paul sann journalism, letters, writing


               Sann's answer to Publisher's question, "Should we send a photographer?":

      Among us photographers, there is a famous story, and it goes something like this:

      FIRST PHOTOGRAPHER: "You're walking down Broadway and you come upon a woman in rags, clutching two half-starved end half-naked children to her breast, while a man is standing over her and beating her with a baseball bat. What do you do?

      SECOND PHOTOGRAPHER: "I stop down to F. 11 at 250 and set my distance for seven feet and shoot like hell."

      This is very likely one of the picture-making problems which the $360 seminar would discuss. It is a piece of idle frippery.

       We don't have to go.

      We should all go out and make pictures that day instead. F 11 and 250 if it's a fair day. F 16 if the sun is out. For color, open up one stop.

                              PAUL SANN

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               Purpose of a Newspaper: The News

      That was an interesting, all-too brief few minutes you and Stan and I spent talking about the news side of the paper yesterday.

      Evidently outvoted two to one but perfectly content in that role, I want to set down some thoughts here. Bear with me.

      What the newspaper is about, before radio spots, before 'round-the-clock radio, before TV and the pancaked bigger-than-the-news personality, and now, and forever, is news. This is not to put down the visionary magazine-feature-ideas concept which did so much to maintain The Post's trembling foothold in a fiercely competitive, over-populated, self-strangling evening field. It is not to put down all the other ingredients that make a newspaper essential to the reader once it can find the reader -- editorial positions, sports, Wall Street, women's coverage, display ads, classified ads, movies and theater and music, X-word puzzles, star-gazers, the lovelorn and the heartsick and etc., etc., etc.

      The newspaper starts with the news, opens with it, displays it, sells it. The news is our picture window on the world.

      It is hard for me to imagine anybody buying a newspaper in this town for whom the news coverage may be altogether inferior or inadequate. As a reader, not a professional, I could never have thought the Daily Mirror to read the news -- Winchell and the racing touts, yes, but not the news. I could buy the Evening Sun -- all news, the whole wire, by the square yard. But they both died -- one without news and one with nothing else (except good Wall Street and good sports). We know that the news itself, just the news, could not have kept either newspaper from sinking into the economic quagmire.

      But what about The Post?

      From 9 a.m. on into the night, there is no other news on the stands. There is no place, all day long, right into the 6 o'clock TV news, to get the whole story and no place to get the story behind the headline. I must resist your persistent view that we know it already because we may have heard it on WINS or absorbed some flashes on the 11 o'clock news (between the commercials and the weather report from South Dakota). The airwaves, for me, simply whet the appetite. Radio and TV news, to me, is a commercial for the newspaper. Just as they're selling beer and shaving cream and non-skid tires, they're selling me some new stories I want to know more about. Not as a professional, I say again, but because I have to be interested in what's going on in the world -- and the city -- around me.

      There are glowing exceptions, of course. When you've seen a Kennedy funeral on TV you don't need a newspaper, you've had it. But that's the once in a generation story. Day after day (skipping the Sunday interview shows), it's all split-minute flashes and split-minute quotes. I say it is wrong to give ground before the not-quite-all-seeing camera eye. It is for us to go the other way -- into more reporting, more news, more in-depth, more good writing, more story-behind-the-story. It is for us to furnish what the reader did not really get at all in a WINS news flash or a cue-card TV headline. We're in good shape when the reader can say, "Yeah. I heard it on the air but The Post had the real story on that one." It doesn't happen enough, of course; it is something to strive for. The major effort here should be keyed to that purpose. I say it now just to raise a voice against the concept that says the reader already knows what happened; if he does, we're in bad trouble. If we tell what happened, and the notion gets around that we're telling it, we have a secure future. We need vitality, depth and more depth, in our news columns. I say we need to work toward that goal in 1971; we need to work like hell toward it.

      A good food feature would be good too.

      Any good feature would be good.

      If it's wrapped inside a good newspaper. I can get very emotional about this idea. Forgive me.

                              PAUL SANN

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              In Defense of Page One: News Judgment.
      Our front page last Friday carried the biggest local story in sometime (the school closings) and the biggest international story that day (the Suez pact).

      The first AP bulletin on the Nixon cassettes--sometime around 10:30 a.m. or so--had the sound of another major disclosure of funny business in the White House. Andy Porte alerted us to it immediately, because it had the sound of strong new wood for the Wall Street, but when the detail unfolded somewhere around maybe six paragraphs later, the story, under careful and judicious reading, took another turn. Now it wasn't a clear gap in the cassettes but a situation in which the Assistant Special Prosecutor, Richard Ben-Veniste, was suggesting that gaps might exist. The President's counsel, J. Fred Buzhardt Jr., submitted that the 57-second lapse cited by Mr. Ben Veniste might occur in a normal pause anytime anyone is dictating a memo. This is all quite different, of course, from anything like 18 1/2 minutes of erased tape. It is in any case open to substantial question.

      I believe that the judgment exercised here on that story by a combination of four executives--Sann, Spitzler, Hoge and Porte--really deserves more praise than condemnation.

      The media is something else again. The media takes the bulletin and rushes to the nearest open microphone. The media doesn't often wait for the facts. The media loves the news service bulletin, thrives on it and lives on it. The media, in my judgment, is totally and absolutely irresponsible in every way. I don't think there is anybody in the media news operation anywhere who can sharpen pencils for the newspapermen working here. One night last week I heard on CBS News Radio that the two biggest stories in the world at the moment were that Dr. Kissinger was approaching a settlement in the Middle East and that a murder and a suicide had occurred on East Sixth St. in Manhattan. East Sixth St. is not quite Park Avenue. I checked the murder and the suicide just for the hell of it, because I know who lives on East Sixth St. It is the East Village, and it was just a couple of people mothering themselves off and hardly worth notice in their departure from this vale of tears. That's a radio bulletin--because they don't know any better.

      I feel very badly that the fourth floor editors should be taken to task for failing to take the bit on a poorly conceived wire service bulletin. I hate to cite the sainted 43rd St. people but I think it is appropriate to note here that in The Times coverage of the Watergate developments the following morning, Saturday, the matter of the cassettes was relegated to the 20th inch of the lead story--just another thing that happened during the day. It wasn't even accorded a separate story.

      Finally, I think I ought to note that there is nothing to be ashamed of in the handling of the Watergate tragedy here. I think that our record, from the start, has been enormously praiseworthy. That record might have been seriously tarnished on Friday if we had simply closed our eyes and overplayed the matter of the cassettes. We had the two best stories of the day on our front page.

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      I don't think it would be a good idea for us to admonish the other newspapers about their pickup of our Oswald beats.

      I am afraid that such a letter would be used against us the next time anybody else in town copyrighted an exclusive and we checked it and picked it up. It is standard practice, as you know, to do this. Of course, you don't do it in the case, say, of a byline article from an outside source which another newspaper has bought and paid for but you do pick up the copyright story freely when you can get to the source and ascertain that it is accurate.

      I think the best thing we can do is maintain a dignified silence on the Oswald incident and bear it in mind if any of the other papers come to us and complain about a story being lifted.

                                       PAUL SANN

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     The Christiansen book didn't make me mad but I did find it an irritating document.   I have trouble digesting the memoirs of people who manage to recollect in great detail what wondrous things they accomplished with their own little heads. I simply felt that the man was so busy taking bows all through the book that the newspaper - and the great Beaverbrook - somehow got lost in the process. In my own memoirs, all I am going to say is that the one thing I managed to do in this industry was to show up every day for work and try to do the best I could.

                                   PAUL SANN


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