By Canadian Press
An action “shot” of The Canadian Press, Dominion-wide news agency which tells a nation what's going on in the world
HE PUSHED open a glass door, and his voice was drowned by the chatter of machines. I bent close and tried to understand what he was saying, but I couldn’t because the machines were so insistent. They reminded me of the war, and rifles hammering down the line a bit.
At first I got an impression of an office, not very big, and green eyeshades, and lights flashing on and off, and tape endless yards of tape pyramiding out of baskets, curling across the floor, crawling over desks. Then, as I watched, the scene faded and merged into a thousand scenes. The Empire State building straddled the Taj Mahal. Winnipeg and Toronto and Montreal and Shanghai and Buenos Aires and a thousand other cities were like the open pages of a Ixxik. The chatter of the machines changed to the murmur of a million voices.
Somebody nudged my arm, brought me back into a world of three dimensions. 1 was in the office of The Canadian Press, Canada’s news agency, and the happenings of the day were pouring in over the wires.
“We’ve just had a Hash on the Grand National thirty seconds after the finish. Pretty g;xxl, uh?”
“Pretty g;x>d,” 1 said.
The words were enough to dispel my illusion, and yet reality was just as marvellous as the dream. Here in this office machines were recording the news of the world—two minutes after the finish. Bank bandits were arrested in Winnipeg: we learned of it before the bandits had been lodged in the police station. There was an earthquake in Italy: the ambulances were still taking away the injured as we read the story of their sufferings. A politician spoke: before he sat down we knew the substance of his speech.
And st) it went on, words dogging events, words hammering themselves out on the machines as though they would overtake the news that gave them meaning.
In this generation miracles have become commonplace.
We accept a thousand things we do not understand without the flicker of an eyelash. and too often our interest is in inverse ratio to the magnitude of the miracle. That,
I think, is the case in regard to the collection and distribution of news.
We read our papers without a thought for that miracle of organization which brings to them all the happenings of the world the news agency.
To many people the term “news agency” will suggest the corner tobacconist. The agency I have in mind is less common and considerably more important. It is described in the Encyclopedia Britannica thus:
“While originally the newspaper depended entirely on its own reporters and correspondents for news, and still largely does so, the widening of the field of modem journalism is largely due to collective enterprise.
by which outside organizations known as ‘news agencies’ send a common service of news to all papers which arrange to take it.”
The Canadian Press is the national news agency of Canada, and although its name is printed at least ten million times a day, and although it has been the greatest single factor in unifying the Dominion, few people stop to enquire what it is. how it works, or how it came into being.
In order to prepare a background for my story let me first explain what The Canadian Press is and how it came into being. That done, we can jump to the more fascinating business of how it works.
It is a national co-operative news gathering and distributing organization of the daily newspapers of Canada. It is national because it covers the entire Dominion from Cape Breton to the Yukon, and it is co-operative because every member places at the disposal of the association the news from his territory. The organization operates under a Dominion charter, there is no share capital, and a member, once elected, has equal rights and privileges with all other members.
UNTIL 1907 news distribution in Canada was in the hands of two telegraph companies. This arrangement was unsatisfactory because, although the services given were cheap, they were sketchy and never above suspicion. In 1907 The Canadian Pacific Railway—one of the two companies concerned—asked for increased rates from the Winnipeg publishers. The demand was refused and the publishers formed a co-operative news agency for themselves styled The Western Associated Press.
In 1910 The Western Associated Press appealed to the Railway Commission against the exorbitant rates charged
its members for the transmission of news, and the upshot of that appeal was the abandonment by The Canadian Pacifi¿ Railway of its news service. The Canadian Pacific held the very valuable Associated Press franchise which gave them the right to distribute in Canada the news collected by Associated Press correspondents throughout the world. The Canadian Pacific, when abandoning its news service, handed over this franchise to the Canadian daily newspapers as a gesture of goodwill.
