Scripps's innovations included the creation of a telegraphic news service and an illustrated news features syndicate and the application of modern business practices to his chain of more than forty newspapers. His newspapers, aimed at working-class readers, were intended to be advocates for the common people and crusaded for lower streetcar fares, free textbooks for public school children, municipal ownership of utilities, pure food legislation, and many other causes.
"Do not be afraid to be called a skin flint or miser. You can acquire no more valuable reputation," Edward Willis Scripps told the business manager of his San Francisco Daily News. He never tolerated "frills" for his staffers, which in his mind included toilet paper, ice in the summertime and even pencils. But his formula worked. From 1870 to 1908, Scripps built an empire of small, cheaply run newspapers that shared Scripps-based wire copy (an innovation in its time), aimed at a working-class readership and shut down in an instant when their market faltered. The effort was a struggle from the first. Scripps had to force himself on his newspaper-executive brothers to get a shot at the business--and then he outdid them at their own game. He fought off efforts by such rival publishers as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, who had just as much moxie as he did. And he strived to build--of all things--newspapers that were not beholden to advertisers. None of it was easy, and despite the newly available resource of Scripps's business correspondence, it isn't any easier getting a sense of Scripps as a flesh-and-blood print mogul here. Baldasty paints readers a nice profile of his subject at the book's start; later chapters, however, are all thesis and supporting point, with little in the way of punchy anecdote. Still, the E.W. Scripps Co. thrives today, and is currently involved in a real down-and-dirty newspaper war in Colorado. If Baldasty too baldly lays out the nuts-and-bolts business plan that got the company there, Scripps for one would appreciate his economy. (Apr.)