July 24, 2021
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
It’s interesting to note that Emmett’s comings and goings, specifically after mid-March, 1907, are turning up more often in The Pensacola Journal, the Pensacola Evening News, and any other West Florida newspaper (at least, the West Florida newspapers that
a) are still in existence, or have hard copy content 111 years later, or
b) are on microfilm via InterLibrary Loan (check with your local public or academic library for how to use InterLibrary Loan), or an academic or public database, such as ChroniclingAmerica.gov, or a Florida state database, such as the University of Florida digital collection.
(There’s several other online digital newspaper collections in West Florida I’ve consulted thanks to my contacts at different county library offices in Florida, such as Santa Rosa and Washington Counties; my best advice is always to reach out to your state or county archivist for guidance. These men and women are professionals who absolutely love research, and politeness goes a long, long way with these kind folks.)
What’s curious is how Emmett’s name is always turning up in even the most obscure little newspapers, especially since he isn’t yet well known. He’s not a household name. Not yet. So, what’s going on?
In 1907, unless one was of a prominent family, or politically significant, the route to becoming well known was to have one’s name mentioned — frequently and positively — in the local newspaper. Radio (for everyday use) was still at least a decade away (around 1920).
This week, I made inquiries of other researchers (who study society newspaper coverage from the early 1900s) about the use of the society page columns to climb the local social ladder. I gave them the background on Emmett’s story as context, and here are the topics (in bold face) I asked about:
PR/image management. It wasn’t called that back then when Emmett was trying to promote himself but that’s basically what was going on. Was it commonplace among both sexes? Was it more useful than successful? And who planted the articles? Did Emmett do it, or did he have a clerk call over to the newspaper offices? It seems a little awkward and uncomfortable thinking about Emmett phoning over there himself, saying, “Hey, this is what I’m doing today….” Did he disguise his voice if he did? Still, though, if Emmett were serious about getting his name in the paper, he could have done it himself.
Society pages. I’m sure Emmett realized that if he wanted to have his name in print often, he had to get to know the local newspaper society editors. During Emmett’s time in Pensacola, they were Aurelie Marean Bernard (1906-08), Bonnie Burnham (1908-14) and Celia Myrover Robinson (1914-25) for The Pensacola Journal.
The society editor was an important person in local/community news communications; she (or he, but most often it was a woman) was often invited to key social events, where the hosts and hostesses hoped for (and often received) colorful, positive coverage in the newspaper. Socially prominent hosts and hostesses also owned successful businesses in Pensacola; hence, the society editor’s coverage of specific events around town was also important for advertising and the paper’s bottom line. So, this really wasn’t a ‘lightweight’ journalism post, though it might seem that way on the surface.
Because Mesdames Bernard, Burnham and Robinson also wrote other articles on women’s issues (for example, suffrage), there was likely a clerk or similar staff person answering the phone and/or collecting messages to be compiled and organized into the Tersely Told column every day.
Playing favorites. Was selection of publishing certain articles or tidbits about specific individuals a matter of playing local politics by the society column editors? And, was it likely that these columns were manipulated by editors and publishers for subtle promotion of certain folks? If so, I can also see how an editor may deny publication of certain social events, or individuals. I hadn’t really considered it before, but the blurbs, regularly published, were critical to someone’s popularity and career potential.
In 1907, Emmett he didn’t have his own practice yet and was borrowing a desk in the Kehoe and Smithwick law firm. At this point, he didn’t have a lot of important, headline-grabbing law cases to get the attention of the news writers. But if you look at the example above from February 26, 1907 — this murder case was newsworthy — so it got a mention (not on the front page, because it was in DeFuniak, not Pensacola).
Networking seems to not have changed much in over a century. Maybe it never really did; the only thing different is how modern technology has sped messaging up.
I look forward to hearing from my sources, and I will share with you what I find.
The University of Maryland Global Campus