"Stringer" is an old word in journalism that is derived, or so the story goes, from the days when newspaper correspondents were paid by the amount of type that they got into the paper. To gauge their earnings, these part-time reporters would lay out the columns of newsprint that they were responsible for and measure them with a marked string. Our Chief of Correspondents, Earl Burton, does not exactly pay by the inch—ruled, stringed or otherwise—but we call his men stringers, and we depend upon them to keep us in touch with events throughout the U.S. and Canada. (Overseas we call upon the facilities of the Time-Life News Service.)
Under Burton's command, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has more than 60 stringers in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, most of them local newspapermen. Every month they file more than 1,000 messages and 600,000 words to our New York office. Their reports are often in answer to questions from our editors, but much of their work is initiated by the stringers themselves—suggestions for FACES IN THE CROWD, anecdotes for SCORECARD, candidates for PEOPLE and informative leads that frequently put us on the track of major stories. Occasionally stringers write for us under their own bylines. This week, for instance, Eric Whitehead, our man in Vancouver, is the author of the story on the world curling championship (page 38). Six ex-stringers have joined our regular staff: Tex Maule (who came from Dallas), Ray Cave (Baltimore), John Underwood (Miami), Dan Jenkins (Fort Worth), Bob Ottum (Salt Lake City) and Curry Kirkpatrick (Chapel Hill, N.C.).
To keep track of his communications network, Burton and his deputy, Eleanore Milosovic, make frequent visits to stringers on their home grounds. Burton also writes to them, usually weekly, discussing the material they have offered. "This is an extended editorial desk," he says. "We have to keep in contact. Otherwise we get isolated right here in New York."
Burton knows what isolation is, coming from Caldwell, Idaho. In 1937 he climbed aboard a Greyhound bus and headed east to attend George Washington University. He planned to study for the foreign service, but instead joined TIME'S Washington bureau after graduation. Before he assumed his present position in 1955, he worked as a TIME bureau man in Ottawa and bureau chief in Toronto. "He ended up becoming a diplomat anyway," says William Furlong, our Chicago stringer. "You have to be," Burton says. "The man on the desk has to know both sides of the fence. He must act as a buffer between angry editors and angry reporters."
April 4, 1966
Burton does retain one aspect of the old string measure. The correspondent who contributes the item in SCORECARD that is selected each week to be illustrated by Bill Charmatz is awarded the original drawing. Who leads in this department? Burton is pleased that it is not a stringer from a metropolis but Arch Napier of Albuquerque. Napier's fresh thinking has won him 17 originals. Now Mrs. Furlong is after her husband to submit SCORECARD ideas and never mind the big stories. She wants more of those Charmatz drawings for her son's bedroom.