Friday, April 26, 2013

Helen in the Editor's Chair

Helen in the Editor's Chair
Ruthe S. Wheeler
Goldsmith Publishing Company, 1932

Genre: Realistic


Helen Blair's father, Hugh, is the editor of the Rolfe Herald. Her brother, Tom, writes some news for the paper and operates the Linotype while Helen helps around in the office. The newspaper is an eight-page paper. It features four pages of national news and four pages of local news. At the time of the story opens Helen arrives at the office to find that her father is very ill. She sends him home and promises that she and Tom will finish the paper and demands that he call the doctor. The doctor examines him and tells Helen and Tom that their father will need to go to a southern state to rest for possibly six months at least as he is suffering from lung trouble. Knowing that they don't have the funds for such a trip, Helen and Tom offer up their college savings for the “vacation” and offer to run the paper themselves which is better than hiring someone to come in from outside and do it. Mrs. Blair calls Helen the new editor but she says that Tom is really in charge. He says that they will be democratic. They nominate Mrs. Blair as the publisher; Tom will be the businessman, run the mechanical department, and act as handyman; and Helen will be the editor, lead reporter, and assistant to the handyman. Margaret, daughter of the local doctor and Helen's best friend, volunteers to write for free as she's always wanted to be a writer.

A number of days later a bad storm hits. Tom calls it Helen's first story. In the calm of the storm they see a boat out on the lake. It is their neighbor Jim who delivers mail and papers to the resorts every Sunday morning. He could get in trouble if he's not out before the storm picks up again. Helen takes off to help him when Tom yells and points to the sky where a tornado is forming. Working together they pull Jim from the water and begin to drag him to the nearest storm shelter. They watch from safety as the tornado appears and proceeds to take out a small barn. Luckily it turns away from town and the doctor decides to head out to check on the farmers. Helen and Margaret tagalong as reporters. Their first stop is the demolished Laver farm where they find the father with a broken arm and the family gives Helen an eyewitness account of the storm. As they continue on about 15 miles outside of town they see more destruction but no major injuries. On the way back they’re stopped by a man who says that his house was destroyed and that his son was hurt badly as he was knocked unconscious. Meanwhile, Tom checks out the damage to the resort on the lake which accounts for about $50,000. The total end result is about $100,000 in damage. Tom suggests that Helen sends her story to the Associated Press as it might be a big deal and maybe they could get paid for it. She calls them and is told to write up her account and that she might become their new Rolfe correspondent.

Monday morning Helen writes an article about the storm. She then proceeds to spend time finding more news for the paper. She visits an incoming train to try to get some personals from the visitors. One new man in town is Mr. Charles King who happens to be the state superintendent of schools and is there to make inspections. He offers to see Helen before he leaves and report on the school system. A farmer comes in to get some sales bills printed and Helen offers him a good deal. He tells her to look into the same kind of deal with some of the other farmers in the area as they would be a good source of revenue for advertisements. Jim eventually shows up to tell Helen that the damage to the summer resorts was about $35,000 total but everything is insured and should be fixed in about two weeks. Luckily the storm missed Sandy Point, the older resort. In the afternoon Helen sees Mr. King who proceeds to tell her that her town has the best schools in the state with populations under 1,000 people. He suggests that Helen consider adding a school page to the newspaper. Later that night Helen, Tom, and Margaret all go to school for a sophomore/junior debate. The sophomores win and Margaret is the best debater.

Thursday morning comes and as they head out to finish the issue they discover that their printing press has broken down. Tom gets help from Milt at the local garage as he is fixed it before in the past. On Friday Helen and Margaret go to the sophomore class picnic of 18 students. They gather rocks and partake in treasure hunt. They eventually have dinner and hold a campfire where they tell scary stories. During the stories Helen discovers that Margaret has disappeared. When they learn that it is no joke they set out to search for her and discover that one of the rowboats is missing. They all set out onto the lake and finally find the missing boat half under water and Margaret drenched with a black eye. She admits to disappearing and looking for the boat. When she tried to get back to sure she stumbled and that is all that she remembers.

The school year is coming to an end and the senior class play has run into a bit of a problem—the lead actress is sick and can't speak. Everybody convinces Helen to take over the part. Other exciting things happen along the way. The big exciting news is that the railway has a new train that is gas electric powered. By the first week in June Tom discovers that the newspaper isn't making enough money. He says that they're just going to have to make the paper so good that all the businesses will want to advertise with them and he starts by including the farmers’ page. Tom decides also to cut down the national news from four to two pages. He says that most of the people want to read the comics and the fashion news. Helen finally receives a check from the Associated Press for her tornado story and is shocked to discover it is $10. It is Tom's goal that they hopefully get new subscribers and get to be noticed as an official county paper. However, there is stiff competition to be one of the three official newspapers. Their biggest competition comes from the Auburn Advocate which is run by Mr. Atwell, who their father called the crookedest newspaperman in the state.

