Saturday, 29 August 2020
Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Seven Degrees of Separation: Seven People, Seven Typewriters
How are all these people connected?
Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise of Wied (1843-1916), the Queen of Romania as the wife of King Carol I, and was widely known by her literary name of Carmen Sylva.
Elizabeth Lucy, Princess Bibesco (née Asquith; 1897-1945), an English writer and socialite. The daughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, she was the wife of Romanian Prince Antoine Bibesco.
Princess Priscilla Helen Alexandra Bibesco (1920-2004), at aged two. A journalist and daughter of Prince Antoine Bibesco and Princess Elizabeth Bibesco. She was the goddaughter of Marcel Proust and Alexandra, Queen consort as the wife of Britain's King Edward VII.
Dame Cicily Isabel Fairfield DBE (1892-1983), known as Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, a British author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer.
Arthur Koestler CBE (1905-1983) was a Hungarian British author and journalist.
Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896-1980), a British politician who in the 1930s led the British Union of Fascists.
Helena Bonham Carter CBE (1966-), English actress. Her paternal grandmother was politician and feminist Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith.
Connecting the typists:
1. Queen Elisabeth was a lifelong friend of Princess Hélène Bibesco (1855-1902, also known as Elena), a Romanian noblewoman and pianist.
2. Princess Hélène Bibesco was the mother of Prince Antoine Bibesco (1878-1951), a Romanian aristocrat, lawyer, diplomat and writer who married Elizabeth Asquith.
3. Their daughter was Princess Priscilla Bibesco.
4. Elizabeth Bibesco was a close friend of Rebecca West in Bucharest before the Second World War. "I remember she used to sit in this café, and just face the wall," recalled West. "And it wasn't coffee she was drinking."
5. Princess Priscilla Bibesco had a romantic liaison with Arthur Koestler, which became widely known amongst her circle.
6. Princess Priscilla's closest Paris friends included Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana, the former Diana Freeman-Mitford. Repartee was Priscilla's forte, as over lunch when Diana, indulging her loves of Hitler and his entourage, said, "Goebbels had the most beautiful blue eyes", to which Priscilla responded, "Such a pity, then, he had to murder all those children."
7. Helen Bonham Carter's paternal grandmother was politician and feminist Violet Bonham Carter, a half-sister of Princess Priscilla Bibesco's mother Elizabeth Asquith.
Tuesday, 25 August 2020
10-Year-Old's Covid Newspaper typed on a Brother Portable Typewriter
Great story on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report in Australia last evening about Suzy Pollard, a 10-year-old North Melbourne Primary School student who is using a Brother 750 TR portable manual typewriter to produce a newspaper called the Covid Catch-Up News. There are up to two issues a week and six have so far been published. Suzy said, “I started the Covid Catch-Up because my mum had a typewriter and I was having a lot of trouble keeping up with everything that was going on. So I thought other kids may feel the same way.” Suzy’s mother is Dr Kate Howell, a senior lecturer in food chemistry at the University of Melbourne. Suzy said, “I just got an email from someone who must have read my newspaper and they sent in a really good article, so now I'm typing it out to put in the newspaper.” Suzy suspects she lives on the “quietest street in the world”. So she worries about people who may be “bored out of their mind” in lockdown. “Here's a list of things to do when you're stuck at home - listen to a podcast, build some Lego, write a newspaper, or bake a cake or cookies.” Proceeds from the sales of the newspaper go to care workers.
Monday, 24 August 2020
"I always felt a little sorry for people who didn’t work for newspapers”
This video is the best depiction of a typewriter-laden newspaper newsroom that I have seen. It's also a suitable adornment for Sam Roberts's article about newsrooms, which appeared in the US on the weekend. Roberts, just turned 73, has written for The New York Times since 1983, and is now the newspaper's obituaries reporter - which seems appropriate, as his weekend article reads like an obituary for the print newspaper industry. Roberts was previously the Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of The New York Times Close Up, an hour-long weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV, produced in association with Times and which he inaugurated in 1992. He also has hosted weekly podcasts for the Times called “The Caucus” and “Only in New York.”
joining the Times, Roberts worked for 15 years at the Daily News, first as a reporter, then as city editor from 1977 to 1981 and as political editor from 1981 to 1983. In his years as a journalist, Roberts has won awards from the Society of the Silurians and the Newspaper Guild of New York and has received the Peter Kihss Award from the Fund for the City of New York. His magazine articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the New Republic and New York. An anthology of his podcasts, titled “Only in New York,” was published by St Martin’s Press in November 2009.
