easy to imagine that Webb may have personalized it a bit--perhaps the part about taking care of babies and rocking the cradle. From information found in the 1855 New York State census, we can extrapolate that in 1851, when he published this, Webb was 34 years old, married, and the father of two. (Webb and his wife, Caroline, would ultimately have six children.) It's tempting to wonder if the reference to being "assaulted and battered by some unprincipled demagogue" had any basis in Webb's personal experience.

On July 21, 1851, Webb published this item defending the freedom of the press.

These are sentiments that might be shared today by the editorial staff of the Enid News & Eagle, but it's intriguing to wonder if Webb had some specific Hudson incident in mind.

The month of July in 1851 appears to have been unusually hot in Hudson, inspiring Webb to complain the heat was preventing anything interesting from happening and was also interfering with his creative process.

On July 25, 1851, Webb employed the want ad format to complain while at the same time to describe the talents needed to run a newspaper office.

In 2017, I have to admit that it doesn't take "two bales of imagination and a crate of fancy" to conjure up items for The Gossips of Rivertown. It just takes some sleuthing through newspapers left to us by the likes of Alex. N. Webb and his 19th- and early 20th-century colleagues in the Fourth Estate.

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