Cribbing and Butterfield’s Frequent Service

THE FOURTH ESTATE of California’s early years was a no-holds barred vocation in which the moral qualities, accuracy and objectiveness of one newspaper were held to be fair game for public ridicule in the columns of a competing sheet. Charges of plagiarism were rife, yet nearly every paper throughout the state copied, as a matter of course, items from other news journals. Cribbing was particularly evident on current out-of-state news, originating largely in letters from paid correspondents. These were employed by the papers which could afford them, in principal cities of the eastern states.

Until the 20-day Butterfield Overland Mail was inaugurated, contributions from correspondents were forwarded via the Isthmus of Panama, making the arrival of every steamer at San Francisco a news event of major proportions. It wasn’t so much the speed of the Butterfield line (approximately equal to that of the Panama route) as it was the stage company’s more frequent, twice-a-week schedule that caused it to find especial favor in the eyes of California publishers. Its overland route was a means of halving the time between news making and news printing.