Born in 1947 in Brooklyn, Roberts received his bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1968. While at Cornell he was managing editor of the Cornell Daily Sun and worked as a stringer for the Times and for the Associated Press and Time. Staggeringly, it appears that Roberts's 2014 book A History of New York in 101 Objects doesn't include the typewriter. But we might forgive him for that ...
The Roberts article:
One reason the columnist Mary McGrory confessed that she “always felt a little sorry for people who didn’t work for newspapers” was that they had never been exposed to the dynamism of a big-city newsroom. “Newsrooms are large places, full of messy desks and lippy people who hang around gossiping and making cheeky remarks about their betters,” she later wrote. Her first glimpse of one was The Washington Star’s in 1947. “It was heaven,” she remembered. Mine was of the Daily News’s. For nearly 65 years, two-thirds of its existence, the tabloid newspaper was written and edited in the Art Deco skyscraper on East 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan, which I first entered as an intern home from college in the summer of 1966. I would return after graduation and remain for 15 years, as a reporter, columnist, and city editor during a glorious Götterdämmerung of a circulation war in the last American city where two tabloids had survived to do battle.
Today, the Daily News and the New York Post endure largely to gratify their publishers’ egos. To save on rent, the Daily News moved from its eponymous headquarters in 1995, first to a warehouse-like space on the far West Side near the Hudson River, then to Water Street in Lower Manhattan. Earlier this month, Tribune Publishing, which owns the Daily News, announced that it was shuttering the downtown newsroom altogether because the rent there also was too damn high. Which begs the question: Can a newspaper or news site survive without a newsroom? Journalism, for all the single bylines atop articles, is largely collegial. “How it throbbed with human life and thought, quite like a mill room full of looms or a counting house in which endless records and exchanges are being made,” Theodore Dreiser wrote in his memoir Newspaper Days. To me, the Daily News’s city room evoked less a counting house than a frat house. One hotheaded reporter who scrawled “Impeach Nixon” on a wall was suspended for two weeks - then, when Nixon resigned, demanded his days back. More than one office romance not only began at work but was consummated there. An inexperienced switchboard operator connected an editor’s wife with his mistress.
“There is no writer’s block in a newsroom,” the columnist Carl Hiaasen once explained. “There’s only unemployment block.” But telling a story succinctly was more challenging at a tabloid than at a broadsheet. When one of Mark Twain’s editors demanded a two-page story in two days, Twain responded by telegram: “Can do 30 pages 2 days. Need 30 days to do 2 pages.”
After I transferred to The New York Times, in 1983, and plunged into 3000-word takeouts, an editor complained that he was dealing with 15 years of pent-up frustration on my part. Copy [at the Daily News] was edited around a horseshoe-shaped desk by an oddball but highly competent crew that was surprisingly cosmopolitan for a tabloid; at various times, its ranks were said to have included a German spy and an IRA agent. (The reportorial staff included the former public-relations man for King Farouk, who covered Queens.) One copy editor was so exacting that a reporter named Bruce Drake suggested that the editor would have asked Charles Dickens, “But, Charles, how could it have been the best of times and the worst of times?”
Drake was something of a stickler himself. He had interviewed an ex-Marine who survived an airport terrorist attack, and calmly recalled the incident in detail. When the first edition of the paper arrived in the newsroom, Drake was surprised to read that the Marine was shaken and trembling uncontrollably. He confronted the re-write man, who replied, “You did your job, and I did mine.” “No other newspaper in New York or, very likely, anywhere else has a closer relationship with the masses,” The New Yorker’s Jack Alexander wrote of the Daily News in 1938, and its home reflected that. When a couple was stranded because the city marriage bureau was closed during a snowstorm, we recruited a judge to perform the wedding ceremony in the newsroom. (“It’ll never last,” he predicted after pronouncing them husband and wife.) On another deadly quiet Sunday, a desperate fugitive called to surrender to us, but by the time he showed up we had discovered that nobody wanted him.
