reporters (much longer than I intended)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Dec 22 15:44:04 UTC 2007

Here's another word the OED will soon revise.

OED, reporter, 2a: one who takes down law cases; 2b: one who reports debates, speeches, meetings, etc., esp. for a newspaper.

This definition does not include the reporter as a man employed by newspapers, &c., as an professional eye-witness and fact-gatherer.  The 1802 quotation presumably refers to a court-reporter, though there isn't enough context to be sure.  Otherwise, the first citation in the common present-day sense is 1946

1798 Deb. Congress U.S. 21 Mar. (1851) 1289 The House ought to render the reporters as they could be. 1802 Monthly Magazine XIV. 160/1 Two cases have recently occurred within the sphere of the Reporter's observation. 1813 LD. MOIRA in Examiner 19 Apr. 254/1 The reporters are not allowed to make notes. 1814 J. H. LEWIS Ready Writer Introd. 13 The utility of Short-hand to the reporter of in itself..evident. 1832 BABBAGE Econ. Manuf. xxviii. (ed. 3) 269 The speeches must be taken down by reporters. 1882 A. W. WARD Dickens i. 9 His father..was now seeking employment as a parliamentary reporter.

1946 M. MCCARTHY Let. in Politics Nov. 367/1 Mr. The New Yorker's reporter-at-large. 1968 Listener 12 Sept. 322/2 Some of the strikers, including some sports reporters, had proposed a return to work... The radio reporters of France-Inter returned ten days later..and TV reporters..agreed to resume work in mid-July.

The following are mostly from my notes; the 2 items not from NYC newspapers were found through the Early American Newspapers database.

The editorial staff of NYC newspapers in the 18th C and early 19th C were mostly one-man operations.  At some point, a "news collector" was added: a man who went about where ready-made news was sometimes available to be picked up, such as coffee-houses and other hang-outs of businessmen, in case any of them had gotten an interesting letter from an out-of-town or overseas correspondent.  In addition, the major papers kept "news-boats" -- whenever a ship coming from Europe was sighted approaching the harbor, the news collector would sail out to pick up the bundle of foreign newspapers it would be carrying.

I have earlier citations of "reporter" as someone who takes down court-room proceedings.  If a case was of great general interest, like the trial of Levi Weeks for the murder of Guglielma Sands in the 1790s, a paper might print a detailed summary of the testimony, taken down either by the editor himself or by a lawyer hired for the job.
It seems that the first "reporter" as a roving eye-witness that I have is from 1824.

I see that the OED has "news collector" from 1780, but from a 1916 reprint, and then from 1835; and "news boat" from 1830.  In my first reference to "news collector", below, from 1824, he's playing the role of a reporter; in the 1824 and 1831 passages, he's going about picking up ready-made news, and in 1832 and 1835, he's a boatman, sailing out to meet a ship.  I probably have "news boat" from 1810, but in my notes the words appear in my summary of a story; I'll have to recheck the original; otherwise, it's 1822.

1822:   At dark, our news boat, with several others, put off from the battery and relieved them from their perilous situation.
        New-York Daily Advertiser, January 28, 1822, p. 2, col. 4

1822:   Correction.  ***  . . . the reporter was entirely mistaken as to the boat and its proprietors. [The ferry boat] was one of the Jersey steam-boats from Whitehall Dock, and not one of the Courtlandt-street Ferry boats. . . .
        Commercial Advocate, March ?, 1822, p. 2, col. ? [He was covering a court case]

1824:   Our news collector, who waited to see the sport, reports several horses and filleys which entered for the scrub: Jenny Tight-breeches – Dusty Bob, a white horse with one eye, one of the old Tippo Sultan breed – Moll Wallups – Tony Lumpkin, besides several which received names on the turf.  There was also a foot race for five dollars half the course round, and three milling matches – it being in Kings county, Baron Nabem of our Police did not feel authorised to carry them to the Roundabout.  Some pickpockets made their appearance in elegant deshabille, but did not exercise in their vocation.  All was noted "quite the thing."
        National Advocate, May 28, 1824, p. 2, cols. 3-4  (This refers to the great horse-race between Eclipse and Henry, which had the whole country agog.  Really.  There was a book about it a couple of years ago.  The news collector hung around to see the minor races that followed the main event.)

