Thursday, January 04, 2018


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 15 Part 1

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 15

  The Propaganda Plant (part 1)

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“I would rather own his God-driven pen than Rockefeller’s and Morgan’s combined fortunes.”—Thomas W. Lawson.

Printed in green, inside an artistic gold-embossed border, on a heavy buff card of fine quality, and enclosed in an envelope of impressive elegance, this striking sentence reached 1,500 editors or publishers on Monday, January 3, 1916. There was no intimation of the sender’s identity. Noted financier, author of Frenzied Finance and munificent advertiser of his crusade against Wall Street chicaneries, Thomas W. Lawson pulled a powerful stroke in the journalistic waters of the period. His extraordinary tribute to an unnamed genius excited a lively curiosity. The mystery was deepened the next day by another message, conveyed with the same sumptuous stationery, but on an authority quite different from Lawson. It read:

“As a figure, a personality, a force, he has no living rival.”— Cosmo Hamilton in London Academy.

Though the quotations from Lawson and Hamilton seemed to have touched the limits of eulogy, they were surpassed by the prophecy in this note received on the third day:

“He will be the pathfinder for an army of conquerors.”Australasian Nation.

At that point, the barrage of cryptic messages turned passive mystification to impatience in a number of newspaper offices. Action was sought. Postal authorities were consulted. In one case, official steps were suggested on the theory of possible fraud because “there ain’t no such animal.” A fourth communication, citing a statement by a famous partner of J. Pierpont Morgan, had the virtue of identifying its subject as a mundane creature of flesh and blood. It follows:

“If there is a man in this whole world who knows the value of efficiency and twentieth-century methods, as applied to business, it is this man.”—George W. Perkins.

Two more installments concluded the panegyric series, the sixth and final one reading:

“He is a torpedo, shot from the torpedo tube of the twentieth century, aimed at the obstacles that stand in the way of the twenty- first century.”—Houston Chronicle.

Accompanying this last card was a tasseled brochure. It solved the riddle of the audacious “teaser” campaign. It was the salutation with which King Features Syndicate presented itself to the newspaper world. It outlined what has been described as “the most spectacular program of promotion in the history of syndication.” A double-truck advertisement had been ordered in a popular magazine with a circulation of over 2,500,000 to attract a prospective clientele of less than 250. The deluxe pamphlet, timed for delivery on January 8th, contained a reproduction of that advertisement, scheduled to appear the same day in the Saturday Evening Post. It contained this introductory note, addressed to the 1,500 editors or publishers for whom the circular was prepared:

Ten million people will read the presentation on the two succeeding pages. Among them will be many readers of your paper. The advertisement herewith shown in facsimile costs for one issue ten thousand dollars. It represents the largest expenditure ever made in America for a single announcement of a newspaper feature. In the same degree, it expresses our faith in the value and importance of that feature. We believe that this advertisement without a parallel describes a feature without a parallel.

King Features Syndicate, Inc.

 Herbert Kaufman's Weekly Page, the premiere of which would mark the debut of King Features Syndicate.

Kaufman first claimed serious attention with inspirational essays published in the Worker’s Magazine of the Chicago Tribune in 1908. He was then the head of an advertising agency. He had been out of literary harness for more than a year when he accepted my proposal for a revival of his writing fortunes. “He is the only writer,” read a passage in one of my prospectuses extolling him, “whose fame in literature is fully matched by his fame in business advertising. The same pen that wrote The Dreamers, Why Are You Weeping, Sister and The Dirge of Doubt, evolved the worldwide selling campaigns embraced in the advertising of the National Cash Register, the International Harvester Company and similar organizations.”

Herbert Kaufman’s Weekly Page, sparingly illustrated, included a leading article, a humorous skit in colloquial rhyme, entitled The Low-Brow on Olympus, a Kaufman editorial, a treatise on the art of advertisement, several V (Vim, Vigor and Victory) Verses and some short commentaries. A proof of the first release was submitted in advance to W. R. Hearst with a table of rates for his Sunday newspapers. The offer was definitely declined. A week later, the broadside in the Saturday Evening Post apparently injected a good deal of excitement into the Hearst retinue.

About to board a train in the Union Station at Washington, I was halted by the shouting of my name over the loud-speaker ordinarily used for the announcement of trains. It was a long distance telephone call. The novelty of the experience startled me. A squad of red-caps escorted me to a booth in the concourse. W. R. Hearst was at the other end of the wire. He hoped he wasn’t too late to secure the Kaufman page for his whole chain.

“But you turned it down,” I remonstrated. “It’s already tied up in several places.”

“I seem to have made a mistake,” Hearst answered apologetically. “My people appear to think well of the feature. Please let me have it for as many of my papers as you can.”

Such a humility on Hearst’s part in editorial matters was incomprehensible to me at the time. Its explanation came in an amusing incident some years later. Hearst’s rejection of the Kaufman offering had been prompted largely by a solicitude on Arthur Brisbane’s account. Brisbane was regularly contributing to the Sunday edition an essay, which, in large type, with a powerful supporting cartoon, occupied an entire page. It was unsigned. The mere thought of allotting equal space in the same issue to a rival commentator might ruffle the pride of Hearst’s chief-of-staff. And if that might prove irksome, what would happen if the outsider’s name were spread across the top of the sheet while Brisbane’s chef-d'oeuvre remained anonymous? Surely this must not come about at Hearst’s instance.

