Newspapers, the fourth estate, and galoots… by
(152 Stories)

Prompted By Newspapers

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I come from a long line of galoots. They began American life in 1849 as farmers in Pennsylvania. They fought on the Union side during our first Civil War and then headed west to Placerville, California, where my great-great grandfather, John established a frontier business as a harness maker and soon opened a boot shop.

Placerville, 1888 — Galoots in mud boots

The boot maker’s son, my grandfather Charles wasn’t having any part of the galoot legacy. He was a writer and he was bound to be a newspaper man. He started out as a copy boy on Placerville’s only newspaper, worked his way up to reporter, and fled south, where he landed a job on the San Diego Union. He worked at the Union until he wrote his masterpiece — a grand lie in the tradition of the Great American Lie, as promulgated by Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, P.T. Barnum, and my grandfather.

Charles and Louise — Liars, lovers, and mythmakers

Once the great hoax had been exposed, grandfather Charles fled to Butte, Montana, where he landed a job on the Butte Daily Bulletin during the titanic struggles between the copper barons and the copper miners. He covered the conditions in the mines and the miners’ efforts to organize though the I.W.W. — the International Workers of the World. The preamble to the IWW’s constitution began with the line “[t]he working class and the employing class have nothing in common.”

Charles’ employer, The Butte Daily Bulletin, was part of the fourth estate and proudly flew the following motto over its masthead: “We preach the class struggle in the interests of the workers as a class.” I suppose he, too, had become a galoot.

Eventually, my grandfather was forgiven for his earlier journalistic antics and returned to work in San Diego. He died of a stroke on his way to work, waiting for the trolley to take him to the newsroom.

My father John, although destined to become an electronics engineer and designer, also subscribed to the romance and importance of newspapers. After his parents died, he was taken under the wing of the Scripps family, known for having started the Scripps Institute, Scripps College, and fostered a chain of newspapers across America.

The crusty, lusty E.W. Scripps, who began United Press International (UPI), and had fired my grandfather after the great San Diego hoax, told my old man that only sissies go to college, so my father turned down a Merit Scholarship to MIT to become one of E.W.’s “boys, bright boys, from the classes that read my papers.”

E.W. Scripps shipped my father, John off to Seattle where he found that he was starting on the bottom rung of the Scripps ladder. My old man wasn’t climbing any corporate ladder. Perhaps he, too, existed as a galoot at heart.

When next seen, the Depression had begun, and my father was serving as “Sparks,” a marine radio operator on anything that floated, from Japanese tuna boats and tramp steamers to glorious passenger vessels on the American President Lines. He also doubled as an organizer for the National Maritime Union, another fourth estate outfit.

My own affair with newspapers began in while I was working with SDS. I took a job on the midnight shift at the Philadelphia Bulletin as a copy boy but they promoted me to copy writer. At night, that meant writing up obituaries. You may find this surprising, but it’s vitally important to get an obituary right, no mistakes, no Damon Runyan spin. People die and their survivors are sensitive.  I didn’t know the night editor wanted to massage me into a position where I could take on the shitty end of his work load.

Midnight shift at the Bulletin

Given the tenor of the times, anti-war, civil-rights had people marching, tear gas, the heat having a field day, and everybody busting out with resistance, rebellion, and love — I didn’t give a damn about the Philadelphia Bulletin. There was justice to be sought, a war to stop. I was headed down other roads, but I still ended up writing for the fourth estate, the media outside the media. So maybe I’m just a galoot after all.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

Visit Author's Website

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Thanks for taking us back through those earlier pieces you wrote for Retrospect relating to newspapers, all of which I remember reading when you posted them. All fabulous stories! But for my money, the best part of this story is the picture of you sitting in a Harvard dining hall, in coat and tie, intently reading the Crimson over breakfast.

