The New York Times, February 13, 1910, page SM10:
"Fresh News Every Minute"
Some of the Marvelous "Beats" That Come From the Ticker
THOSE last few tense, nervous minutes before a newspaper goes to press have often been used by playwright and story-teller. They make excellent "atmosphere" for dramatic action. These periods of strain and anxiety, however, occur in the "city room" of a morning newspaper as a usual thing only once a day--just before the first edition goes to press.
But there is one publication, or rather one variety of publication, which is going to press every minute, every second, during twelve hours of the day. When there is some big event on hand which comes within its reportorial scope it stays on the job throughout the twenty-four hours, bringing out an edition at every tick of the clock. This minute-by-minute publication is the strip of paper tape which unreels itself from the ticker machines.
We all know the ticker end of this wonderful news service--a waist-high wooden pedestal topped by a glass dome under which is a mysterious combination of wheels. We all know the preliminary buzz, how the wheels begin to turn and tap out on the clean strip of paper tape the brief story of something that is happening practically at that very moment in some other part of the world.
Usually it is stock market news, but the ringside story of a prizefight, the arrival of an ocean liner, the weather conditions in some far-off section, the occurrence of a big railroad accident, of a calamitous earthquake, events big and little, thrilling and trivial, all are duly recorded on this little strip of paper tape.
There are few of us who have not at some time or other stood beside a ticker and anxiously watched it tap out its condensed story of current history. Has the Presidential candidate for whom we cast our ballot carried the country? Has our college crew pulled first across the line? Is our investment in wheat futures threatened by a prolonged drought in the Northwest? Have we won our wager that Biff Sullivan will land his punch? Has the storm-tossed liner on which our family is journeying to Europe succeeded in making port? Have our stocks gone up or down, and are we in or out?
It's a mixed story that the ticker tells, some the interest is merely casual, but for many the next six inches of tape may tell the story of success or failure, of life or death.
This dramatic value of the ticker has not been lost sight of; the playwright and the story-teller have both used it. But, strange to say, the story of what goes on at the other end of the ticker wire has never yet been told, the story of the ceaseless activity, of the weblike organization that covers the civilized world and focuses its news in the ticker beside which we chance to stand.
There is little doubt that were there no such things as Stock Exchanges and stock brokerage offices there would be no such thing as a ticker service. The cash value of instant news of the fluctuations of the market as indicated by stock transactions on the floors of the Exchanges of the world is what gives the ticker business its financial backbone. News of events--legislation, judicial decisions, elections, &c.--which will influence the rise or fall of stocks is of equal importance.
The average man with his casual interest in the world's happenings usually waits for his morning or evening paper. Every now and then he marvels at the rapidity with which these serve the news to him. "Just to think," exclaims he, "that this happened in Russia only a few hours ago, and here I am reading about it at my breakfast table."
But the dealer in stocks can't wait even a few hours for his news. He must have it hot off the griddle. Minutes, even seconds spell dollars for him. And so we find the ticker service with its countless little machines, each of which ceaselessly printing throughout the business day a condensed account of the happenings of the MOMENT.
Do you want to know how fast this ticker service operates? A short time ago the ticker quotations on English consols was disputed. Some one called up on the telephone the New York News Bureau, one of the ticker companies, and asked:
"Is your quotation of English consols correct?"
A cable was forthwith sent to the news bureau's London agent; an answer flashed back, and within five minutes of receiving the telephone query the statement was being tapped out on the ticker tapes of New York:
"Previous quotations of English consols correct?"
Do you want to know how minutes count in this distribution of news affecting financial matters? How times have changed since Rothschild stole his two days' march on the London financiers with his information about Waterloo! One of the proudest boasts of New York news bureaus is its assertion that it beat all its competitors SEVEN MINUTES in spreading over its ticker service the news of the Russian-Japanese treaty consummated at Portsmouth.
The most important centre of ticker news in America is the New York Stock Exchange. What stocks are active? What are they selling at?
The floor of the Exchange is the only place where this news can be got "hot off the griddle." But the floor of the Exchange is a sacred precinct, jealously guarded from the intrusion of strangers. The Exchange, however, recognizing the necessity of sending instant news of its transactions to its members, has established a news-collecting force of its own. The floor of the Exchange is marked off by sixteen equi-distant posts. Each of these is the centre for trades in certain stocks. In the centre, of each square marked off by four of these posts is a waist-high wooden pedestal, upon which rests a telegraph instrument and a spindle.
There are forty news collectors upon the floor, and every one of them is a telegraph operator. It is the duty of these collectors to skurry about from group to group and pick up the transactions.
There is no place in the Stock Exchange where stock transactions are recorded. All deals are made by word of mouth, and the collectors of news must "catch it on the fly." Only a person who has sat in the visitors' gallery during an active market and watched the shouting, gesticulating, scrambling mob on the floor, has any idea of what a strenuous occupation this "fly catching" of stock news.
There maybe 200 men crowded about one of the trading posts. From the babel of shouts and waving of arms the news collector must distinguish the actual transactions. Often these are consummated by a nod of the head or a wave of the hand.
In a crowd of this kind there will be four or fire collectors scattered about. As soon as one picks up a transaction, he jots it dawn on a piece of paper. Then he passes it over the bobbing heads of the brokers to the next collector, who happens to be nearer the edge of the surging crowd. The slip of paper is thus passed from hand to hand in bucket brigade fashion, until it reaches a collector who can get to the nearest one of the four telegraph instruments. It is then put immediately upon the wire, or, if the wire is busy, it is thrust on the iron spindle and sent out as soon as the wire is open.