The big Fourth of July celebration is just around the corner. Usually two resorts send out flyers to the big papers but Tom put in a smaller bid and got the job. Art, the owner of the smaller resort, is holding a huge carnival and gives the Blair family free passes considering how much money he saved by printing his 20,000 flyers with them. The big exciting news is that Speed Rand is going to be making an appearance. He is a huge aerial celebrity. On their way to Sandy Point for the festivities, Helen gets an urgent telegram from the Associated Press who wants her to try to get an interview with Rand and to try to confirm rumors of his next big stunt—flying around the world without refueling.

Once they reach Sandy Point Speed Rand is attempting a trick in the path of their boat. He flies over their boat and nearly busts the bottom of his plane open. He flies off and crashes and Tom, Helen, and Margaret get their boat to follow after him to make sure he is all right. In exchange for being quiet about the accident Helen get the chance to interview him and asks about the rumor which he confirms is the truth (and sounds a lot like Lindbergh’s big flight). She calls the Associated Press office and they are stunned that she got the story.

After a day full of fun they decide to take Captain Billy's ship, the Queen, back to town. This will be the boat’s last year on the lake. Everything seems to be going fine until speedboat crashes into the bow of the old steamer. The captain gives Tom orders to run full speed to the shore as everyone on the lower decks moves to one side to see the accident, which unfortunately could cause the old boat to sink. Luckily they make it to shore in time and no one gets hurt. Later that night, the Queen catches fire and burns to the ground. Some believe that Captain Billy started it but no one really knows. Helen decides to write about the story for the Associated Press. The next morning Helen receives a copy of her stories and a message about a monthly check coming her way and possible employment after high school.

Time flies by. In August Helen adds the school page to the newspaper. In October they've added an additional 400 new subscribers making their total 1,272 people. Soon Atwell shows up to try and intimidate Helen and Tom by claiming that they are stealing away his subscribers. By the end of November they're up to 1,400 circulation. It is pretty certain that the Herald is going to be named the third official county paper instead of the Advocate. Tom decides to place his subscribers’ records in the bank because he's pretty sure that Atwell would stoop to sabotage. The very next day a fire occurs in the printing office but is luckily stopped before anything too bad happens. The Fire Chief finds evidence of arson and discovers that the office was ransacked—probably for the circulation records. An official audit proves the Herald has 1,411 subscribers and they are indeed named the third official county paper.

The Blairs now have more income so Tom hires a printer at $18 a week and buys a paper folder for $50 so Helen never has to fold 1,411 papers a week again. By the time all of their bills are paid they have a surplus of $900. Helen decides to spend $200 on a railroad tickets to send her mother down to Arizona to spend Christmas with their father.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

There isn’t much of note in this story (it was actually a “career” novel that was pretty well written and entertaining). The characters are described in pretty standard ways: “Tom was tall and slender with a wavy, brown hair and brown eyes that were always alive with interest. Helen came scarcely above his shoulder, but she was five feet two of concentrated energy. She had left her tam at the office and the afternoon sun touched her blonde hair with gold. Her eyes were the same color blue as her mother's and the rosy hue in her cheeks gave hint of her vitality” (p. 22-23) and “Mrs. Blair, at 45, was a handsome woman. Her hair had decided touches of gray but her face still held the peach bloom of youth and she looked more like an older sister than a mother. She had been a teacher in high school at Rolfe when Hugh Blair had come to edit the country paper. The teacher and editor had fallen in love then she'd given up teaching and married him” (p. 25-26).

The biggest element in this story was gender stereotypes. As noted above, Mrs. Blair gave up teaching to marry Hugh and she currently just teaches a Sunday school class for 10- to 12-year-old girls. When her children declare her the new publisher of the paper the following conversation occurs showcasing just how skeptical their mother is of being useful outside the home (p. 37-38):

As publisher, I'll stay at home and keep out of your way.”
Mother, we don't want you to do that,” exclaimed Helen. “I want you to come down and help us whenever you have time.”
But what would I do?” asked her mother.
Well things. For instance, jot down all the personal items you know about your friends and about all the club meetings. That would be a great help to me. Sometimes at evening maybe you'd even find time to write them up. Tom and I are going to be frightfully busy between going to school and running the Herald.”
I'll tell the town,” said Tom. “If you'd handle the society news, mother, you can make it a great feature. The Herald has never paid much attention to the social events in town. Guess dad was too busy. I think that women would appreciate having all of their parties written up. I could set up a nice head, 'Society News of Rolfe,' and we would run a column or so every week on one of the inside pages.”
You're getting me all excited, Tom,” said his mother. “Your father said I never would make a newspaper woman but if you and Helen will have little patience with me, I'd really enjoy writing the social items.”

The other two elements that showcase gender stereotypes include quick references—one which is slightly negative and one which was positive. When Tom and Helen decide to cut some of the national news elements to save money Mr. Walker, their news contact, says, “You're going to be quite metropolitan with a full page of comics and a page devoted to women. I'm glad of that. Too many editors of weeklies fail to realize that the women and not the men are the real readers of their papers. If you write a paper which appeals to women and children you have a winner. Comics for the youngsters and a serial story with a strong love element and fashions and style news for the women” (p. 169). Lastly, when Tom tells Helen to call the Associated Press with her tornado story she tells him to telephone instead as she’d be “scared to death and wouldn’t be able to give them all the facts” (p. 70). Tom replies (go Tom!) that she’s the editor and that it is her story so she ought to do the phoning.

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