Despite several renovations, the newsroom still conjured up a stage set from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 play, The Front Page. The props were pastepots and the sharp metal rods on which editors “spiked” unusable copy (later outlawed by OSHA). The permanent haze of cigarette and cigar smoke (which no one complained about) mixed with the pungent odor of melting lead and printer’s ink, and the sound of clacking typewriter [Roberts does know what one is!] keys or shouts of “boy” to summon college-educated messengers who delivered copy from reporters to editors never ceased. (Later they were no longer all boys; at the Daily News they included Caroline Kennedy. People were surprised to hear that I tipped her when she got me coffee, but I explained that I would not impose a means test in granting gratuities to the clerical staff.)
At the appointed time every evening, the seismic rumble from the sub-basement reassured all of us that the day’s work was being turned into something tangible that would be disgorged on conveyor belts to the fleet of distinctive delivery trucks idling in the dark like horses stoked for a cavalry charge.
Most of the day, the newsroom was meant to be empty, since, in theory, reporters were out covering the news. In reality, they might be fortifying themselves at a grungy saloon called Louie’s East across the street or at Costello’s, which was distinguished by its original Thurber drawings, or at the Gold Coin. If after-hours drinking was an occupational hazard that prematurely ended some careers, it advanced others. Costello’s was a night school, an extension course for the stuff they don’t teach in journalism schools like the one I had considered attending. The Daily News recruiters persuaded me that I would learn more on the job than in J-school, and they were right.
The Daily News's Jimmy Breslin in Costello's.
This bygone gregariousness proved to be a godsend in the perilous transition to computerized typesetting. One evening, when an entire day’s stories vanished in a flash, I knew exactly where to find and retrieve most of the staff, and within minutes, they had refiled their copy. Even during the day, bars were preferable to the building’s cafeteria, which evinced a soul-crushing feng shui. The invitation-only Publisher’s Dining Room, on the other hand, featured dinner plates with famous front pages. (I would make sure to arrive early to avoid the place setting with the photograph of Ruth Snyder, who was convicted of murdering her husband, strapped into the electric chair at Sing Sing under the headline: DEAD!)
Captain Joseph Medill Patterson [above] was said to have conceived the Daily News in conversation with his cousin Colonel Robert R. McCormick, standing next to a manure pile in France during World War I. Unlike his cousin, Patterson was a socialist. The paper’s empathy for its (then mostly white) blue-collar readers was palpable. The Daily News was skeptical but not cynical and took its responsibility to the city - but not itself - seriously. Where else could we begin a crusade to repeal the so-called Hot Dog Tax - a levy on restaurant meals under $1 - with a searing quote from Felix Frankfurter? Or, when Gerald Ford initially refused to offer New York federal loan guarantees, run the headline FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, five words which may have tipped the 1976 election? (The headline that was originally suggested was FORD TO CITY: FUCK YOU.)
Jimmy Breslin at his Hermes Ambassador.
The following summer, terrorist bombs linked to Puerto Rican nationalists exploded at Manhattan office buildings and department stores. Studio 54 opened. And a psychopathic serial killer armed with a .44-caliber revolver and dubbed Son of Sam held New York hostage. We shamelessly exploited an exchange of letters between the serial killer and our columnist Jimmy Breslin, who gained his confidence, no doubt by congratulating him on his deft use of the semicolon. When a mountain climber from Queens named George Willig scaled the World Trade Center, we smuggled him into the building, hid him from the competition until midnight, and published his personal account on the front page.
When Bushwick, Brooklyn, was ravaged by fire and looters during the citywide blackout that July, the Daily News convened a mayoral debate under a stuffed bobcat in the living room of a local family, the Casusos, and, for decades, we held the city’s feet to the fire to deliver on its promises to salvage the neighborhood. In the late 1970s, the Casusos couldn’t give their house away; by the 2010s, after sticking it out as paradigms of civic pride, they were rejecting offers of $1.5 million and more. Luckily for us, Superman was being filmed at the Daily News Building. We were functional, in the loosest sense, because the newsroom was bathed in klieg lights. Mike O’Neill, the editor in chief, confided at one point to the film’s director, “I’ve got a lot of actors pretending to be journalists working for me, too.”
