History of Oregon Newspapers/Later Days of the Oregonian

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LATER DAYS OF THE OREGONIAN


Edgar B. Piper, successor to Harvey Scott in charge of the editorial end of the Oregonian, was more of an all-around newspaper man than Scott had been, because of their different training. The circumstances surrounding Scott's advent on the Oregonian may be recalled. The paper already had a city news editor, D. C. Ireland. The paper was small, and the foreman "made it up" with a minimum of supervision. Scott never felt the same interest in news as did Piper; it took big news, of real significance, to attract his attention.

The news end developed under several managing editors—Holman more or less, and Carle, and Bross through the years. When Piper succeeded to the position of managing editor, following Bross, had some experience as executive news editor, and his interest was, perhaps, more largely in news than in editorial. But he had to a considerable extent, grown up editorially under Scott's eye and influence, as had Holman notably before him. On the death of Scott the position of editor was not formally and officially filled for several years. Mr. Piper continued as managing editor, but he was acting editor, ultimately taking over the title of editor-in-chief. And that title meant something—he was the head of the paper's news and editorial end.

Edgar Piper by 1910, when he took up the torch from the hand of Scott, had gone a long way from the Oregon-born lad who at 13 was printer's devil for the State Rights Democrat in Albany, the youth who played a horn in the Salem band while attending Willamette University and reporting on the side on the Statesman. His was a lifelong educative process, a constant widening of interests and power. He had been printer, reporter, college student, city editor of the Oregonian, city editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at 24, editor of the Seattle Press-Times, forerunner of the present Seattle Times, at 29, then an Associated Press editor, then co-publisher of the Post-Intelligencer with his brother George U. Piper at 32. So it was a well-rounded, well-educated, thoroughly trained man who occupied Harvey Scott's old seat in the Oregonian tower in August 1910.

Mr. Piper took his journalism seriously. His serious-mindedness must have appealed to Mr. Scott, whose "solidity" has been noted. He never believed in the old, extreme personal journalism of the so-called vituperative "Oregon style," although he could dish it out on occasion. He saw the rise of jazz journalism but never yielded to it, any farther than to urge a bit of liveliness in writing without trying to get all his effects with black type and pictures. He held the paper to its old conservatism of appearance—although anything like anything like a close reading would have shown it was not highly conservative in its written style. On the same day in which Editor & Publisher, newspaper magazine, devoted a whole page to his life and death (April, 1928) it carried a quotation from the head of a great newsgathering agency predicting the early end of the jazz era. Yellowness in journalism has not triumphed; the tempo has speeded up, pictorial journalism has come in, with the aid of processes undreamed of through the greater part of Mr. Piper's career. This, however, can be classed as bright, vivid, direct journalism, not necessarily "yellow."

In his years as editor of the Oregonian Mr. Piper became, like Mr. Scott, a real institution. With all his strength and studiousness he never lost the human touch. He liked to mix with his fellows. He was a familiar figure at meetings of editors and publishers. He liked them, and they liked him. He could disagree heartily without making the incident too personal (54).

During his administration the paper kept well up to the Scott tradition, and grew with the state and the city, both of which he knew thoroughly, in detail, and in their regional and national setting. As few men, he was informed on the politics, the commerce, the industry, the life of the people of the Pacific Coast and, particularly, the Pacific Northwest. Journalism was his life.

Edgar B. Piper's successor as managing editor and acting editorial head of the paper had had a broad printing, reporting and editing background, closely resembling that of his deceased chief, under whom he had been associate editor. R. G. Callvert's printing experience on the old Whatcom Reveille, published in what is now Bellingham, Wash., paralleled similar experience obtained by Mr. Piper on the State Rights Democrat in Albany. Mr. Callvert later became managing editor of that paper. Characteristically, he left his front-office job to go back to printing when (in 1901) the paper installed a linotype, so he could learn to operate the machine.

When Judge S. A. Callvert became land commissioner of the state of Washington, the family removed to Olympia and son Ronald for a time worked in the land office. Soon, however, he was doing newspaper correspondence in the state capital. This led to his employment as Olympia correspondent for the Oregonian, in 1903.

Two years of reporting and desk work in Los Angeles, and Mr. Callvert was back to his capital correspondence in Olympia. He joined the reporting staff of the Oregonian in 1909, one year before the death of Editor Harvey W. Scott. On Mr. Scott's death E. B. Piper appointed his capable local reporter with such a good political background as assistant managing editor. In the absence of the managing editor Mr. Callvert was always left in charge of the paper, and on Mr. Piper's death he was made acting managing editor. On the accession of Paul R. Kelty to the editorship in 1931, he was made associate editor. In 1939 he achieved a well-deserved national recognition by winning the Pulitzer prize for the best editorial writing on an American newspaper in 1938, with particular reference to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," an editorial contrasting American individual liberty with the tyrannical regimentation prevailing over much of the world.