The franchise assured the newspapers of a world news service, but it also placed upon them the obligation of giving a return service of Canadian news. In order to provide this it was necessary to have a responsible bod} representing all the newspapers, so The Canadian Press. Limited, was formed.
At first the agency was a nebulous one. Actually there were four organizations collecting and distributing news in the Dominion; one in the Maritimes, one in the West, on; for Ontario and Quebec morning papers, one for eveninj papers in the same section. These four separate organiza' tions were linked together only by mutual ownership ol The Associated Press franchise and the linking was accomplished by equal partnership in The Canadian Press. Each organization contributed its quota of news to The Associated Press; each in return received the dispatches of that agency.
There stood in the way of co-ordinated effort between the four organizations the barrier of distance. Let rw explain. News is sent over wires leased from commercia telegraph companies, and the cost of these leased wires à based upon distance. Where a leased wire serves news papers in cities and towns fairly close together, the cost fa the several papers is not excessive, but where there are lonj unproductive gaps between cities, the cost to be borne b; the newspapers concerned is very high indeed. There are in Canada a number of long, unproductive gaps, and th, cost of bridging them seemed beyond the combined resource' of the publishers.
The war ended the difficulty. Sir Robert Borden sa» the driving need for a full inter change of news between East anc West, and his Government offeree an annual grant of $50,000 to makt such an interchange possible. Forthwith The Canadian Press became : national co-operative news-gather ing association. In 1924 the granwas withdrawn by the Govemmen: of the day, and The Canadian Preswas freed from even the suggestion of Governmental control.
So much for history. To visuali? how the organization works, thini for a moment of the human brai: with its complex system of nerve reaching out into all parts of tfcj body. If you are hurt, the news o that hurt travels immediately tithe brain. The brain relays tho message back to motor centres, am you take appropriate action to avoid further hurt.
The analogy is almost perfect. Instead of the human brain, think of an office connected by telegraph
Continued on page 30
By Canadian Press
Continued from page 24
and cable with all parts of the world. Somewhere something happens. Very quickly the news of that happening speeds over wires to the central office. At the central office the news is relayed over other wires to motor centres; or, if we must be accurate, to the cities and towns of Canada.
Perhaps that doesn’t sound very miraculous, but the genius of the system lies not in its mechanical perfection but in the human organization which gives it life. Just how complex and far flung that organization is, you may see for yourself by looking at the morning paper. There will be, likely as not, dispatches from Bombay, London, Tokio, Geneva. Shanghai, New York, and from a score of places in Canada. If you look at the date lines on those dispatches you will see that none of them are twenty-four hours old. Some, indeed, may be dated ahead of reading time, for the machines occasionally overtake the news when it comes from the Far East—a minor miracle which is explained in a first grade geography.
The head office, the brain, of The Canadian Press is in Toronto. Radiating from there are wires to all parts of the Dominion, and by virtue of leased wire connections with The Associated Press of New York, to all parts of the world. The system covering Canada is complete in itself and for the sake of simplicity I propose describing it first.
In every Canadian town which boasts a daily newspaper there is a Canadian Press correspondent. In five Canadian cities— Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax—there are Canadian Press bureaus. In Toronto iq, the brain which co-ordinates them all.
It is the duty of The Canadian Press correspondent to wire local news of sectional interest to the nearest bureau. The bureau editor then sends the news to all papers in his section. Often the news so received is of national interest, too, in which case it is forwarded over leased wires to Toronto, then retransmitted to all newspapers in the Dominion taking leased wire service.
The Canadian Press offers its members two kinds of service; leased wire and pony. Those taking the former receive over a leased wire all the news distributed by the association. Those taking the latter receive a daily synopsis of the full report.
But enough of explanations. Let me show you The Canadian Press at work. First of all, the machine.
