Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The wisdom of Stanley Walker

As the Lady Friend worked on cleaning out the attic today, she found in the boxes of my accumulated crap a brittle, yellowed sheet of copy paper punctured at the top by a dozen tack holes. On it was neatly typed:

What makes a good newspaperman? The answer is easy. He knows everything. He is aware not only of what goes on in the world today, but his brain is a repository of the accumulated wisdom of the ages.

He is not only handsome, but he has the physical strength which enables him to perform great feats of energy. He can go for nights on end without sleep. He dresses well and talks with charm. Men admire him; women adore him; tycoons and statesmen are willing to share their secrets with him.

He hates lies and meanness and sham but keeps his temper. He is loyal to his paper and to what he looks upon as his profession; whether it is a profession or merely a craft, he resents attempts to debase it.

When he dies, a lot of people are sorry, and some of them remember him for several days.

-- Stanley Walker, "The City Editor"
Walker (1898-1962) was the celebrated city editor of that old writer's newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, from the 1920s to the 1940s, and was a culture hero to two generations of journalists, including mine. In that passage he captures what newspapering once was, in all its humor and pride and ego -- and nails its reality.

Today Walker, too, is forgotten. There isn't even a Wikipedia entry on him. Only one of his famous books remains alive, The Night Club Era (1933), in a ten-year-old Johns Hopkins University Press reprint.

There is, however, a roadside historical memorial outside Lampasas, Texas, his birthplace.

Sic transit gloria scriptor.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Henry. You might enjoy Richard Kruger's "The Paper," about the Herald Tribune. Walker's career at the paper is included.

    Some find the book (767 pages, including in-depth & interesting "here's more" footnotes) overwritten & quit. Kruger certainly could have been edited for length much more effectively.

    But if you're game, you might like it. A hardcover used edition for pennies, due to the above faults, might be available. See if the library has a copy before ordering; sample before buying.

    Be well,

    Don Reed (N.J.)