Paul Kelty, editor, 1931 to 1939, got his first newspaper job from his uncle, Harvey W. Scott, who put him on the Evening Telegram, then owned by the Oregonian, in 1896. His first job was editing telegraph, and in a year and a half, after some reporting experience, he became city editor. He was managing editor in 1904. He had never held a regular job as a reporter, but (or perhaps therefore) he used to leave the city desk and, later, the managing editor's desk every once in awhile and handle a big local story, just to show the boys (and himself) that he could. One of his big reporting assignments was the Harry Tracy chase, when that notorious outlaw broke out of the Oregon penitentiary in the early summer of 1902 and left a path of terror and bloodshed over the Northwest before he was slain in a wheatheld in eastern Washington.

Mr. Kelty left the Telegram in 1905 and became city editor of the Los Angeles Examiner. During three years on that paper he was city editor, news editor, managing editor, and on the frequent occasions when he felt like it, reporter. He returned to the Oregonian as night editor in 1908, handling that work with outstanding success.

One of his best known achievements was his playing a successful hunch on the eve of the United States' break with Germany April 6, 1917 (55). Convinced from a close reading of the news from Washington that the break would come early the next morning, the night editor had Ned Blythe, then his assistant, work up an entire front page of new stuff for an extra, leaving the first column open. He wrote a banner line in advance (in days when it took an epochal story to command a banner in that paper): "Diplomatic Relations with Germany Broken." The first bulletins from Washington on the opening of the wire the next day confirmed the hunch of Kelty, who was already on the job, and the extra was on the street in a few minutes. He had beaten the whole coast.

Instructions from PK to staff members were almost always type written. Those little notes, slipped into the reporter's or desk man's typewriter, are still recalled by many as models of definite conciseness. They always said what the situation required, and no more.

In the summer of 1924 Mr. Kelty and his son Eugene S. Kelty, graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism, purchased the Eugene Evening Guard from J. E. Shelton and the estate of Charles H. Fisher, following a long-time yen for a career in the small-town daily field. After several years in the Eugene daily field and a year or so of rest Mr. Kelty was called in 1931 to the editorship of the Oregonian. He resigned the editorship in February 1939, and the position has not been filled. His three associates-Messrs. Callvert, Lampman, and Parrish-continue their functions as associate editors.

It would take many pages to do justice to the hundreds of capable, in many cases extremely talented, men and women who have made the Oregonian and the other Portland newspapers the great institutions they are; who have given Portland a set of newspapers recognized as distinctly outstanding in cities of their class

It has been possible to mention the earlier ones in higher percentage, but not because they were, in very many cases, superior in their journalistic ideals and attainments. The effort has been to show, not too pointedly, the relative weakness of the earlier papers, particularly on the news and advertising ends. While, of course, such a thing as a Sunday magazine is a recent development

Around 20 years ago, for instance, Oregonian editorial writers were, besides Mr. Piper and Mr. Callvert, L. K. Hodges, W. J. Cuddy, Albert Hawkins, and Ben Lampman. Ten years before that the editorial writers had been, besides Mr. Scott, Charles H. Chapman, W. J. Cuddy, E. W. Wright, and Leslie M. Scott. Mr. Hodges is a man Mr. Scott would have particularly prized; his editorials dealt with the development of the port and of the Oregon country which is building a greater Portland. He is the author of "Twenty Eventful Years," a record of the development of Portland and Oregon through editorials he wrote for the Oregonian from the begin ning of the Wilson administration until his retirement. W. J. Cuddy was "Uncle Bill," a Puckish wag of a paragrapher. Albert Hawkins, who had married Ada Coburn, daughter of Mrs. Catharine Amanda Scott Coburn and niece of Harvey Scott, was another all-around newspaper man, like Piper, Callvert, and Kelty. He had been an exceptional copy-editor until his transfer to the editorial page. He brought to the page a knowledge of history and an intelligent interest in things scientific which brought him alike the respect of historians, in whose work he frequently collaborated, and of scientists. Dr. Edmund S. Conklin, former head of the psychology department at the University of Oregon, regarded him as the best and most intelligent popularizer of psychological matters of any newspaper writer he had come across. Albert liked to reason things out and delighted to argue —with anybody. Ben Lampman had been the city editor's pride as a reporter, and Horace Thomas, then on the desk, was far from delighted to lose him, though glad for his advancement, when the editorial page took him over after about two years on the news end. Ben has a wide range of subjects; but it is usually easy to pick out his matter from its decidedly human touch, its whimsical note, its leisurely tempo, its feeling for the living things in the outdoors, which combines friendly appreciation with scientific knowledge of any kind of animal you want to name, including cats. Not enough space to do justice to Ben, who, besides all this, is a real poet. Phil Parrish, most recent acquisition to the editorial writers, is supplying the historical understanding lost at Albert Hawkins' death. Phil, with broad newspaper training, just has the habit of writing history, all the way from editorials to books. He is a recognized authority on the history of the Northwest. Mr. Parrish, Mr. Callvert, and Mr. Lampman are all designated associate editors.

