Philip Derby, Reporter - Willis Abbot - ebook

Philip Derby, Reporter ebook

Willis Abbot



Many a boy has a hankering for a newspaper career, and all who have it will read Philip Derby, Reporter by Willis J. Abbot with particular interest. It is largely founded on fact, and it presents forcefully and clearly the conditions and the demands a young man beginning the work of journalism must expect. Philip is not a graduate of a school of journalism, but works his way right on the paper from a position of copy-boy to one of considerable importance. In addition to its newspaper element the book holds a thrilling plot woven around the activities of a criminal gang in New York and is excellent reading from cover to cover.

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Philip Derby, Reporter

Willis Abbot


Philip Derby, Reporter


Chapter I – The Black Hand

Chapter II - The Vanished Reporter

Chapter III – How Reporters "Catch On"

Chapter IV – A Clue In The Night

Chapter V - In Little Italy

Chapter VI -  The Newspaper Council Of War

Chapter VII - Threading A Maze

Chapter VIII - On A Sharp Scent

Chapter IX - On The Trail Of Pietro

Chapter X - A Police Detective Helps

Chapter XI - A Reporter's Education

Chapter XII - The Enemy Weakens

Chapter XIII - Hunted Down

Chapter XIV - An Undesired Aid

Chapter XV - Untangling The Skein

Philip Derby, Reporter, W. Abbot

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849644710

Edited and revised by Juergen Beck

[email protected]

Cover Design: © nicoletaionescu -

Philip Derby, Reporter


THE story of "Philip Derby, Reporter" is very largely founded on fact. It has a purpose other than one of mere entertainment, and intermingled with the fiction the reader will find an outline of methods in vogue in a modern newspaper office. It has been my endeavor to draw a picture of the conditions that confront the young man who seeks a foothold in journalism in almost any large city. New York is perhaps the most difficult point for the beginner to get a start, because to New York from all over the country flock ambitious newspaper men, eager for the prizes which are always to be found in the great city. But the conditions which obtain in a New York office exist in those of the cities of the interior.

It is a great question among the older journalists who are quitting the stage as to whether their successors are going to be as they were, graduates merely of the reportorial staff or if they are going to come into the profession with a liberal education obtained in schools of journalism. Most of the editors who were eminent toward the end of the nineteenth century were men who had reached the editorial rooms by way of the composing room. They knew how to stick type, and in many cases had led the somewhat romantic life of the "tramp" printer, a now vanished figure in American industry. They were scornful of mere college graduates, and knew nothing of graduates of schools of journalism, which are, indeed, of comparatively late establishment. Horace Greeley was perhaps the most eminent of the printer editors, and his comment, by which an aspiring applicant for place once was crushed, that he "would rather have any kind of homed cattle around a newspaper office than a college graduate," is historic. Julius Chambers, who in the course of his life became the managing editor successively of the New York Herald, New York World and the New York American, tells this story of the way in which one college graduate at least was met by Mr. Greeley:— " Entering the counting room, I handed a card containing my name to a clerk, with sublime confidence that Mr. Greeley would see me. Reasons for that assurance will soon appear. A long wait followed, after which I was shown up a single flight of iron stairs to the editor’s den. An attendant, afterwards known to me as D. J. Sullivan, pointed to a burly, white-haired man in shirt sleeves, seated at a desk upon which was piled a mass of clippings, letters and ‘copy.’ After standing for many minutes unrecognized, I heard a shrill, squeaky voice ask:

"Well, young fellow, what is it?" I looked about the room for another speaker than the idol of my boyhood; but it was the voice of Horace Greeley — so harshly falsetto, so unsympathetic, that when the kindly face, round as the moon on her thirteenth night and with its aura of silken white hair, turned in my direction, I barely managed to stammer: "Mr. Greeley, I came to ask a place on your newspaper. You are a trustee of Cornell University, and I have been graduated there." "I'd a damned sight rather you had graduated at a printer's case!" was the outburst, as the editor swung back to his desk. He gave me no opportunity to say that I had been foreman of a composing room and had taken myself through college as a compositor. The great man forgot me then and there. Although I subsequently met him many times, he never identified me." But the printer editor has gone his way. He was succeeded by the editor who had attained the higher stages of the profession through hard work as a reporter. Such a one is to-day the typical editor, and is perhaps as inclined to be scornful of the man who has never held a reporter’s job as his predecessor was intolerant of the man who did not know how to set type. But it seems not improbable that he, too, will vanish before the more progressive and better trained type of journalist who will have the foundation given by a college course, topped off with the work of a school of journalism.

