The FREE PRESS Story
By Filemon V. Tutay
Highlights of its first 50 years, including its wobbly start, its many libel suits and how the publisher was nearly deported.
August 30, 1958—WHEN R. McCulloch Dick first thought of starting a paper of his own over 50 years ago, he was editor of the old Manila Times with a handsome salary of P550 a month. He had two weeks’ vacation coming to him and one day he told Martin Egan, the Times’ managing editor and Associated Press correspondent, that he wanted to take the two weeks off and canvass some businessmen to find out what they thought of his idea to put out his own paper.
Egan, who also left the Times later and joined the business firm of J.P. Morgan & Co. in New York, replied simply: “All right, go ahead!”
During the couple of weeks that followed, Dick made the rounds and consulted about a dozen businessmen, most of whom had their offices on the Escolta. Only two of the businessmen were in favor, a few had their doubts, while the rest predicted failure for his project.
In the face of these gloomy prospects, however, Dick decided to “go ahead.” His total resources amounted to P8,000 which represented his savings during the five years that he worked for the Times. How to begin was his next problem.
Before proceeding any further, however, a word of explanation is in order.
Dick’s decision to publish a weekly was probably influenced somehow by his close association with F. Theo Rogers, who was then a vocational teacher connected with the Bureau of Education. After his day was done as a teacher of carpentry in the old Philippine School of Arts and Trades, Rogers used to drop around almost every afternoon at the Times’ office for a chat with his close friend. They invariably talked about the political issues of the day, especially those bearing on the political aspirations of the Filipino people.
When Rogers was sent to Bacolod, Negros Occidental, to organize a school of arts and trades, he kept track of happenings in Manila through his correspondence with Dick. Rogers says that the mails were pretty slow that time and he received letters from Manila only once every two weeks. He recalls that in one of his letters to Dick, he stated that “the paper for this country is a weekly magazine costing about 10 centavos a copy and P2.00 for one year’s subscription.”
So, while Dick was groping for a solution to his problem on how to begin, he thought of the Philippines FREE PRESS which was started by Judge W.A. Kincaid as an organ of the Moral Progress League. The league had been organized to crusade against vice in Manila. The paper was in circulation for about a year and then died a natural death. It was a losing proposition. The paper had been dead for some time when Dick thought of reviving it.
Judge Kincaid was in the United States at the time but he had left a power of attorney with Atty. Charles A. McDonough. Upon being consulted by Dick, McDonough informed him that Kincaid would be glad to see him revive the paper. McDonough added, however, that there was not much to start with; only a few lists of subscriptions, the title and the good will. For all these, Dick paid the token amount of one peso.
The New Free Press
Two weeks after this transaction, the first issue of the Philippines FREE PRESS of today hit the streets. Old subscribers of Kincaid’s organ of the Moral Progress League were without doubt pleasantly surprised to receive copies of the new FREE PRESS. The issue, which had English and Spanish sections, was dated August 29, 1908. Whereas the old FREE PRESS had been a newspaper, the new one was a magazine.
The paper was then published on the second floor of the same building at No. 44 Escolta where Carson Taylor’s Manila Daily Bulletin also had its offices and printing plant. Through an arrangement with Taylor, the FREE PRESS was printed on the press of the Bulletin.
The FREE PRESS occupied only two rooms in the building, a composing room and an office, the latter combining the business and editorial departments. Quite a bit of the original P8,000 capital was spent for type and furniture for the composing room and office equipment. Except for Dick who had his hands full as editor and business manager all rolled into one, nearly everybody else on the staff was on a part-time basis.
Editor of the Spanish section was Don Alberto Campos who, among other things, was then also associate editor of El Mercantil, professor of Spanish at the Centro Escolar de Señoritas (now Centro Escolar University) and translator of the Bulletin’s editorials into Spanish. The indefatigable Don Alberto came to the Philippines as a major in the Spanish army. Upon his retirement from the service, he remained in Manila and engaged in newspaper and educational work.
To help get things done in the advertising department, Percy Warner Tinan was taken in. At that time, Tinan was handling the streetcar advertising for Meralco. Rogers also helped in soliciting advertising for the FREE PRESS whenever his time allowed but refused to be paid for his efforts. Eventually, however, when funds became available, he was persuaded by Dick to join the FREE PRESS to look after the business end of the publication. Rogers now holds the position of general manager of the paper.
