To: Roy W. Howard September 27, 1912
My dear Howard:
You have asked me to give you an account of the founding of the United Press, and the reasons for the same.
My serious and personal experiences with press associations began with the founding of the Cleveland Press in 1878. The old Western Associated Press was similar to the present Associated Press in being monopolistic and a closed corporation. Neither the Detroit News nor the Cleveland Press could at first obtain its service.
Between 1873 and 1883, I can remember that we had a great deal of trouble in getting a very poor news report. Upon returning from two years abroad, I found there had been organized a very substantial institution then called the United Press. I believe it was managed by Walter P. Philips, but was completely dominated and controlled by the Chicago banker, John R. Walsh, who later died in the penitentiary. Walsh was an unscrupulous fellow and Philips was his easily managed tool.
After the Walsh regime - I think by reason that a New York syndicate had taken up Walsh''s bank debts - the New Yorkers came into control of the United Press. The syndicate was composed of Pulitzer, of the old World; Whitlaw Reid, of the Tribune; Dana, of the Sun; and I believe the Herald''s representative was in it. These new controllers of the United Press were, if anything, worse than Walsh had been. They proceeded to milk the U. P. in good form.
Later, when the New York crowd got hold, he told me of the inside of the manipulations and showed me how I could get my share of the swag. They had adopted the system of exclusive franchise. For my papers he gave me a field of 100 or 150 miles around the city of its publication. I was allowed to protest' but with the understanding that I wouldn''t exercise it, not to prevent service, but only for the purpose of reducing my rate. Of course, I soon enough recognized that we were all grafting the United Press out of existence.
A number of disgruntled United Press clients, together with a large number of the old Western Associated Press men, began to organize a revolt. The United Press was on the rocks and the Western Press Association was in a moribund condition. Senility marked the old institution, and corruption the new one; and competition had reduced the whole press association business to an absurdity.
Finally a time came when it appeared to both sides that the Scripps papers held the balance of power. Philips froze to me and brought me all sorts of messages and promises from Dana, et al.
About this time the insurgents sent me word that they were going to form a new press association and that, if I would join them, I would become the actual owner of one quarter of the stock of this new association. However, as the new association was composed of such men as Victor Lawson, Lawson''s men, Noys and Charles Knapp, my brother James, and a whole raft of what I then considered old fossils, I did not accept the proposition.
The new Associated Press of Illinois was soon enough formed, and rapidly attracted to itself nearly all the stronger papers in the country outside of the New York big four, as well as the big four itself. Finally the crash came to the United Press, and Pulitzer, Reid, and Bennet - I believe it was Bennet - went over to the A. P.
In an instant I found myself a very insignificant factor.
McRae felt that I had maneuvered wrongly and made a desperate attempt to climb in the band wagon. My brother James had already taken in the Detroit News and was very anxious to see my papers go along. McRae was very intimate with Knapp, Lawson, Noys and Stone, and late as the day was, they offered to let us come in on the ground floor. To convince McRae that it would be wise for me to submit, they outlined to him their policy to establish such a monopoly as would make it impossible for any new paper to be started in any of the cities where there were Associated Press members.
I recognized the value of all this, but just then I was feeling very cocky -- I considered myself a man-of-destiny. I had ambitious plans of planting a score or more of new papers. So, I pointed out to McRae and my brother that, while under the proposed conditions no one could start new newspapers in our towns, we in turn would never be able to start another paper in some other town. Although the old United Press had been whipped to death, I was determined not to join the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, McRae had wrangled a promise from the directors of the A. P. that if we would be good and humble and submit our request at the next meeting of the board, we might be voted in, and probably would be. I sent him back with the ultimatum that all of our papers were to be received in the association and in each case we were to have A-1 position, or we wouldn''t come in. Mac was astounded but he had nothing else to do but go with the message. He came back with the report that no other place was open for us but that of humble clients. Meanwhile, I had prepared my scheme and even the form of the telegraph announcement to be sent out to all the old U. P. subscribers. Immediately after the rejection of our offer, we put on the wires the announcement that we were going into the press association business.
At about the same time I launched my Scripps-McRae service, the Publishers''s Press Association went into business, and to consolidate our strength we made an arrangement whereby Publishers''s Press was to have the Atlantic States territory, and the combined Scripps Associations everything west of this line. From the beginning, however, we had trouble with the Publishers''s Press. Its management was guilty of all the vices of the old United Press. It bought dollars for $1.10 and $1.20 apiece. It slushed around and tried to cover too much territory. It sold exclusive franchises and got into debet to people who made improper use of their influence over it.
Finally we found that it was not only unreliable but that it was being corruptly used. About this time John Vandercook appeared on the scene and was authorized to act as my agent to negotiate for the purchase and control of the Publishers'' Press. As a result of this purchase and merger, the new United Press in its present form came into existence.
As to my motives for founding the United Press: For nearly a quarter of a century I had personal experience with various Press Associations and from my brother James I had learned the story of the old Western Press Associations in which he was a charter member back in the Civil War days when he was chief owner of the Detroit Tribune.
I had been convinced of the correctness of the proverb that what is everybody''s business is nobody''s business when applied to a purely mutual press association, considering the membership as a whole. Clique rule is an inevitable outcome of all mutual institutions. The inner circle gets in its work in the way of graft as well as in the way of improper influence, use, and control.
My experience with the old United Press also had taught me that there was little to choose from as between an ordinary stock company of this kind, and a mutual association so far as proper and honest conduct was concerned. I believe in one-man control just as firmly as I believe in the distribution or the sharing of profits amongst all of the important and capable administrators of a business. I proposed to avoid the dangers of a mutual concern as well as the danger of shifting balances of power of the company of stockholding ownership.
But I had not only a selfish, but also an altruistic motive in founding the new association. I do not believe in monopolies. I believe that monopolists suffer more than their victims in the long run. I did not believe it would be good for journalism in this country if there were one big news trust such as the founders of the Associated Press fully expected to build up.
I not only wanted to start a new paper if I chose, but I wanted to make it possible for any other man to found a newspaper in any city of the Union. The men who hold controlling interest in the present Associated Press would inevitably combine into a trust were it not for us.
Perhaps my greatest reason, however, for my objecting to becoming an integral part of the Associated Press in the crisis was that I knew that at least 90% of my fellows in American journalism were capitalistic and conservative. I knew at that time, at least, that unless I came into the field with a news service it would be impossible for the people of the United States to get correct news through the medium of the Associated Press. I determined to be as free in the matter of gathering telegraph news and printing what I wished as I was in gathering local news and printing what I wanted to print.
In those, my youthful days of pride, my vanity swelled at the thought that I was to be the savior of the free press in America. Of course, I have learned now that it requires more than one man to guarantee such freedom. However, I confess that even now I feel no small sense of satisfaction on account of the results of my efforts. I believe, too, that I have done more good indirectly with the United Press than I have done with it directly, since I have made it impossible for the men who control the Associated Press to suppress the truth or successfully disseminate falsehood.
I am convinced that no such political situation as exists in this country today would have existed had it not been for the direct and indirect results of the United Press work. I really thought, Howard, in those callow days of the nineties, that a very large number of the publishers of American newspapers wanted to be and would be if they could be, really the friends of the people.