A Day in a Reporter’s Life, 1879

Imagine yourself as a newspaper editor/reporter in a town without the internet, without automobiles, and even without newfangled inventions such as telephone and typewriter.

Alfred Sorenson is best remembered today for his colorful histories of early Omaha, but in 1879 he was working as the city editor of the Omaha Daily Bee. Omaha had about 30,000 residents, a bit less than present-day Kearney.

A former colleague described Sorenson’s frenetic pace in an article published June 19, 1889:

“[Sorenson as] city editor… was expected, with the aid of ‘paid locals’ to fill five columns daily on the fourth page. He was religious and society reporter, reflector of the doings of the courts and railways, dramatic critic and sporting, fire and commercial editor at one and the same time. His duties began at 6 o’clock in the morning when he commenced to turn in copy for the morning edition, then printed at 7:30 and ended when the news gave out for the day.

“In that interval of from twelve to eighteen hours he was expected to cover, solitary and alone, the twelve scattered square miles of stores and dwellings which ten years ago [in 1879] comprised the bailiwick of Omaha. The early morning round… comprised a rapid visit to the coroner’s and undertaker’s, the district court, the county clerk’s office to transcribe the real estate transfers, an interview with all the city and county officials, as brief usually as a society call, and a hasty return to the editorial rooms in order to write up the material gleaned before noon. This little journey was followed at 12 o’clock by a visit to the depot to take in the overland west bound train, to pump the depot officials and to interview distinguished travelers, real or imaginary. After this another flying trip was made before 2 o’clock to the coroner’s and court house, when copy was prepared and handed in [for] the afternoon edition, proof read, visitors received, advance agents of shows entertained and numerous other minor matters attended to.

“After the paper went to press he was often at liberty for the rest of the evening, excepting when a fire broke out or an entertainment presented itself to be reported… Omaha has never seen a reporter with the reportorial ‘legs’ of Sorenson in the years gone by, when he made the local pages of THE BEE the despairing envy of all competitors.”

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