Mr. W. T. Stead: The Career of an Ex-Editor of the Northern Echo

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Mr. W. T. Stead: The Career of an Ex-Editor of the Northern Echo

The Northern Echo, April 17, 1912

Amongst the many notable people whom it is feared have gone down in the ill-fated liner is Mr. W. T. Stead, who was without doubt one of the most remarkable personalities in modern journalism. The son of a Congregational minister, and the brother of Mr. J.E. Stead of Redcar, the well-known metallurgist, he was born in Embleton, Northumberland, in 1849, and spent his early boyhood at Howden-on-Tyne.

Leaving school at 14, he commenced life in a mercantile house in Newcastle, but soon found other uses for his pen than merely casting accounts. He eased the scribbling itch in writing letters to editors, and in this way he discovered himself to the proprietor of the “Northern Echo”, of which journal he became editor in his twenty-third year. His conspicuous ability soon commanded public attention, and his articles in the “Northern Echo” on the Eastern question in 1876 brought him into considerable prominence. “I have read them,” said the great Mr. Gladstone, “with much admiration of the public spirit as well as the ability with which they are written,” and he wrote to the editor himself: “I wish that our whole Press was distinguished equally for its justice, heartiness, and ability.”

In 1880 Mr. John Morley, then Editor of the “Pall Mall Gazette,” secured the services of Mr. Stead as Assistant Editor of that quondam Liberal organ, and three years later he succeeded to the editorial chair, and controlled the policy of the “P.M.G.” till the end of 1889. His association with that paper brought him in touch with most of the leading men in London, and the introduction of the practice of interviewing in English journalism may be credited mainly to him. As an interviewer Mr. Stead had few equals, and in some instances his practice of the art helped him to make history.

Mr. Stead possessed strangely conflicting qualities. His brilliant series of articles on the “Truth about the Navy and its Coaling Stations,” which appeared in 1884 influenced the policy of the Admiralty. A few years later he was crusading against militarism and denouncing the South African War in “Shall I Slay my Brother Boer?” The shrewdness of the book he wrote for General Booth on the Salvation Army’s scheme for the reclamation of the “submerged tenth” was in odd contrast with such dabbling in the occult as his “Borderland,” and the messages from “Julia.” But all the time he had the true journalistic “flair” for the thing that would catch the popular interest at the moment; and his forceful, if eccentric pen, will be greatly missed. When he left the “Pall Mall Gazette” Mr. Stead started “The Review of Reviews“, which was an almost instantaneous success, but his venture into daily journalism in 1904 proved a failure, for the “Daily Paper” lasted less than a week.

Mr. Stead came into contact with most of the notabilities of the time, and his acquaintance with crowned heads was unique. He had only recently returned from a visit to Turkey, where he interviewed the Sultan and great officers of state with a view to urging the submission of the dispute with Italy to arbitration. Although so many years had elapsed since he left Darlington, Mr. Stead never lost connection with the “Northern Echo.” Early this year he broke his journey north to sit once more in the familiar chair and to note the changes which had taken place since a previous visit.

As a passenger on the Titanic Mr. Stead was on his way to attend the convention to close the “Man and Religion Forward Movement,” which had been operating in America for some months with the object of inducing business men to take an active part in religious movements.