On the death of Henry L. Pittock in 1919 C. A. Morden became manager of the paper, with Edgar B. Piper continuing in editorial charge. Ten years later Mr. Morden was succeeded by O. L. Price, formerly Mr. Pittock's secretary and business adviser. Mr. Price continued in active charge of the business end of the newspaper until the end of the 20-year period provided in the Pittock will, when reorganization was to be effected. Mr. Price was succeeded as manager by Palmer Hoyt, who under the reorganization was made publisher, with Mrs. Kate P. Hebard, daughter of Mr. Pittock, as president of the company. The paper is still jointly owned by the Henry L. Pittock and Harvey W. Scott estates.

Accession of Palmer Hoyt to the position of publisher draws attention to probably the most phenomenal rise of a young man in the history of Oregon journalism. Palmer Hoyt, a native of Illinois, interrupted his college course at McMinnville (now Linfield) to go to war, becoming a deep-voiced sergeant major overseas. Returning to America he entered the University of Oregon, taking a degree in the School of Journalism there in 1923. In college his flair had been for sports and for writing short-stories, of which he has published more than 50. Perhaps the most effective way to show how Palmer Hoyt has advanced will be just to give the chronological story as it is shown in the Who's Who in Oregon: 1923, graduated from University of Oregon; 1923-26, telegraph editor East Oregonian, Pendleton; 1926-29, copy editor and reporter Oregonian; 1929-31, drama editor Oregonian; 1931-33, executive news editor Oregonian; 1933-38, managing editor Oregonian; 1938-39, manager Oregonian; 1939-, publisher (in charge of the whole organization). In 1939 he received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Linfield College.

It is no secret that just before Palmer Hoyt was made executive news editor he had been doing so well with his short-story work that he contemplated resigning from the Oregonian copy-desk position to give fiction his undivided attention. The prospect of heading the news organization held him on the paper.

Right behind Mr. Hoyt has come another young man with a similar urge for short-story writing. Arden X. Pangborn, leaving the University of Oregon, where he had been editor of the Emerald, in 1929, after a short spell of reporting, became city editor, succeeding the veteran John L. Travis. As Hoyt became managing editor he moved up to be executive news editor, taking his present position of managing editor when his immediate superior went on to be manager. "Pang" still bangs out mysteries and detective stories in odd moments.

The Oregonian's great break with its old tradition came under the direction of Guy T. Viskniskki, an old Hearst executive, who was called in to the paper as efficiency expert in 1934. Several changes in personnel, in the mechanical appearance, and in news arrangement and display followed. Which were good and which otherwise is a matter of individual judgment. The net result of various changes was an added popularization of the paper with a somewhat reduced devotion on the part of some old-timers, lovers of the old conservative ways.


Many Outstanding Men

On the Journal Mr. Irvine's human touch through the years has been the outstanding characteristic of his writing on a wide range of subjects. Marshall N. Dana, now in charge of the page, is seeking to widen its scope and is getting strong support from Dean Collins, who can write anything, and other members of the staff.

On the Telegram the editorial writing of David F. Morrison and N. J. Levinson has been mentioned. This was a strong team, with a wide range through the 1920's.

For the News Fred Boalt established a high standard of editorial writing of a style which brought the subject right to the reader in its simplest terms. This has been an inspiration to later editorial writers on the paper.

There have been so many good reporters in Portland, from the days of "Jerry" Coldwell, Al Slauson, "Fatty" Blake, Frank Cusick, Henry E. Reed, Martin Egan, down through John Kelly, Arthur Caylor, Bill Mahoney, Dan Markel, Katherine Watson Anderson, Hal Moore, Dave Hazen, Fred White, Fred Lockley, and a lot of others whom it is an injustice to omit, to the present crop of youngsters, that here is a field for a whole book by some capable and understanding writer who can get the boys and girls to talk. Jay Allen, foreign correspondent, was a good reporter. When we mention the Oregon Journal's Sterling Green, recently on Crookham's staff but now with the Associated Press, that brings to mind a group of others. But we'll have to leave them until whoever does it writes a book on the reporters. The guess here is, that even if it were done on a national scale, you couldn't keep some of the Portland boys out. Ask Publisher Palmer Hoyt, Managing Editor Arden X. Pangborn, or City Editor Robert Notson, of the Oregonian, about some of their star performers. Just mention the subject to City Editor Crookham of the Journal, or Managing Editor Donald Sterling or News Editor Jennings Sutor, or the News-Telegram's Tom E. Shea, and a lot of names will be supplied.

City editors of the last two or three decades have included Hugh Hume of the Journal and Telegram, Richard D. Cannon, of both those papers, Edgar B. Piper, and Clarke Leiter, and Horace E. Thomas, and Walter May, and Jack Travis of the Oregonian, E. W. Jorgenson of the News, and there are others who no doubt were well up to these standards. These include what Stanley Walker would call "hard, soft, and medium," but most of them have been medium.

Hugh Hume was one of the firmer ones. He had a way of deflating cubs that in some cases was good for their souls, in other cases not. The cub, so the story goes from one who had it done to him, would turn in his ambitious effort. The city editor would glance through it, tear it in two, then tear it across once more with elaborate care, drop it into the waste-basket, and go on about his work. Maybe he wouldn't comment on the story for hours; when he had more time he'd explain what was the matter with the yarn. (56).