A discarded stack of reporters’ assignment books provided the Omaha Daily Bee with the topic for a New Year’s column published on the first day of 1900. The Bee first explained to its readers that an assignment book “is a big blank book made up diary fashion-the dates of the week and month, with blank lines below. On these lines the city editor, under whose direction the reporters work, writes a brief memorandum of the particular duty to which each reporter is assigned for the day in question. This is what an assignment book is and why it is so named.
“The city editor ‘makes up’ the book and leaves it on a desk in his office. The reporters appear at whatever hour they are due to report, and instead of asking the city editor what they must do, they look at the book, make a note of what is entrusted to them, sign their name and go out to ‘cover’ the assignment. In this case, ‘cover’ is a synonym for ‘do.’ If the reporter ‘does’ his work thoroughly, the city editor considers that the assignment has been ‘covered.'”
Outdated assignment books were not destroyed. “In an out-of-the-way corner of the office of THE BEE city editor, there is a pile of assignment books which have been filled from January 1 to December 31, and discarded as the years have rolled by, dating away back into the 70’s. If these old books could talk, they might tell many a story of the sunshine and shadow of newspaper life. Some of the city editors who wrote these names may now be making out assignments on these ‘big dailies in the sky.’ Others, including both reporters and city editors, are still on earth, but scattered from Paris to the Philippines [The Philippine Insurrection was then raging].”
Reading the discarded assignment books “is like reading history. Brief though the mention may be, therein is recorded all of the principal happenings that have occurred in Omaha and suburbs for a quarter of a century. Tragedies, romances, notable marriages, deaths of prominent citizens, visits of great men to Omaha, calamities, as well as a voluminous mass of minor happenings, all have place and date in THE BEE assignment books.” The Bee further noted the habit of many city editors to write on the last page of the assignment book at the end of the year: “‘Everybody turn over a new leaf,’ or something similar, and the same often is found on the first page of the new year book.”
Starting the new year with a new set of books was also the topic of an editorial in the Custer County Republican (Broken Bow) on December 10, 1908. “The year 1908 is rapidly drawing to a close,” it said, “and it is time to wipe off the slate and begin anew. . . . The business man will open a new set of books at the beginning of the year.” Others were urged to follow his example and make the new volume of their lives “clean and unspotted. Forget the unpleasant events, the disagreeable episodes of the past year and contribute something to a more commendable and a brighter year that is soon to break in upon us with its pages pure unturned.”
The young woman in John Nelson’s photograph seems about to turn a page, long a figure of speech signifying a new start at the beginning of a new year.