Bogie on the 'stone' in Deadline U.S.A.
Pete Hamill, who died earlier this month, defined sentimentality, as opposed to nostalgia, as a genuine emotion, “an ache for the things that are gone, that actually existed and that you experienced.” The newsrooms of The Front Page and of my favorite newspaper movie, Deadline-U.S.A., which was filmed in the Daily News’s pressroom, are no more. (The only time I heard anyone yell, “Stop the presses!,” he was met with a reply from an editor who peered indifferently over a copy of the Racing Form: “You jerk, they haven’t started yet.”)
In today’s newsrooms, those that have survived, plenty of reporters and editors are smarter - not just better educated. Their writing is less stenographic. Google has armed them with research capabilities that we never dreamed of. But when I worked for the Daily News we had more copyboys than the paper now has reporters.
Carved into the limestone façade of the Daily News Building is a quote attributed to Lincoln: “He Made So Many of Them.” It referred to the presumption that God must have loved the common man. No other newspaper in America came close to the Daily News’s peak print circulation of more than two million daily and three million on Sunday. But like common sense, the common man - at least the one who bought the newspaper every day - was not common enough to keep the Daily News solvent. So many core readers fled to the suburbs or turned to television and the Internet that the daily print run has plunged to 200,000. By 2017, Mort Zuckerman was lucky to unload the paper to the company that publishes the Chicago Tribune, its original owner, for $1 (plus tens of millions in pension liabilities).
About the only relics that survive today from the Daily News Building’s newsroom are the copyboys’ bench, which incubated generations of journalists, and the four-faced wooden clock. I can now confess that I gained a 10-minute editing cushion on the city desk by making the clock five minutes slower facing my bosses and five minutes faster facing the reporters whose copy I awaited as a deadline approached. Time and place merged uniquely in tabloid newsrooms in ways that can’t be duplicated by working at home. “A tabloid is not a newspaper of record: the past is too far behind to worry about, the future too far ahead,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker in 1999. “Yesterday matters only insofar as it supplies copy.”
Saturday, 22 August 2020
Raising a Storm in a Typewriter: Flannery O'Connor and Racism
Flannery O'Connor's Remington Noiseless portable typewriter at her former home,
Andalusia Farm, Milledgeville, Georgia.
Even from the distance of 7597 miles from Canberra to California, it’s not difficult for Australians to imagine the sensitivities stirred by the Black Lives Matter protests which swept across America earlier this year. Regardless of Covid-19 lockdowns, Australia had its own Black Lives Matter protests, stemming from the deaths of Aboriginals in custody. Bear in mind that from 1902 until 1962, Australian federal voting rights were specifically denied to every “aboriginal native” of Australia, Asia, Africa or the Islands of the Pacific (except New Zealand) who did not already have the right to vote in state elections (and very few did). Indigenous Australians were not included in the Commonwealth census until 1971. Forms of apartheid (that is, “apartness” or “separate development”) still obviously exist throughout Australia. Nonetheless, overt racism is no longer tolerated, notwithstanding the continuing efforts of the Murdoch media and a vocal minority of extreme right-wing politicians and commentators.
Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), born in Savannah, Georgia, was a Southern writer who often wrote in a sardonic Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters, often in violent situations.
At its hub, Elie’s essay says, “Southerners, women, Catholics, and MFA-program instructors now approach her with devotion. We call her Flannery; we see her as a wise elder, a literary saint, poised for revelation at a typewriter set up on the ground floor of a farmhouse near Milledgeville because treatments for lupus left her unable to climb stairs. O’Connor is now as canonical as Faulkner and Welty. More than a great writer, she’s a cultural figure: a funny lady in a straw hat, puttering among peacocks, on crutches she likened to ‘flying buttresses’.” It goes on, “For half a century, the particulars [of her racist remarks] have been held close by executors, smoothed over by editors, and justified by exegetes, as if to save O’Connor from herself.”
