other americas

What reporters know and don’t report is news–not from the newspapers’ point of view, but from the sociologists’ and the novelists’. It enabled me, when I learned a little of it, to write my Shame of the Cities. But it took time and sharp listening to get that little. Though I had nothing to do, professionally, with criminal news, I used to go out with the other reporters on cases that were useless to my paper but interesting to me. Crime, as tragedy and as a part of the police system, fascinated me. I liked to go for lunch to the old Lyons restaurant on the Bowery with Max Fischel or some other of the “wise” reporters. They would point out to me the famous pickpockets, second-story men and sneaks that met and ate there; sometimes with equally famous detectives or police officials and politicians. Crime was a business, and criminals had “position” in the world, a place that was revealing itself to me. I soon knew more about it than Riis did, who had been a police reporter for years; I knew more than Max could tell Riis, who hated and would not believe or even hear some of the “awful things” he was told. Riis was interested not at all in vice or crime, only in the stories of people and the conditions in which they lived.

The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, 223

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One Response to other americas

  1. […] I hope at some point to write up some posts based on Lincoln Steffens’ autobiography, which I started reading out of an interest in what he says about journalism, but now seem to be reading more out of an interest in what it says about reform – or rather, about a variety of things that fall, not entirely easily, under the category of “reform.” But for now other things are taking priority over blogging, so I’m keeping to transcribing passages. […]

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