Dick and Rogers recall that the early days of the FREE PRESS were days of continuous struggle and hard work. Working up to one or two o’clock in the morning seemed to be the order of the day. But no one on the staff complained about the heavy routine. Rogers recalls with a glint in his eyes that, when walking home from work in the wee hours of the morning during those hectic days, he always took care to use the middle of the street to avoid stepping on some people “squatting” on the sides of the streets for lack of toilet facilities.
From the beginning, the public response to the publication was generally friendly. There were instances of strangers who solicited subscriptions without accepting the usual agent’s commission while some businessmen helped along with advertising.
But the friendly response of the public was not good enough. After seven months, the P8,000 capital was gone. Dick was in dilemma. What to do? Give up the whole thing as a total failure? Or, “go ahead?” Characteristic of the “Old Man,” Dick chose to “go ahead.”
Much as he hated to go into debt as a matter of principle, Dick was forced to borrow money to keep the FREE PRESS going. Through a friend, he borrowed P2,000 at 8-percent interest per annum. But in six or seven weeks, this was also gone. Dick was still determined to “go ahead” and secured an additional loan of P1,000. This turned the trick and the paper started to making a little money. There were occasional periods of stringency, it’s true, but the FREE PRESS had definitely become a going concern.
Later, when the Bulletin moved to the Cosmopolitan Building on the north approach to Sta. Cruz (now MacArthur) Bridge, the FREE PRESS went along. The paper continued to be printed on the press of the Bulletin. It was not until sometime in 1921 that the FREE PRESS erected its own building on its present location on Rizal Avenue and installed its own printing plant.
Tinan did not stay very long with the FREE PRESS. After leaving the FREE PRESS, he worked for La Estrella del Norte where he took charge of the automobile department. Then he went to South America and became the manager of the Studebaker agency in Buenos Aires. It seemed, however, that he could not stay put in any one place. He returned to the Philippines later and put out various automobile publications. Tinan had the distinction of driving the first car to Baguio.
Don Alberto stayed with the FREE PRESS as long as its Spanish section held its appeal for a substantial Spanish-speaking segment of the publication. The Spanish translations of the English editorials were especially appreciated in the homes of the aristocracy and in the high places in the government which were held by Spanish-educated Filipino officials.
The Spanish Section
This appeal, however, wore off with the years. More and more English-speaking Filipinos were being turned out by the public school system and FREE PRESS readers clamored for more space for English than Spanish in the publication. More significant was the fact that very few businessmen cared to buy advertising space in the Spanish section.
Don Alberto was succeeded by Roman Joven, a Filipino from Pampanga, as editor of the Spanish section. Antonio Ma. Cavanna, who is now with El Debate, was the last Spanish editor of the FREE PRESS.
Of the Grand Old Men of the FREE PRESS, Frederic S. Marquardt, one of the ablest associate editors ever to work for this paper, had the following to say in his book, Before Bataan And After: “It would be difficult to find two men more radically different in temperament than R. McCulloch Dick and F. Theo Rogers. Dick was an intellectual type, an introvert who shunned social gatherings and had only a few intimate friends. Rogers was an extrovert, who numbered his friends by the thousands and was at his best in a convivial gathering or on a speaker’s platform. Yet they pulled in harness together amazingly well, and they built a new magazine which influenced the lives and thoughts of many thousands of Filipinos.”
Dick was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, some 86 years ago. He emigrated to the United States while he was in his teens and attended Park College in Missouri. He spent some time in California where he held various jobs, including one in a grocery store. Then he went east and found employment on a weekly newspaper in New Rochelle, New York.
As to how he finally wound up in Manila is a long story. Suffice it to say that when he discovered to his dismay that his hair was falling out in alarming quantities, he consulted a doctor who advised him to take a long sea voyage. Naturally anxious to keep his hair, Dick went to the waterfront in New York and shipped, as a deck hand at $14 a month, on a sailing ship bound for the Far East.
He left his ship in Hong Kong with the intention of getting a job on a newspaper in the British crown colony. He eventually took passage for Manila when he was told that English-speaking newspapermen were badly needed in the Philippine capital. Dick started as a reporter on the American owned Manila Times.
Rogers comes from Boston where, he says, “the best Americans come from.” At 14, he volunteered for service in the US Army and was sent to the Philippines to help quell the insurrectos. After a semblance of peace had been restored in many provinces of the islands, he was pressed for service as a vocational teacher in the old Philippine School of Arts and Trades.
Gifted with the knack of making friends very easily, Rogers was soon counting his friends by the thousands, both great and small. He became immensely popular not only among Filipinos but also among the various foreign communities in the Philippines. He is the only non-Spaniard who was extended an honorary membership in the Casino Español. He enjoys the same privilege in the exclusive Swiss Club.