O'Connor's ‘flying buttresses’ can be seen beside her typewriter.
Elie’s article has sparked some highly critical reactions, the latest published this past week by Charlotte Allen under the headline “Flannery O’Connor and the Ideological War in Literature”. Allen, a PhD in medieval studies from the Catholic University of America, said the Elie essay “bluntly [accused O’Connor] of racism” and that he “flatly announces” O’Connor as “a ‘bigot’”. Allen said the Elie article “has since gone viral”. Allen concluded, “ … there is nothing so literal in its after-effects as cancel culture, mowing down everything in its path in the name of anti-racism or whatever the ideology du jour might be. What cancel culture has just mown down isn’t simply Flannery O’Connor or her works, but our ability to view them through any other lens except that of doctrine.”
And just last week Elie re-entered the fray himself. As the Tacoma News Tribune said in mid-July, “The dialogue around O’Connor and her racism is neither new nor will it end with [the documentary] Flannery: The Storied Life of the Writer from Georgia. If anything, it may be further expanded upon, which is important.”
I’m not too sure about that. My own reaction to reading Elie’s essay is that it would be a shame if reading her today was prejudiced by thoughts informed by revelations from her private correspondence. What I think we should look for in the works of this period is as much a sense of the author’s time and place as anything else, if for no other reason than to appreciate that things have changed in our society. We read Dickens and are appalled by the conditions in which people, especially children, lived in England in the first half of the 19th Century. We assume, of course, that Dickens was sympathetic, but – his writing aside – incapable of changing the general way things were. Dickens was philanthropic, but, like O’Connor, by no means an angel. After all, he left his wife for an actress barely older than one of his own daughters. Today that would still be considered scandalous, but Dickens’s reputation had suffered no one jot, nor has our enjoyment in reading him. Take Ernest Hemingway, whose Nick Adams stories are in part suggestive about the lives of Native Americans. Do we think any the less (or more) of the poetry of Longfellow - in reality a boring, stay-at-home old fart - when we read of the adventures of Hiawatha?
On reflection, the Elie story reinforces the awareness that racism is not inherent, but a product of our upbringing and circumstances. My own were very different from O’Connor’s, so am I, for one, qualified to judge her? We each should come to terms with not only our upbringing and circumstances, but with what we do inherit in the way of attitudes and opinions, and adjust ourselves accordingly, all the while remaining true to ourselves. I grew up in New Zealand, never aware of any overt racism (though I’m sure it probably did exist). All through primary school, almost everything we learned about our country and ourselves connected in some way or other to the indigenous Māori people, most notably through Māori legends, the reality of the Treaty of Waitangi, our place names, the history of the colonised nation (being constantly aware it was colonised and not founded by Europeans) and in particular the area we lived in, and in the sport we were so passionate about. I feel this makes a significant difference in the way one now views the broader world.
Strange as it may seem, all this has reminded me of James Joyce’s impenetrable novel Finnegans Wake (1939). I guess that in a book that’s next to indecipherable the author can get away with almost anything. Joyce writes in riddles and, like Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, more or less invents his own language. The inspiration for part of this mish-mash was Joyce watching the New Zealand "All Blacks" rugby football team perform a haka (Māori war dance) before playing at Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris in 1925. Joyce wrote to his sister, Margaret Alice “Poppie” Joyce (then otherwise known as Sister Mary Gertrude) of the All Saints Convent of Mercy in my home town of Greymouth, New Zealand. Joyce asked Poppie for the Māori words of the haka so he could use them in Finnegans Wake. For “Kia whaka ngawari au ia hau”, Joyce, working from the correct words, wrote, “Ko Niutirenis haururu laleish”, “the sound of maormaoring”. Am I now to think of Joyce as a racist, along with everything else? Or should I take his mention as a sort of back-handed compliment to the Māori and to rugby?
Maybe a future Paul Elie will set me right. The present Elie, however, says of O’Connor that, unlike Joyce perhaps, “she was admirably leery of cultural appropriation.” As well, so Elie tell us, O’Connor had a sneaking admiration for Muhammad Ali, although that too is couched in racist terms. “Cassius [Clay] is too good for the Moslems,” she once wrote to a friend.
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