These schools are multiplying throughout the United States. The oldest one was established at the University of Missouri in 1907. Aspirants to newspaper work will find in the bulletins published by that school many helpful hints which may be well worth attending. Particularly the pamphlet called A Newspaper Man's Library, being Number 22 of the Journalism Series issued by the University of Missouri, is well worth getting and reading. The hero of this story never saw a school of journalism. He was bred in the hard school of reportorial experience. The success that in imagination has been made to attend his patient waiting and earnest efforts may very well encourage youths, who, like him, rejoice in the smell of the printer's ink, the rattle of the presses, and hope in time to be able to conduct a city staff of their own.


Chapter I – The Black Hand

IN a big, bare room well filled with men working swiftly and silently over great sheaves of typewritten paper under glaring electric lights shielded by green shades, a telephone bell rang sharply. Attention was instant. Clearly it was a place where things were done in a rush, where men "came a runnin' " as they say in the navy.

The man who eagerly seized the receiver was young in years but with a look of wisdom which only deep experience, lacking age, could have conferred. A disreputable straw hat of the vintage of ten years before was perched on his head, though the season was mid-winter. "Bill" Bowers, city editor of The Blade, and his straw hat were objects inseparable in the journalistic mind of that day. When "on the job" the hat was on his head. When enjoying — or suffering — his brief and infrequent hours off the hat lay directly under the roll top of his desk, ready for donning as the first official act of his night’s work. Admiring reporters, usually new to the calling, regarded it with something of the awe with which the soldier of the Empire looked upon the cocked hat and grey surtout of the "Little Corporal." It was a symbol of battle and of victory. When older in the business the reporter professed to be able to tell from the very tilt of that aged, but not venerable, straw whether or not it would be safe to make a "touch" for an order on the business office for advance salary.

Just now the hat was coming in for one of its bad moments. With one hand holding the telephone receiver close to his ear, the city editor rolled and crumpled, with the other, the already shapeless brim until it creaked and crackled in his grasp. At the same time his gaze swept the great dark room in search of something it apparently could not discover.

"Jimmie, there isn't a reporter in the shop," he said through the phone in one of those low, carrying voices that tell of much experience in talking over the wire. "You'll have to handle that story by yourself. Yes, I know that you've got to follow the trail over to the Atlantic docks and it’s late. Here's what we’ll do. You write out the story as far as you've got it. Give all names and facts you can get, seal it up and leave it with the fellow who runs the big garage on the corner right across from where you are now. What's that? Oh, yes. I know the neighborhood, know 'em all. That's my trade. Now listen. You want to look out for that garage fellow. He's a wop like the man we are hunting. May be mixed up in this affair himself. But you hire a touring car from him and tell him you'll need it most of the night. I guess that will hold him, and he'll keep the copy for us all right. I'll send a boy for it right away. Then you put for the Atlantic docks across the Queensboro’ Bridge and down through Brooklyn. You ought to get there about the time the first batch of copy gets here. You can phone from the dock if our man is on the ship. It will be too late to write anything. This is some story, remember. Telephone me from the dock, and be ready to go on with the story in the morning without coming to the office. Rush it, old man!"

With a click the telephone receiver was hung up and the city editor turned to make a more careful survey of the room and its few remaining tenants.