The situation was altogether different when employees petitioned the proprietor to buy an article for use in newspapers for which they were respectively responsible. It would be ill-advised to deny such a request when concurred in by several managing editors. And it would be impolitic in these circumstances for a ranking executive to question his employer’s acquiescence. So, though Brisbane made no concealment of his dissatisfaction, it could hardly be vented in any reproach to Hearst. The niceties and nuances of this state of affairs became clearer to me when, some time after Herbert Kaufman s Weekly Page had run its course, Hearst summoned me to a private meeting.

“Brisbane’s contract is about to expire,” Hearst said tersely. “He’s acting up. He may become unreasonable. Whom can we get—somebody that Artie will consider a possible successor?” Hearst’s purpose was obvious. He had no intention of breaking with Brisbane. But he wanted “Artie” to feel that a substitute was on hand to replace him. Herbert Kaufman was chosen for that role. He wrote a daily review of national and international events which, by Hearst’s orders, was printed in a conspicuous position on the editorial page over which Brisbane presided. How much leverage this exerted in Hearst’s negotiation of a fresh agreement with Brisbane will never be known.

Kaufman’s daily mélange went into eclipse on the same axis on which his weekly feature had swung out of syndication in 1919. This apostle of efficiency declined to practice his preachments. At least, he fell short of the exhortation to “Do it now.” His compact with King Features Syndicate stipulated the completion of manuscript six weeks ahead of the publication date. That provision was never fulfilled. Kaufman’s first batch of material was three weeks behind schedule. His copy continued to lag until the matrices of his page lost all relationship to regular shipments.

The culmination came when he dictated his text over the telephone from San Francisco to New York three full days after the stereotyping deadline. Alexander Black, the author, then Sunday editor of Newspaper Feature Service, was called on to meet the crisis. In his young manhood, Black had been noted for speed as a court stenographer. He, himself, took Kaufman’s dictation over the wire. At the finish, Black asked whether Kaufman realized the difficulties he had imposed on the syndicate’s labor personnel. “Mechanics have no place in the economy of my life,” was the characteristic reply.

I have been unable to find a complete Kaufman page
The “circus stunt” with which King Features Syndicate crashed the main entrance of newspaperdom, furnished a new index of syndication statistics. Fewer than three hundred cities in the United States boasted Sunday editions of the rank for which a minimum rate was fixed for Herbert Kaufman’s Weekly Page. The 1,500 names on the “teaser” mailing list, two to each publication, thus represented more than five times the number of prospective clients. Territorial conflicts reduced still lower the aggregate of potential purchasers. Nevertheless, on its initial release date, the feature appeared in 120 papers. The roll grew to 165. Kaufman’s 60 percent of the gross revenues approximated $40,000 annually. That was a sizable amount at the time. A decade later, it would have been nothing to brag about.

The stamina that was taxed by commerce with genius of the Herbert Kaufman stripe was replenished through association with talents of the J. D. Gortatowsky type. Gortatowsky left the managing editorship of the Atlanta Constitution in 1916 to join Newspaper Feature Service. He accepted my offer of a position with little idea of what his duties would be and with far less of a notion that they would eventually lead him to the top of the Hearst organization. During twelve years he proved a pillar of strength and a reservoir of comfort as my assistant. After another twelve years, in belated appreciation of his rare capabilities, he was appointed general manager of the Hearst newspapers. That appointment was especially gratifying as confirmation of the judgment that prompted me early in our relationship to transfer him from special writing to a managerial post.

Few stories of success match in quaintness the circumstances of Gortatowsky’s entrance into the syndicate field. He “kicked” himself into the place he coveted. A letter of complaint won for him an invitation to write communications “from the other side of the desk.” “Gorty” had long hankered for a reserved seat in Manhattan. It is possible that this hankering directed the poising and phrasing of his prize epistle.

The occasion was what Gortatowsky considered an objectionable colored comic starring Dimples, the chubby five-year-old also known as “The Campbell’s Soup Kid.” It was an installment of the series created by Grace G. (Wiederseim) Drayton, whom Newspaper Feature Service held forth as one of its mainstays. The page that drew “Gorty’s” disapproval consisted of nine panels. In the eighth Dimples was shown romping with a girl pickaninny of like age. In the ninth, the two little playmates appeared in what was clearly the white folks’ nursery. They were preparing for a joint surrender to the sandman. And, horror of horrors! They were climbing into the same bed. Georgia has been called on to withstand many outrages, but, thank Heavens, it was spared the ordeal of looking upon this picture in bold print. The Atlanta Constitution went to its readers that Sunday devoid of its “funnies.” Every copy of the supplement was destroyed at Gortatowsky’s order.

Dimples in an uncontroversial Sunday page
A possible disaster was averted, but the Atlanta Constitution had suffered actual loss and damage. All the harrowing details awaited me in a formidable dossier on my return from a six weeks business trip. It included an exchange of correspondence between Gortatowsky and C. V. Tevis, office manager of Newspaper Feature Service. There was more amusement than chagrin for me in its reading. “Gorty” did not criticize Newspaper Feature Service. Instead, he commiserated with its management. He knew it must be distressing for us to realize the injury that had been done. He blamed himself rather than the syndicate. He was at fault for the absence of adequate precautions against such an adversity. Of course, that would be corrected, but he would welcome any offers of cooperation.

The letter Gortatowsky addressed to me was practically unanswerable. It described a grievance without stating it. It left no ground on which to question or debate the responsibilities. It put the syndicate on the defensive in the same terms in which it withdrew the cause for defense. The man who could frame that sort of message belonged on my staff. That was the highly desirable consummation for which Newspaper Feature Service became indebted to the broadmindedness of Dimples’ social attitude.

Chapter 15 Part 2 Next Week   
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