1824:   A letter from our reporter, who went to Staten Island yesterday, informs us that the trial of Barney did not come on yesterday.  ***
        Commercial Advertiser, June 1, 1824, p. 2, col. 4

1824:   . . . from our news collector we learn that the vessel burnt, was the schr. Harriet, Stanton, 6 days from Plymouth, N. C., with 600 barrels of naval stores.
        Commercial Advertiser, July 20, 1824, p. 3, col. 1

1824:   NOTICE EXTRAORDINARY.  The editors of the New-York American are hereby notified that I contemplate inviting 3 or 4 gentlemen to dine with me on New-Year's Day; and that they may be duly advised of whatever may occur on that occasion, they are at liberty to send any decent reporter (if, by the way, they may chance to have such an article on hand) who will be furnished with writing apparatus, and have a conspicuous corner of the dining room appropriated for his use.  ADONIAH MOODY.  Broad-street House, Dec. 27, 1824.
        New-York National Advocate, December 27, 1824, p. 2, col. 3

1826:   The young woman was adjudged to spend twenty days in Bridewell, notwithstanding the appearance of a great number of persons, some of high respectability, to give sureties for her future good conduct.  Her father it is said is a worthy and respectable citizen, which fact has deterred the reporter from mentioning names.
        New-York American, February 13, 1826, p. 2, col. 3

1829:           Odd Fellows.  ***  Of the oddities that were said or enacted on the occasion, our reporter can give no information.
        Rhode Island American, August 4, 1829, p. 1, col. ?

1830:           The Great Cattle Show.  When our reporter left the ground, 25 had been sold. . . .
        Richmond Enquirer, June 25, 1830, p. ?, col. ?

1831:   Our news collector has been up along the wharves on the East river, and did not hear of any damage done to shipping, except to an old sloop, supposed to be a stone drogher, sunk east of Coffee-House slip.  The tide rose over the wharves this forenoon, and has filled a number of cellars.
        New York E Post, January 15, 1831, p. 2, col. 3

1832:    We learn from our news collector, Mr. Lowber, that he made out the De Rham in the fall of the evening on Saturday, but it being very hazy and night coming on, almost immediately lost sight of her.  On the following morning he found her ashore at the spot above described.  At 8 o’clock he boarded her, she had then bilged and had at least 10 feet water in her hold, with the water on her cabin floor.
        We take this opportunity to state that orders are given to our news collectors to render gratuitously such assistance that may be required of them, by Captains of vessels in distress, to take off and bring up passengers, & in short afford whatever aid they may have it in their power to give, which will mitigate in any degree the unfortunate consequences of similar accidents.
        Morning Courier & New-York Enquirer, April 2, 1832, p. 2, col. 1

1832:   Our reporter saw the child yesterday afternoon at her father’s house. . . .
        Morning Courier & New-York Enquirer, April 11, 1832, p. 2, col. 3

1834:   Hewlett (to the reporters) -- Gentlemen, don't put me in the newspapers; it will hurt my character.
Hays. -- Come -- Start.
Hewlett. -- Well, where's my dungeon; lead me to my straw.
Hays. -- I intend to do so, you scamp.
Hewlett. -- ‘Tis not the first time I have slept hard to do the state service.
Hays. -- To be sure it isn't.  D'ye remember the silver cup?
Hewlett. -- No more of that, Hal, an thou lovest me.
Exeunt Hays and Hewlett.
        New-York Commercial Advertiser, June 17, 1834, p. 2, col. 3.  (Hewlett, by the way, had been the leading actor of my "African theatre", but he'd fallen on hard times; Hays was "Old  Hays", a legendary cop.

