Since the arrival of the Internet, journalists love to marvel at how much their business has changed. News is transmitted more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Social media has had a multiplier effect on news, etc. etc., blah blah.
Every so often, however, something surfaces to remind us just how durable the trade is, at least when it comes to the psychology of those who practice it. Enjoy this “document of the day” from the National Archives, in which a reporter checks in with the New York Times regarding the Battle of Gettysburg.
Dated,…July 3rd 1863.
Your Correspondent has just arrived from the battlefield at Gettysburg having left there at 3 oclock this morning. The reports of the occurences in that vicinity as thus far reported in the Phila & Balto papers are almost totally incorrect. A brief and candid statement of the situation up to this morning is this. In Wednesdays fight we were repulsed simply because we were overpowered + outflanked….
The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin tweeted:
Good to see reporters telling editors ‘the other guys got it wrong’ didn’t cease in midst of battle > http://t.co/QDAXKaTjgi
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) July 3, 2013
Another key passage:
The total number of prisoners taken up to this morning was about 1,500. Eight hundred & fifty on Wednesday & six hundred on Thursday. This is reliable.
Now there’s a reassuring line for any editor: Your reporter asterisks his reporting as “reliable.” As if other information is not. In a piece on civil war journalism, The Post’s Paul Farhi pointed out why “reliable” was an important commodity back then:
All told, modern readers might be a bit skeptical of how the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin characterized early war reporting from Washington in 1861:
“We are living history in these exciting times, and the historians are the newspaper writers, reporters and correspondents. To be sure, some of them make mistakes at times, and each day’s paper is not always an exactly accurate record of each day’s events. But the future historian will be able to winnow the solid grains of fact from the chaff of fancy and rumor, and the very sheet which we print today, may at a future time be closely scanned by some patient student, in his search for the actual facts concerning the mad attempt at revolution got up by some of the Southern States of the American Union in the year 1861.”