    • Thanks, Suzy. Required attire in the house dining rooms, breakfast lunch and dinner. Shirt not necessary, but tie and coat, mandatory for all young gentlemen. Likeness captured by roommate, happily still a friend who continues photographing the Maine coast, playing and restoring weird old instruments, and growing organic food for local markets.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wonderful compilation of already-told family news adventures through the ages, Charles. If Suzy hadn’t ID-ed you as that handsome, searching, young, man in the photo, I wouldn’t have recognized you. More than half a century will change a person’s outward appearance, but not his love of words and the news of the day. I love how you made this all flow and we followed along; not caring for one moment who was a galoot and who became something else.

    • Thanks, Betsy. I’m curious to know if you found the inserts of other Retro stories broke the narrative flow. You say it flowed for you, and I appreciated that. Some say I’m still handsome even 50 years later ;-). Definitely still searching, and — with the exception of occasional galoot forays — I think I’m largely galoot-free!

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        I do think it flowed, even with the Retro story inserts. They introduced the next chapter, then you added the surrounded plot.

        I love the smiling face that peers out at me, week after week in your bio at the end of your wonderful stories, so I’m sure you are still handsome, 50 years on. Maybe someday I’ll see in person.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Like Suzy, I anjoyed your taking us through this delighful fistory of “galoots,” in your typically great style, but particularly resonated to that photo of you reading the Crimson. My freshman year was pretty much the death knell for the coat and tie rule at meals, but it was strictly enfoced in the Freshman Union — ironically, as I used to note, by stewards in crimson blazers with ties, but invariably wearing white socks with their dark trousers and shoes. And they even got wise to the “strict constructionalist” smart asses among us by specifying at some point that shirts (with collars — no tees) also had to be worn. Fascists!

    • I think during those few years (I was a freshman in ’62-63 (yikes!)) from my Harvard entry to yours allowed for some relaxation of rules. Even when I graduated in ’67, women were not allowed in Lamont Library. But I happily LOL’d at your use of the final epithet. Fascists indeed!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Your stories never cease to amaze me. I am envious that you know so much of your family history and how it shaped the person you became.

    • Thanks, Laurie. ‘Degelman’ is a juicy name to Google. There aren’t many of us, and I found a great deal on the Internet. I also had two aunts on that side of the family. My mother’s side, ‘Townsend’ not so easy to research casually. But yes, early along, I realized that I, like nations, had a cause-and-effect relationship to the past. Historical materialism. Marx.

  5. Thanx for this wonderful recap of your family’s newspaper roots and your own, and a peek at your past Retro stories. I guess we Retro bloggers are fifth estaters now too.

    You may be a galoot Charles, but a wonderfully literate one!

    • Thanks, Dana. I hope the elaborate inserts didn’t break the flow of my narrative too badly. Our family did have a wild-west acquaintance with the media. And thank you for your closing line. I may place ‘literate galoot’ in my bio.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    Loved reading your stories, as always, Charles. Your memories about your family’s newspaper adventures hit home and, once again, made my heart hurt over the struggles print journalism continues to face.

    • Thanks, Jim. Interesting point you make. My grandfather did operate in print journalism’s heyday. And one of my most pronounced and loved memories was walking down to the press room at the Bulletin (room, hell, it was a factory, hundreds of yards long) and watching the mechanical snake of the morning edition flying in its tracks through the presses and overhead to be folded, bundled, and loaded into trucks. The whole process disappeared into an inky mist, and the presses roared like a thousand locomotives. All gone. Sad.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    That was quite a romp through the years and through newspaper history, and it gave me a chance to read some of the stories posted before I started following retrospect. Some great stories indeed. Too bad you couldn’t have known some of your relatives back in the day–but then, sometimes you learn more from the research on someone than just meeting them in person. And obituaries are indeed important to get right–I have been surprised to find out things I never knew about people who I thought I knew.

    • Thanks, Khati! I did do some romping in this post! I was very surprised to find out about all this ancient American history. My immediate family was located on the East coast and it took many years before my father was prepared to let the ice thaw between him and the California clan, a story too long for the telling here. Certainly not all the Californians were galoots!

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