The hour was approaching midnight. A dull steady rumble rising from below told that the first section of the paper containing advertisements, markets and early news was already on the presses. Many of the staff had gone home, and the big bare factory-like loft was only lighted here and there where some late workers were grinding out their "stuff." The room was colossal in size, so that the brilliant lights glowing above the horse-shoe shaped table at which now sat a dozen men silently and absorbedly working over piles of typewritten manuscript, failed to carry light to the further comers. Here and there a glowing bulb in a green shade hung over a. typewriter at which a man in shirt-sleeves was pounding out words at so fierce a rate that it seemed impossible he could be writing readable English. In distant corners of the gloom were little centers of light and activity. In one spot half a dozen men were bending over boards covered with white paper so that the gleaming light above threw their heads into bold relief. These were the newspaper artists diligently working up photographs, or sketching out maps for some story in the morning's issue. At another point a partition shut off a bank of loudly ticking machines which were automatically printing the Associated Press report on long slips of paper, which from time to time a copy boy cut off and carried to the impatient editors. Bits of bright color, and the gleam of a man's white shirt front, told of the location of the society department to which reporters were briskly bringing the stories of the social doings of the night, while cheek by jowl the sporting editor was holding solemn converse with a brace of pugilists arranging the details of a prize fight.

From the big central table near the city editor's desk pneumatic tubes extended across the room and cut through the ceiling.

Now and then the sharp thud of a metal carrier dropping into a trough where a watchful boy stood waiting told of the arrival of proofs from the composing room above where scores of men sat before linotype keyboards making molten metal spout into moulds, that the thoughts of the writers below might be cast into type and printed upon scores of miles of paper for the information, instruction, or amusement of millions of people.

Off to one side, in a railed enclosure, scores of telegraph instruments were ticking away bringing to that spot the news of two hemispheres. The editor could talk thence to London or Shanghai at less cost in time than 75 years ago he could have talked with Washington.

The newspaper of to-day is the incarnation of publicity. Instinctively it seems to spurn privacy of every kind. Time was when every dignitary enjoying the title of editor— City Editor, Sporting Editor, Society Editor, or Wall Street Editor—had a private room. Nowadays the most up-to-date dailies house all their editorial staff in one great room. One highly prosperous paper, The Kansas City Star, used to boast that the proprietor himself, a journalist of great ability, had his desk in the common room, his only privacy being such as a distance of forty feet or so to the desk of the nearest worker might assure.

The desk of the city editor of The Blade overlooked the whole busy floor. With a shout he could call any one of half a hundred workers to his desk. But shouting was in bad form in that office. Swift, steady, systematic and silent work was the rule. Though obviously in haste Bowers now waited until the largest of the boys carrying copy was within earshot.

"Oh, Derby," he said quietly.

The boy turned swiftly. He was about seventeen years old, tall and evidently athletic of habit, with a face that showed both thought and study. He had come to the paper as a copy boy because he had immediate need of earning his own living, and in the hope that he might ultimately get a chance as a reporter, and thus get his foot on the ladder to journalistic success. Often enough he had been called to go on some errand of minor significance. He was sturdy and trustworthy —a "good pair of legs" as the reporters called him, but nothing hitherto had come of his ever willingness.

"Go up to the comer of Avenue A and 163rd Street. You’ll find a garage there run by an Italian named Bertelli. Mr. Holbrook has left a wad of copy with him. You get it and hustle back in a hurry. Take the subway both ways and rush it, RUSH IT."

He turned back to the pile of papers on his desk. Phil started for his hat and coat. His heart was heavy. Nothing but another leg job. Wouldn't they ever give him a chance to show that he was something more than a willing errand boy? Here he was going to the other end of Manhattan to get the copy of a. story of the nature of which he had been given not the slightest hint. If they would only give him a chance to go out and get a story himself. He felt abused, discontented, depressed. But he had hardly taken his coat from the locker when he heard the city editor’s voice calling him.