Even as a humble vocational teacher in the early days, Rogers was already rubbing elbows with the highest officials in the Philippine government. On the recommendation of then Speaker Sergio Osmeña, Rogers was designated to accompany then Assemblyman Manuel Luis Quezon on a mission to the International Navigation Congress in St. Petersburg, Russia, some time in 1908. The third member of the group was the late Teodoro Kalaw, who acted as technical assistant to Quezon.
By virtue of an Act of Congress, Rogers, a couple of years ago, was made “an adopted son of the Philippines” with the same rights as any Filipino citizen.
Not a few people have often wondered how Dick and Rogers, radically different in temperament as they are, have been able to pull smoothly together and build up the FREE PRESS to what it is today. The only plausible explanation for this seems to be that the nature of their work on the paper does not necessarily throw them together. They have entirely different and distinct responsibilities. While Dick takes care of the editorial end, Rogers looks after the business side of the publication.
Both loved to travel in their younger days and they were seldom together in Manila after the paper had attained a state of financial stability before the war. When one was abroad, for periods ranging from six months to three years, the other got things done in the office. Since liberation, however, only Rogers has gone abroad.
They are held with the highest respect by the FREE PRESS personnel and are never addressed without the “Mr.” Not that they ask for it, but it is given voluntarily. (The customary “Mr.” has been purposely left out from this write-up for reasons of space.)
As Fritz Marquardt put it in his Before Bataan and After, Dick was and still is “a fiend for orderliness.” When he walks around the office and spots a paper clip, or a small piece of paper, he never fails to stop and pick it up. Naturally, everybody in the office takes the hint and no one wants to be caught with any such thing, or worse still, a cigarette butt on the floor near his desk. He knows that the “Old Man” is sure to spot it and pick it up and make him look like a fool.
Dick is a stickler for correct spelling and grammar in accordance with the rules. An error in spelling or grammar is enough provocation for him to raise the roof anytime. He is a perfectionist. When he takes up something with any of his employees, he expects that employee (no matter if he is only a janitor) to speak out his mind without fear. The “Old Man” definitely hates a “yes” man.
This, as in many other things, is where Rogers differs with him. You cannot argue with Rogers. This is because he will insist on doing all the talking. And, of course, he is always right. He is “the boss.” On at least four occasions before the war, Rogers “fired” this writer on the spot for talking back. Being really stubborn, however, the writer came back each time. As for Rogers, an impulsive Irishman, he soon cools off after outbursts of temper.
Among the many men, too numerous to mention, who have contributed to the growth of the FREE PRESS, two may be mentioned: Domingo Magsarili Sr., and Robert S. Hendry. Magsarili, now 75 years old, started his career with the magazine with its very first issue 50 years ago, and is still going strong. As a composing room foreman, it is doubtful whether he has a peer. He has the touch of an artist in his skillful handling of ads and editorial copy and pictures.
Robert S. Hendry was the associate editor for nine hectic years from 1947 to 1955. Those were exciting, eventful years for the FREE PRESS in which it more than doubled its prewar circulation. His astute editorial judgment and honorable conduct greatly impressed those privileged to work with him. Leaving the FREE PRESS at the end of 1955, he died in 1956.
The FREE PRESS story will not be complete without a word about the many libel suits brought against the paper and its editor and the various members of its staff because of its militant policy. About the biggest libel suit ever instituted against the FREE PRESS was filed at the instance of the late President Quezon when he was Senate President. A libel suit filed against Dick and staff member Teodoro M. Locsin by former Gov. Eliseo Quirino took some four years to thresh out in the Court of First Instance of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Besides the libel suits, there have been death threats against the magazine’s staff members.
Dick himself was once ordered deported from the islands by then Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison. But before the order became effective, Harrison left the administration in the hands of Vice-Governor General Charles Emmett Yeater. By the time that Harrison returned to the country, he had undergone a change of heart and the deportation order was eventually abrogated.
How does the FREE PRESS manage to maintain its circulation at a high level? That is the pet problem of Circulation and Office Manager Floro A. Santos, a veteran of 46 years on the FREE PRESS. The beauty contests held by the FREE PRESS before the war might have had something to do with it, but it has been largely the industry and resourcefulness of Floro which kept the circulation of the paper consistently high. However, if you ask Rogers how the FREE PRESS has managed to maintain its high circulation during those years, he will tell you that this paper’s circulation manager used to be his pupil in the old Philippine School of Arts and Trades.