OPINION: I’ll trade two Joseph Medills for a Charles Dana

Quick, name a famous 19th century newspaper editor. OK, then, name a famous newspaper editor from any century.
Those are questions I like to ask students in my editorial and opinion writing class at the beginning of the semester. Usually the only response I get is the sound of crickets chirping.
With all due to respect to the editor of this paper, Lloyd Gray, newspaper editors don’t normally achieve celebrity status. If I ask my class to name a famous broadcast journalist, most can rattle off at least two or three. But when it comes to newspaper editors, most people, including my journalism students, are at a loss to name even one.
That’s a shame because newspaper editors and, more often these days, editorial page editors are the people who decide what issues a paper will tackle and which side of that issue they will promote in their editorials and columns.
How influential those editorials and columns are has always been the subject of study and debate although with the millions of writers voicing opinions these days through the ease of digital media you could easily build an argument that newspaper editors are having less and less of an impact on readers.
But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time in this country when newspaper editors held enormous power to sway readers, voters and politicians. They actually were celebrities that people looked to for advice on how to vote and think. Scary, eh? Trusting a newspaper editor? But for a while there, newspaper editors were even more famous than baseball players.
In doing some reading for my class, I came across an interesting article on the web site of the National Conference of Editorial Writers. It seems that in the late 1800s, some newspaper editors had their own what we would call today baseball cards. In fact, they had more than the actual baseball players.
According to the article, in 1887 a cigarette company began the practice of putting pictures of baseball players on cards and inserting them into packs of cigarettes as a gimmick to sell smokes. That same year the company also began making cards with pictures of famous newspaper editors and inserting them into cigarette packs as well. While only 10 baseball players were featured on the first cards, 50 editors had their own cards.
It’s hard to imagine a bunch of kids sitting around the playground trading newspaper editors as they do today with baseball cards. How many Murat Halsteads, for example, would you have to trade for one Joseph Pulitzer? And what would the statistics on the back of the cards say? How many hits the editor had that season, meaning, of course, how many times did they get punched out by angry readers?
I doubt newspaper editors, in the cacophony of today’s media, will ever achieve that status again. But I’m sure Lloyd Gray, a diehard baseball fan, as well as the rest of us scribes, would love to have our own cards.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.

Marty Russell/NEMS Daily Journal