All the News That’s Fit to Print

I work in a public media newsroom that doesn’t have unlimited resources. We need to be somewhat selective in what we cover, and we often discuss whether this or that story rises to the level of assigning a reporter to cover it or giving it some air time.

That guy arrested in an arson case that was worrying a couple San Francisco neighborhoods? Yeah, we’ll do that one, as well as the six-alarm wild land fire in Pacifica — emblematic of the continuing drought, maybe — and Klay Thompson’s historic 37-point quarter the other night for the Golden State Warriors. The latest report of homicides in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. No, we’re probably not going to report on that unless we have something to add to the mere report of the crime.

One only has to peruse news organs of the past, though, to enter a world in which editors were not and perhaps didn’t need to be so choosy. Their ad departments gave them X number of pages to fill with tidings of world and community affairs, and they’d be damned if they didn’t fill them some way.

Here’s an example uncovered while browsing the Dec. 31, 1890, number of the San Francisco Morning Call for a work project:

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I’m just wondering how the affray at the ferry landing came to the attention of the Morning Call’s editors. Was it an anecdote overheard at a bar? Did an ambitious copyboy bring this item in after witnessing the near-altercation? Was it a tale told at the police precinct house and passed on as a tidbit to a reporter? Or is it entirely fabricated?

I don’t believe we’ll ever know, but it reminds me of the sort of episodes millions of us send out in 140-character messages every day.

For the record, the ferry landing item is followed by this nugget, three sentences dripping with irony and pathos.

Blind and Friendless

John Miller, a negro, 30 years of age, was recently brought from Victoria, B.C., on the city of Puebla. He had no friends in Victoria, and the charitable people of that city having grown tired of supporting him paid his passage to this city. He is being taken care of by a generous policeman, but neither the Collector of the Port nor the Commissioner of Immigration know what to do with him.

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