"This may be a reporter's job I’m sending you out on, Phil," his chief said, as he came up to the desk. "You’d better know a little something about it, especially as I am leary of that garage fellow that's holding Jimmie Holbrook’s copy for you. The place is right in New York's up-town Little Italy, and we had a story—all the papers had it—that a fellow named Salvatore up there, a banker, had disappeared. They're always doing that, you know, these little neighborhood dago bankers. As soon as they get a good line of deposits from their fellow countrymen they put up the shutters and slip off home to sunny Italy to enjoy life. But the curious thing about this fellow is that when the news of his disappearance got about and the usual run on the bank was started, it appeared to be in perfectly good shape. He hadn't milked the bank in any way, and his clerk has been paying depositors as fast as they come to the counter. If he has skipped he hasn't taken any of the bank's funds with him.

"Now Jimmie who went up there just to write a. human interest story about the hysterical women who had been beggared by the failure of the bank finds there isn't any such story, for the concern’s O.K. But he's got it in his head there may be a Black Hand story in the affair, and has written some stuff which I want you to fetch while he runs down to the Atlantic basin where there's an Italian ship sailing at midnight. So rush it, and keep your ears open up there for anything bearing on the story. Hustle now."

Phil hustled. As he went running down the subway steps he reflected that it was not Bowers’ custom to give such lengthy instructions to a boy sent out after copy. Had his chance come at last?

"Gee," he ejaculated, "I don't wish Jimmie Holbrook any harm, but I wouldn't mind if something happened so I could work up this story myself."

And the clangorous subway that swallowed him up at Brooklyn Bridge had cast him forth five miles to the north like Jonah from the whale’s belly before his mind stopped building air castles.

He found Little Italy having one of its frequent religious fiestas. From the tall tenements on either side of the narrow streets hung gay strips of colored cloth while the streets themselves were spanned by wires from which depended glittering electric lights. Smoky naphtha torches blazed on the push-carts of the itinerant pedlars drawn up near the curb. Here and there urchins were burning red fire in the gutters, or setting off Roman candles. Up and down the sidewalks strolled the daughters of Sunny Italy in their gayest apparel. Mandolins and guitars and now and then the notes of a distant street piano made the night melodious according to the standards of the neighborhood.

"If this is Little Italy," thought Phil, "wouldn't I just like to see Naples?"

The stage did not seem to be set for any sort of a melodrama, and Phil looked about him for the garage. There it was on the comer. It was the ordinary, commonplace sort of a cheap one-story edifice put together on a lot which some speculative owner was holding for a profit. Several men were lounging about the cavernous entrance where enticing signs offered "free air" to customers who speedily found out that everything else was far from free. Phil had little difficulty in picking out the proprietor, a smiling Italian whose almost theatrical air of authority proclaimed him "the Boss." At almost the first word he understood what Phil was after.

"Si, si, si," he cried, and rushing to his desk produced a large sealed envelope.

"Your friend he leave this. He say take to office. He hire my big car and go in hurry."

"Did he leave any message?"

"Non, non! Only he say hurry, hurry!"

Phil thought vaguely that the man seemed rather in haste to get rid of him but the advice to hurry was proper enough. The night was wearing on and it was his duty to get the copy to the office in time for the first edition. So resisting an inclination to talk with the people of the neighborhood about the mystery he made for the subway. Half an hour later he stood at the city editor's desk.

"Got it?" growled that dignitary without looking up. "Holbrook hasn’t reported yet."

Phil dropped the envelope on his desk and turned away with a feeling that another chance had left him behind when he was arrested by a furious roar.

 "What the devil's this?" cried Bowers at the top of his lungs. He held out to Phil a sheaf of papers that he had just torn from the envelope. They were blank save that on one was roughly drawn a Black Hand.

Chapter II - The Vanished Reporter

THE discovery that the copy boy had brought back only blank sheets of paper with what was seemingly a sinister threat, aroused excitement in the office which was almost instantly checked by the city editor.

"Looks queer," he said. "Maybe that dago garage keeper was just joshing you— maybe it's something more serious. Anyway we’ll just keep quiet about this for a time. Don't any of you fellows say a word outside. You better stick around awhile, Derby. We've just time to get the first edition off now, and later we can see what to do."