The wires from the four telegraph instruments stationed upon the floor of the Exchange run to two rooms situated side by side on the eighth floor of the Stock Exchange Building. In one room is the radiating centre of the ticker service that the Stock Exchange furnishes exclusively to its members, and only to those whose offices are located south of Chambers Street. In the next-door room is the centre of the ticker service furnished by the Western Union Telegraph Company. A tell-tale tap on one of the telegraph instruments on the Exchange floor repeats itself simultaneously in both of these rooms on the eighth floor.
These ticker services deal exclusively with stock transactions, and are also the exclusive means by which the news of these deals is distributed from their source--the floor of the Stock Exchange.
But there is also a large amount of news of almost equal importance to the people who deal in financial and industrial matters. And so we find two concerns in New York furnishing a ticker service on this kind of news--Dow, Jones & Co. and the Stock Quotation Telegraph Company. These two companies distribute what is known as the wide-page ticker service, their tickers printing the news on strips of paper about six wide. This wide-page service is taken by the banks, stock brokerage offices, insurance companies, trust companies, surety companies, and many industrial concerns.
The wide-page ticker tells the news concerning financial, industrial, and commercial matters, weather news, the story of big accidents or calamities, and every important sporting news that is likely to interest big financiers.
Both Dow, Jones & Co. and the Stock Quotation Telegraph Company get their news of transactions upon the floor of the Exchange from the Western Union Service, and forthwith send it out through their own tickers. But for all other news they rely upon the activity of their own staffs. And this is where the keenest competition comes in.
A reader of a morning newspaper frequently does not know that his paper has scored that great journalistic feat, "a beat."
But the stock dealer knows--usually to his financial loss--within a very few minutes that the ticker service to which he subscribes has been beaten in getting a piece of news. The minute is sufficient time to negotiate a deal in stocks, and so minutes become of the greatest importance in this distribution of financial news.
For an instance of this hair-splitting competition let us go back to a recent Tuesday. On that day the Directors of the United States Steel Corporation held a meeting to declare the quarterly dividend. Each of the newspapers had one representative there "to cover" the news. That was all the newspapers needed, for there were many intervening hours before going to press.
But the two ticker companies each had six men on the job. This was the way each company divided its forces: Two men stood at telephones, holding the wires open into their respective offices; a man stood near by to flash the news, and three other men were detailed to hold up and pump each Director, as he left the meeting. This count of men does not take into consideration the men waiting in each office to handle the news.
The first man to leave the meeting was J. Pierpont Morgan.
"What dividend has been declared?" asked the waiting news man.
"See the Secretary," said Mr. Morgan. Close behind came Charles Steele. His answer was the same:
"See the Secretary."
There were ten Directors at the meeting, and as they left the meeting close on each other's heels, they all made the same non-committal reply, until the tenth and last man appeared. George F. Baker, President of the First National Bank was the man.
"Well, boys," said he to the group that attached themselves to him, "it's three-quarters per cent. extra."
The newspaper men followed along with Mr. Baker, asking for details. But the ticker men waited for no more. By a prearranged code they wigwagged the news to the men waiting by the telephones, they whispered it to the men at the ends of the open wires, they passed it along to their offices, and within three minutes of the time that Mr. Baker had said, "It's three-quarters per cent. extra," the tickers in Harlem, Brooklyn, Yonkers, and Newark were announcing the fact of the extra dividend. Six men had been on the job, but the announcement itself did not require twelve words. Last Summer, when Harriman returned from Europe, one of the ticker companies set five men to "cover" him. One man went down the bay on a revenue cutter to board the steamer and give the first flash as to Harriman's physical condition and anything that he might say while the steamer was docking. Another man was on the pier. A third at the offices of the Union Pacific Company, on the lookout for any announcement that might be made there. A fourth at the railroad station at Jersey City. And the fifth and last man was assigned to board the train and travel to Arden.
No Board of Directors holds a dividend meeting but that at least two men are assigned to report it. Seventy-five per cent. of the country's corporations, by the way, hold their Directors' meetings in Jersey City. Important legislation at Washington and Albany is covered in the same way. So also are important judicial decisions. Last May, when the railroads won what is known as "the Commodities Case," the tickers not only flashed the fact of the decision, but also immediately thereafter were tapping out through their wide-page service a 1,500-word synopsis of it.
Sandwiched in between news stories of many kinds are the entire transactions of the New York Stock Exchange, stock quotations from Chicago, London, and Paris; Government crop reports, weather conditions throughout crop-growing districts of the world, and the list of local failures, bankruptcies, and assignments. In one day last week--by no means an exceptional day--one of the wide-page tickers reeled off forty-seven feet of tape.
When it comes to sporting and general news, there is but one ticker company to supply it. This is the New York News Bureau, an affiliation f the Stock Quotation Telegraph Company. It distributes its news over the narrow-tape ticker, the one best known to the public, found in hotels, clubs, newspaper offices, cafés, cigar stores, and some few private homes. It gives stock quotations, all sporting news, arrival and departure of steamers in domestic and foreign ports, and all general news.
The New York office has a staff of telegraphers and reporters as big as that of a metropolitan newspaper. Its news is collected by the same rapid-fire method as is the stock market news. The arrival of an ocean liner at the Ambrose Lightship, and its hour of docking are announced. A reporter sits by the ringside and hands his copy directly to a telegrapher. Within five minutes after a blow has been struck, a counter made, or time called, the watcher by the ticker knows of it. And so it is when the football is on the fifteen-yard line, or a two-bagger has been knocked to left field, or a college crew has pulled across the finishing line five yards ahead of its rival.