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A story of journalist Philip Meyer’s journey in the news world

Elby Adamson

By A Contributor

Noted journalist and professor Philip Meyer’s path through journalism started with a paper route at the Clay Center Dispatch and went through a writing stint at the Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle, Topeka Daily Capital and the Topeka State Journal.

Although his first job at the Dispatch was delivering papers on a seven-mile long route, Meyer later worked as a summer intern there as a journalism student at Kansas State University.

He really became a journalist while writing for the Collegian where he pursued several stories that incurred the wrath of administrators from the dean of the school of architecture and engineering, M.A. Durland to K-State president James A. McCain.

By the summer of 1951 Meyer was writing for the Topeka Daily Capitol. Among stories he did that summer was an interview with the plaintiff’s attorneys in Brown v. Board of Education and stories dealing with the great flood of 1951.

Later, Meyer went to work for the Manhattan-Mercury Chronicle.

“I went downtown and asked Bill Colvin for a job.

A former city editor of the Topeka Daily Capital, Colvin had gone to work for Faye Seaton, who had been content until then to publish a mediocre but profitable daily.

Now he wanted to upgrade the newspaper with some good journalism.

“Colvin hired me as a reporter and photographer. He was making the paper lively and feisty, and I was thrilled to be helping.”

At the Mercury-Chronicle Meyer learned how to operate the Fairchild electronic engraving system that was replacing acid-etched zinc plates. It was a valuable technical skill and gave Meyer an insight to “the disruptive effects of communication technology.”

After graduating from college, Meyer went to Navy flight training in Florida but knew he was a newspaperman.

While in the service he was a copy editor for the Gosport, a base newspaper.

Upon returning to civilian life, Meyer went to work for the Topeka Capital.

Of his early work there, Meyer said, “”Jim Robinson, the hard-working state editor, was the most creative member of the staff.

My job was to work the desk on his days off and spend the rest of the time out on the road digging up stories.

This job took me back to the Blue Valley and the ongoing fight against Tuttle Creek Dam.”

(This same fight was recently reviewed in a series of articles in the Manhattan Mercury.) Meyer comments on the unsuccessful strategy of the groups that opposed the building of Tuttle Creek.

“It became the most memorable story assignment in my time in Topeka,” he said.

His discussion of the journalistic ethics involved is interesting. Of the Daily Capital Meyers said, “The Daily Capital lived up to the journalistic standards that I had been taught at K-State part of the time. At other times, it was too ready to use its power in its own interest and those of its advertisers.”

Soon Meyer left Kansas and traveled to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he did graduate studies.

It was there he begin to see how quantitative content analysis could be of great use in journalism.

His graduate school experience was followed by a job at the Miami Herald, a Knight newspaper. The Knight chain also owned the Detroit Free Press, the Akron Beacon Journal and the Chicago Daily News.

At various times in his career Meyer wrote for all of these.

In 1967 Meyer was sent to the Detroit Free Press where he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Detroit riots.

Much of that coverage was based on statistical analysis as applied to journalism-analysis spearheaded by Meyer.

Later, Meyer would write the journalism text, “Precision Journalism,” and teach journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

His road to journalistic excellence began with newspapers like the Clay Center Dispatch, Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle and the Topeka Daily Capital that provided a sound foundation for a successful career.

This memoir reminds readers a humble beginning is not necessarily a roadblock to achievement.

Meyer is the author not only of “Paper Route” and “Precision Journalism,” but also “The Newspaper Survival Book,” “Ethical Journalism,” “Governing the United States” (co-authored with David Olson) and “The Vanishing Newspaper.”

Elby Adamson is a retired teacher and a Clay Center resident.

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