Origin and Early History of UPI


(Written in 1978)


United Press International was born June 21, 1907, as the United Press Associations because its founder believed there should be no restrictions on who could buy news from a news service. Today, with more than 7,000 subscribers throughout the world, its ownership and management still subscribe to that belief.

UPI is the only major news service in the world under private ownership. It was founded by E.W. Scripps, then publisher of the Scripps-McRae Newspapers (later Scripps-Howard), at a time when the world news scene was dominated by the Associated Press in the United States and by government-subsidized or government-controlled agencies abroad.

Scripps had started several newspapers and wanted to be free to start others wherever he wished. He also wanted others to be free to start newspapers because he believed in newspapers as such and in the principle which became the motto of the Scripps-Howard newspapers, "Give light and the people will find their own way."

He saw that a single, powerful press association could become such a monopoly in the gathering and distribution of news as told hold the power of life and death over a publisher whose social and economic views might differ from those of publishers who were in control of the news monopoly. Under the restrictive membership rules of the AP as they existed then, such publishers could deny the AP's service to new publishers.

His determination to fight this caused him to organize the Scripps-McRae Press Association in the Middle West and the Scripps News Association on the Pacific Coast in the early 1900s. In 1906, he purchased control of the Publishers Press, a small news service in the East, and merged the three services the following year to form United Press Associations.

In contrast to the AP practice, he believed that news should be furnished to any publisher who desired it and could pay for it, without regard to competitive interests. He felt that there should be a free flow of information.

"I do not believe in monopolies," Scripps said later. "I believe that monopolies suffer more than their victims in the long run. I do not believe it would be good for journalism in this country that there should be one big news trust such as the founders of the Associated Press fully expected to build up."

Expansion Overseas

Seeking to gather news abroad, the United Press found itself confronted by a cartel composed of the official and semi-official news agencies of governments in Europe. These "allied agencies" and the Associated Press exchanged news exclusively with each other. They furthermore allotted to each member the right to exploit exclusively certain regions of the world. Only the French agency, Havas, for example, could sell its news in South America; while in the Far East, the territory of Reuters, Japanese and Chinese newspapers had to depend on the British agency for their foreign news.

In its competition with the monopolistic alliance, the United Press established two new principles in news agency operation. One was that a news organization could cover the news of the world independently. The second was that newspapers anywhere could buy this news. As a result, United Press became the first North American news agency to serve newspapers in Europe, South America and the Far East. At the same time, it established its own bureaus in those areas with staff correspondents instructed to report the news objectively and without government or political bias.

Its success in this endeavor led to an invitation in 1912 for UP to ally itself with Reuters, then the dominant European news gathering organization, which the young news agency rejected. Such a move would have put United Press in alliance with agencies controlled or dominated by foreign governments, tying it in with an international news cartel which at that time was the foundation of the AP's foreign service. Instead, it set a course of aggressive, independent coverage and broad dissemination of its services. As its foreign news resources and clientele grew, the effectiveness of the allied agencies' control gradually declined, although it was not until 1934 that they formally gave up trying to retain their particular spheres of influence.

At its beginning in 1907, United Press served 369 newspapers in the United States. Its news went to European newspapers through the British agency, Exchange Telegraph. Two years later, in 1909, United Press began a cable service to Nippon Dempo Tsushin Sha, the Japanese Telegraph News Agency, later merged into Domei. This service was to continue until December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

By 1914, the UP's clientele had doubled. With the outbreak of World War I, newspapers in South American began chafing under the allied agencies' restrictions which compelled them to get their war news from the French agency, Havas. The South Americans said it was officially subsidized and covered only the allied side of the war. To get the news of both sides, they turned to United Press. It began its first news file to South America in 1915. La Prensa of Buenos Aires, started using United Press service in 1919.

Direct UP service to newspapers in Europe was inaugurated after the first World War, in 1921, to clients in Cologne, Frankfurt and Vienna.

United Press service direct to newspapers on the Asian mainland followed in 1922, to publications in Peking and Tienstsin.

In 1922, the British United Press Ltd., was organized to serve newspapers throughout the British Empire.

By 1929, the United Press was serving 1,170 newspapers in 45 countries and territories.

Development of Services

During these years, in addition to pioneering new territories, the United Press broke new ground in news agency style and method. It was the first service to emphasize the by-line of the correspondent writing the dispatch. It introduced the big-name interview and developed the feature story as an important part of the daily news report. It encouraged its writers to tell their stories in terms of people. It gathered its own news. It strove for penetrating reporting and excellent writing.

In 1935, United Press became the first major American news service to supply news to radio stations.

At the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, the number of United Press clients had grown to 1,715 newspaper and radio stations, in 52 countries and territories. These included 486 newspapers outside the United States of which 194 were in nations which went to war with the U.S. in 1941 or in territories occupied by them. The war cost UP those 194 papers, yet before it was over, UP's list of clients was greater than ever. In 1944, the total was 543.

In 1951 United Press added to its facilities the teletypesetter which sent news dispatches by wire, and linked to a typesetting machine, automatically set them in type in newspaper offices.

In 1951 it launched the first major international newsfilm service for television stations.

On January 1, 1952, United Press entered the newspictures field on a worldwide basis. Within two years it developed a fully automatic facsimile receiver to supplement the traditional Telephoto service, a photographic process using manually operated equipment. The first facsimile service was for television stations. Early in 1954, as quality improved, it was extended to newspapers.

Begun also in 1952 was the complete conversion of overseas radio transmissions from Morse to radioprinter.

On the occasion of UP's 50th anniversary, June 21, 1957, TIME magazine said: "The first major U.S. news service to prosper as a commercial undertaking, the United Press today is the world's most enterprising wire-news merchant."

Now, entering its 71st year, UPI serves 7,079 subscribers worldwide. It's 2,246 clients outside of the U.S. include more than 30 national and other news agencies which relay its reports to additional thousands of newspapers and broadcasters. In the U.S., UPI's clients include 1,134 newspapers and other publications and 3,699 broadcasters.