How the System Works
T LOOKED at one closely in the Toronto * office. It was a Creed printer and resembled a typewriter connected up with the working parts of a Victrola, a radio, and bits of a washing machine. Winding through it was a tape, curiously perforated, and as the tape moved, so the typewriter part of the apparatus hammered out a dispatch on a thin sheet of paper. I watched the following message take form at the rate of sixty words a minute:
A FIRE IN PENTAGON FALLS
THIS MORNING CLAIMED TWO
LIVES AND DESTROYED A BUSINESS BLOCK IN THE CENTRE
OF THE TOWN . .
A few minutes previously in Pentagon Falls—the name will serve - the city editor of the newspaper there had answered a telephone call somewhat as follows:
“Yeah, this is the Gazette. City editor speaking. A two-alarm fue, eh? Comer of Dundonald and Front? Okay; thanks for the tip."
The city editor had slammed up the receiver and looked round the office.
“Hi, Bill!” he had shouted—Bill being The Canadian Press correspondent— “there’s a two-alarm fire comer of Dundonald and Front. Looks like it’ll make a fair story. You better cover it in case the C. P. want anything.”
Bill had hurried to the scene of the fire, elbowed his way through the crowd and been recognized by the fire chief.
"Too busy to talk to you now, Bill,” the chief had said. “See me after an’ I'll give you the dope.”
“Okay, but tell me if there’s anybody inside.”
The chief had nodded gloomily. “Two fellows working late, top floor, Chevron Dress Company. Don’t know their names. Alarm was turned in too late for us to help them.”
Bill had made a careful survey of the burning block, then had returned to the office. Before writing anything he had called up the manager of the Chevron Dress Company and learned the names of the two men who had been working late. Then he had punched out his story on the typewriter and given a carbon copy to the office boy for transmission to The Canadian Press.
Pentagon Falls is near Montreal, so Bill’s copy was received by the Montreal bureau. The editor had looked it over, straightened up a wobbly sentence, deleted a couple of luridly descriptive paragraphs at the end and marked it for transmission to Toronto. And there it was, coming in sixty to the minute:
THE ALARM WAS TURNED IN
AT MIDNIGHT. BY THAT TIME
THE BUILDING WAS ALREADY
ABLAZE AND . . .
My cicerone broke in upon my thoughts again.
"This printer is plugged in to the OttawaMontreal circuit,” he said. “The operator in Montreal is typing out the dispatch on an ordinary typewriter keyboard, but instead of letters being written, holes are punched in a moving tape. See here.”
He lifted a piece of tape from the floor, and I saw that every eighth of an inch there were holes punched sideways across it. The position and number of these holes varied. Sometimes there were two at the top and one at the bottom, sometimes there was just one in the middle, sometimes there were five spaced equally across. There were never more than five.
“Each separate grouping represents a different character,” he explained. “As the unperforated tape passes through the transmitter it holds down five little pins. The perforations permit certain groups of pins to come up through, and these make an electrical connection varying in length according to their arrangement. The electrical current, thus regulated, passes over the wire and governs the repunching of a tape at the far end. When the tape has been punched at the receiving end, it passes through the printer and each different group of holes causes a different character to strike on the flimsy.”
The Creed printer, invented by a Canadian, has done much to speed up news
distribution. Until a few years ago The Canadian Press employed Morse operators, and dispatches were received and sent by the dot-dash method.
I watched an operator sending out a dispatch on the Windsor circuit. Suddenly as he typed a bulb in front of him flashed red. He dropped his fingers from the keyboard, plugged in a switch and in a moment the printer clattered into operation.
“How come?” I asked.
“One of the operators on the circuit had an important message to send. The red light was a signal that he wanted to cut in. The local operators have scheduled times for sending, but if anything important breaks they can signal us to stop transmitting. That is what happened.”
So much for the mechanical system. I have described it in broad outline, but underlying it all there is a delicate meshing of parts, a perfect co-ordination too intricate to be expressed in words. And behind it is the human organization.
We have already seen how the local correspondent works. He is reinforced by field men placed strategically across the country with the district bureaus. If a correspondent wires big news, field men hot foot it to the scene to give The Canadian Press the exclusive coverage. They watch the bread-and-butter stuff, too— conventions, commissions, trials, anything that breaks on schedule.