Thereupon Bowers disappeared into a closed room and busied himself with two telephones. In a few moments he had learned that the ship Garibaldi was just casting off, as it was after midnight, that no reporter for The Blade was on the dock so far as could be learned, and that the name of Salvatore did not appear on the passenger list, though that fact did not preclude the possibility of the banker's being aboard under an assumed name.

Not particularly surprised by this information Bowers called another number. It was that of Sidney Perkins, managing editor of the paper.

In a metropolitan newspaper there are four editorial executives in the news department who are, in the order of their rank, the managing editor, the city editor, the night city editor, and the night editor. The managing editor is usually the responsible head of the entire news staff. He determines the expenditures to be made in each of the editorial departments, and allots to the city editor, the telegraph editor, the sporting editor and others the amount of money each may expend upon his department. In association with the business manager, who sends him daily a report on the volume of advertising on hand, he fixes the size of the paper which may vary from twelve to thirty-four pages.

If, as often happens, the newspaper is owned by a corporation, or its owner gives no personal attention to its details, the managing editor is the court of last resort on questions of news policy. He decides whether an eager "query," or offer of news from a distant correspondent justifies ordering 1,000 words by wire, or is to be met with chilling silence. He determines whether a story is to be "played up" on the first page, or given a "stickful," as two inches of space are called, somewhere inside. He can " turn the paper loose," with special trains, tugboats, or in these days aircraft, an army of correspondents and artists, and a free hand to everybody to spend money like water getting the story into the office.

Judgment of news is a vital part of a managing editor's intellectual equipment. In some it seems to be an inborn quality. With unerring instinct they seize upon a seemingly unimportant bit of information and develop from it a news story that engages the attention of every reader. And it is as much of an art to determine the comparative worth of news stories as it is to fix the market value of a gem.

To a well known New York managing editor came once the city editor in some excitement.

"Here's a first page story," he said.

"Man shot his wife in a crowded street car."

"What car line?" inquired the chief with professional calm.

"Belt Line."

"Oh, give it half a column on the inside. If it had been on a Madison Avenue car or a Fifth Avenue bus it would have been worth a spread. People are always getting murdered along the Belt Line."

It was a managing editor of this type that first laid down the rule that if a dog bit a man it was not news, but if a man bit a dog it was.

Sidney Perkins, now managing editor of The Blade, had done about everything on a newspaper that came his way. He had started with a college education, a great advantage to newspaper workers to-day, but found himself for months working for less than the men who had come up from the composing room with no other education than the paper gave. But his sounder foundation finally carried him to the top. He had left the office early in the night, but was within reach of the telephone. It is one of the rudimentary rules of newspaper work that no man of any importance in the organization ever gets wholly out of touch with the office.

Over the phone Bowers briefly outlined the story to his chief. The sudden disappearance of the Italian banker had aroused interest chiefly because his books showed the bank to be entirely sound. Then why had he run away? Or had he been abducted?

Holbrook, the star reporter, had evidently got some sort of a story, for he had reported to the office that he was on the trail of the missing man, and had left a bunch of copy with the garage keeper from whom he had hired a car. But from the moment he had stepped into the car he had vanished, and the envelope which had been supposed to hold his stuff proved to contain only blank paper with the insignia of the murderous Mafia stamped on one sheet. What was the next step for The Blade to take? "Looks like a pretty story," said the Chief. "Hope the other fellows have nothing more about it than we. What does the City Press say? "

The City Press Association is a co-operative news gathering force maintained by all the papers in the city, and sending its full report to each. It is relied upon for unimportant and routine news, and supplements the work of the papers’ regular reporters. "Oh, they have only the afternoon story of Salvatore’s disappearance and the fact that his bank is solvent. They say his family deny all knowledge of his whereabouts, and that his wife is prostrated."