1834:   DULL TIMES FOR REPORTERS. – Not a single case of the least importance has been afforded by the Police Office for the entertainment of the public.  ***
        New York Times, August 1, 1834, p. 2, col. 4

1835:   Our news collector has just come up; from him we learn that the Hoboken and Brooklyn boats make their trips without much difficulty; but little ice in the North and East Rivers.  ***
        Ev Star, January 10, 1835, p. 2, col. 2

1835:   Mr. Attree, the Police Reporter of the Transcript and the Courier & Enquirer. . . .
        Morning Herald, June 9, 1835, p. 2, col. 4

1837:   GREAT LITERARY FESTIVAL. -- Attached to BENNETT'S NEWSPAPER ESTABLISHMENT 21 Ann street, there are nearly one hundred original literary characters, called by way of convenience, the literati. -- They consist of editors, reporters, prize writers, news collectors, clerks, printers, penny-a-liners, pressmen, fly-boys, engineers, carriers, and little ragged rascals of newsboys.
        Morning Herald, June 9, 1837, p. 2, col. 2

1838:   It is with great difficulty that the city Reporters can now get reports of the sudden deaths, suicides, &c., all of interest to the Public, and demanded for publication.
        New York Daily Express, July 23, 1838, p. 2, col. 3

1841:   The building was owned by PETER LORILLARD, Esq., and was insured, but the Reporter could not learn if Messrs. H. & W. [the tenants] were covered by insurance.  ***
        M. Courier & New-York Enquirer, November 20, 1841, p. 2, col. 3

1842:   We have engaged a reporter for the express purpose of visiting Palmo’s and Roches’ and the two splendid bowling saloons in Broadway.  He will also take the theatres under his especial charge.
        The Whip, September 17, 1842 (II:11), p. 3, col. 4

1842:   REPORTERS. -- We have engaged two new, experienced, responsible and accomplished Reporters, for the Express -- and whatever is done in the city, in any of the courts or any where about the city, so far as it may be of interest, will be promptly reported in the columns of the Express.  ***
        NY D Express, October 4, 1842, p. 2, col. 2

1842:   REPORTERS are literary gentlemen of the smaller caliber, and yet these fellows talk more and think more of themselves that any of the “craft.”  They frequent porter houses, free and easy rooms, and all the low places of the city.  They call themselves authors.  Of what?  There’s the rub.  Our hero is not of them.
        Weekly Rake, November 26, 1842, p. 1, cols. 2-4

1843:   FIRE AT SING SING PRISON. -- We shall give the full particulars in our next, as we have despatched our reporter to Sing Sing to inquire more fully into the facts.
        Ev Post, July 20, 1843, p. 2, col. 2

1844:   Our reporter met last night, at two o’clock, a man coming out of Mott street in a fainting condition, with one of his hands nearly severed from his arm.  His wife had attacked him with a knife for coming home late.  He refused to go to the watch-house. . . , dreading “the reporters of the morning papers.”
        Evening Mirror, October 8, 1844, p. 2, col. 4

1845:   MELANCHOLY SUICIDE. -- This morning, about a quarter before 7 o'clock, a young man whose name we have not been able to learn, (although our reporter spent much time at the house endeavoring to learn the particulars,) threw himself from the roof of the three-story house of Mr. Taillant, No. 58 Barclay street, where he boarded, which caused immediate death.  ***
        Ev Post, February 17, 1845, p. 2, col. 6

1846:   We give an account of the affair as furnished us by our Police Reporter, who we are sure has come as near as possible to the truth.  If there is anything wrong in the statement we will cheerfully correct it.
        New-York Daily Tribune, August 14, 1846, p. 2, col. 7

1847:   The City Reporter takes this occasion to return his thanks to Justice Osborn [and 3 others] of the Halls of Justice, and Justice Matsell [and 2 others] of the Chief's office, for their obliging endeavors to render him aid. . . .
        New-York Daily Tribune, January 7, 1847, p. 4, col. 2


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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