At each bureau there are editors. In Toronto are still more editors.
An Exacting Job
IF I were asked to name the most adventurous occupation in the world today I would vote for an editorial job in a news agency. To be sure, the editor spends most of his day in a chair, but that doesn’t stop him adventuring. Let me explain a little more fully.
The special correspondent covering a war from the comfortable security of the Palace Hotel in Shanghai is merely covering a war, but the editor handling his copy must, in the course of a day, determine the relative merits of a war, a couple of high-class kidnappings, a hold-up, and conceivably a well authenticated miracle. When he has handled these stories and possibly fifty others; when he has beaten the enemy of all editors, which is a clock; when he has cut and slashed and battled with the flimsy, he is qualified to call himself an adventurer— even though his weapons were only a blue pencil and a pair of scissors.
An agency editor’s chief function is to assess the value of news—that is, he must gauge the public taste and ladle out his commodity in correctly proportioned doses. Not so easy, since few men will agree what news is. Even with unlimited time the evaluation of news would be difficult, but an editor never has unlimited time. He
works all day long at top speed, making snap decisions, making corrections, making occasional mistakes. He is an adventurer, and he it is who is immediately responsible for your vicarious adven turings at the breakfast table which begin with: “Canadian Press Dispatch ...”
The Canadian Press, because of the reciprocal arrangement I have already spoken of, draws a great deal of its world news from The Associated Press of New York. In order to handle this news an editorial staff is maintained in The Associated Press office, and all cables are made available to it. The Canadian editors select such dispatches as they think will be of interest to Canadians, and these are routed to Toronto over leased wires.
The Associated Press news is prepared solely for the American public and, although The Canadian Press staff handling dispatches can eliminate too obvious Americanisms, they cannot inject a British viewpoint. In order to maintain a fair balance The Canadian Press has a reciprocal arrangement with Reuter’s and maintains an editorial staff in Reuter’s London office. Reuter’s is essentially the news agency of the British Empire, so that the service of world and Empire news received from this source is British in flavor and viewpoint.
In addition to these world connections, The Canadian Press maintains its own correspondents in London, Washington and Tokio. Soon it will have its own representative in Paris, and gradually the independent network of nerve ends will cover the globe.
An Aid to Nationalism
THIS YEAR The Canadian Press celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, for the Western Associated Press was founded in Winnipeg, August 1, 1907. It is not difficult to visualize its growth as an organization, for the measure of that growth is written in the daily newspapers of the Dominion. But C. P. has done much more than perfect a system of news collection and distribution. It has contributed greatly to our understanding of one another.
It is easy to talk in high-sounding platitudes about unity, about a common purpose. These things, however, are not won by platitudes but by an understanding of each other’s problems.
There was drought in the West. All Canada read the story and all Canada helped. The C. P. did that. There was suffering in the coal mining area of Nova Scotia. C. P. told the story, and public opinion righted the wrongs of the sufferers. A fishing schooner was lost on the Grand Banks with all hands: the sympathy of the prairies went out to the grief-stricken in Lunenburg, forging a bond of friendship, thin as gossamer but strong as steel.
As a nation we owe much to the founders of The Canadian Press, and to the founders of the organization from which it grew, The Western Associated Press, as well as The Eastern Press Association, founded in Halifax in 1909.
The first president of The Western Associated Press was M. E. Nichols, who today is president of The Canadian Press. Others intimately identified with the founding of the association were E. H. Macklin, John W. Dafoe, the late R. L. Richardson, G. Fred Pearson, C. F. Crandall, E. Norman Smith, C. O. Knowles and the late E. F. Slack.
One word more. The Canadian Press is controlled by the newspapers of Canada and governed by a board of directors elected annually. But behind it all is an extraordinarily keen and competent man. J. F. B. Livesay, secretary and general manager, was the first manager of The Western Associated Press. Although he would disclaim it himself, he. more than any other, has been responsible for the success and growth of the present organization.