"Well, better dress up their story and use it. See that the fact of Jimmie’s disappearance doesn’t get out. If the other papers haven't got anything yet we may keep this for our own. Holbrook’s a steady fellow, isn't he? Not a rounder?"

"He’s a mighty live wire," put in Bowers. "The fellows who have kidnapped him will have more trouble than those who stole a red hot stove."

"Well, have one man look up his lodgings, and go to his various haunts-he frequents the Andiron Club, doesn't he? Better put another man on the garage end of it; have him get solid with the wop that gave the boy the dummy package. But the chances are that he will not find that son of Sunny Italy again. He’s made himself scarce by now. But have our man hang around the garage and get all the facts he can. Tell all the boys to keep still. We don't want the police in on this. It's our reporter and our story. Goodnight."

Bowers sat down at his desk to think out the mystery. In a moment a boy laid copies of the first editions of the other papers before him. Seizing them eagerly he scanned their columns for the Salvatore story. Ah, there it was. Only a stickful in each paper and none of the mysterious features even hinted at. So far so good. The other fellows suspected nothing more than the story, old to New York, of a foreign banker absconding with his depositors’ cash. That the absconder should have abducted a reporter at the same time was a novel feature of which his rivals knew nothing. Well, he’d show them tomorrow. Of course Holbrook would break away from his captors and come in with the story. But that could not be trusted to altogether. He must put someone on the track of the vanished reporter to give him aid if needed.

Who would be the best man for the work?

Of course Holbrook himself was the best man for a bit of detective work, and Bowers found himself smiling at the absurd persistence with which the notion of setting a man to investigate his own disappearance thrust itself on his mind. However with Holbrook gone he’d better take Yates. It was not precisely a police case and he wanted those talkative guardians of the peace kept in ignorance of it as long as possible. Yates would be precisely the man to find out all the police might learn on their own account without giving them the slightest hint of The Blade's peculiar interest in the matter.

It was Yates who had won journalistic fame by unraveling the mystery which grew out of the discovery of the headless body of a man, wrapped in burlaps and floating in the East River.

Being headless the police were unable to identify the body—that is, the body being headless, not the police. But Yates blundered upon the solution of the mystery by one of those lucky chances which often lead to a newspaper hit.

He had been at work steadily on the case for almost three days without sleep, and saw little chance of regular rest for a day to come. So-, after the fashion of newspaper men in such a situation he betook himself to a Turkish bath, hoping that a steam, a cold plunge, and an hour’s doze would put him on his feet again. While recumbent on a marble slab undergoing the pounding and scraping that attach to this oriental form of refreshment, he heard two of the rubbers in an adjoining booth talking of the mysterious disappearance of one of their fellows.

"It's six days now Tom's been gone," said one. "Looks queer to me. His pay-envelope’s in the office yet, so he can't have quit. I went up to his room the other night, and his landlady said she hadn't seen him for several days, and the room was all dusty as if nobody had been there. He isn't married, and nobody is looking for him. I’d think he’d just thrown up the job and gone off somewhere on a spree, but if he'd gone off on the loose he'd be wanting that money in his pay-envelope."

No more sleepiness for the reporter. Calling to the men he asked the name of their missing friend.

"Did he have any marks on his body you could identify him by?"

"Sure. He worked around here all day with nothing on but a waistcloth and he had a big mole the size of a mouse just under his right shoulder blade. But why do you want to know?" the rubber asked.

"Oh nothing. I just had an idea he might be somewhere and concealing his identity," said the reporter, who hurried through his bath with a cold plunge that took the place of the sleep he had promised himself. A few minutes later at the city morgue he had identified the ghastly body, and with the clue thus obtained had, within a day or two, run down the criminals implicated in the murder without the aid of the police, and without the news being obtainable by any other paper.

Those are the two chief triumphs of newspaper detective work—to be able to dispense with the police, and to "beat" your rivals.

With this achievement of Yates’s in his memory Bowers felt that this was the man for the job on hand. So turning back to the desk he took up the assignment book and wrote on a line under date of the day just coming in.

Yates —— See Mr. Bowers.