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Apr 18

Titanic Sinks, Telegram swims

News of the Titanic sinking reaches San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, April 16, 1912.

C.L. Day the new editor and manager of the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram was desperately bailing water, trying to keep his ship from sinking.
He had just bought the debt saddled Telegram five days  a little over a month earlier on March 11, 1912. The paper needed a lot of work. Founded as a temperance advocate the paper appears to have been run by committee, with a wandering attention span.
The only real passions in coverage were the anti-saloon diatribes and scolds that sometimes ran on every page. In addition to the erratic coverage the business department was hamstrung by the moral stance of the paper, which precluded it from taking advertising from immoral business sources.
The paper often looked more like a sleepy church newsletter than an alert watchdog ready to chase news.
Within the week he had replaced the soft serif nameplate with bold sans serif type and an aggressive eagle clutching the Stars and Stripes in its talons. The ears touted “To days News To day” and on the other side “The Home Newspaper.”Day would prove to be a master of self promotion and his experience at Southern California newspapers would give his paper a more modern voice than the more established Tribune run by Benjamin Brooks.
Day would tout his independent stance where Brooks headed the paper that had been Republican all but a handful of years since it was founded in 1869.
C.L. Day would be challenged on April 16 when news came of the sinking of the largest ship ever built. The Telegram had no wire service at the time so the Titanic stories were rewritten from stories printed in the San Francisco Bulletin and likely delivered by Southern Pacific train that day. Ironic considering competing editor Brooks had been a strong advocate of bringing the railroad to town.
Across the continent the New York Times would set the standard for coverage of the story by using new technology, telephones, to speed information from dockside to the newsroom. Journalism was changing as technology brought new tools to the field.

Read the understated lede that the New York Times published and you see the future of journalism.

In a clear starlit night that showed a clear deep blue sea for miles and miles, the Titanic, an hour after she had struck a submerged iceberg at full speed, head-on, sank slowly to her ocean grave.

The florid purple prose of the yellow journalism era was on the way out in favor of precisely reported descriptive details. Newspapers like the Telegram and Times would flourish in the years ahead.

As you got further away from first hand reporting the stories and headlines became more speculative. The Telegram headline read (incorrectly) “ONLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN SAVED”.
In fact there were about 713 survivors; the exact number varies slightly according to source.
Survival favored first and second-class passengers. Third-class children had about the same survival percentage as first-class men.
A more accurate headline would have been, “Third-class goes down with the ship”.
Third-class women had a 46% survival rate, children 34% and men 16%. The only category lower was second-class men at 8% survival.A little less than half the survivors, 338, were men.
However there were more men than women onboard so if you look at overall survival about half the children and three-quarters of the women onboard were saved.
Only one in five men onboard survived.
The biggest tragedy was that there were empty seats for an additional 500 more passengers on the lifeboats but the 28-degree ocean quickly killed almost all of those tossed into the sea as the unsinkable ship went down.
Lord Mersey’s report said that third class passengers were more reluctant to get into lifeboats and abandon their baggage. It was also harder to get third class passengers up from below decks to the boat deck.
Excessive speed in iceberg-infested water was found to be the cause of the sinking.

No doubt Day put in long hours on this edition because he had a local bombshell story, the second director of Cal Poly, Leroy Burns Smith, announced his planned resignation.
Director for seven years, Smith had grown enrollment and extended the school’s academic program from three to four years. He began as an English instructor, two years later he was vice-director and in 1908 he was promoted to the top job. According to the Cal Poly Library’s page Smith stayed on until May 1914 when he left for a job at the University of California, following the path of his predecessor Leroy Anderson.

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