Joseph Medill published the Chicago Tribune for forty-four years, until his death in 1899. He remained a newsman until the very end.
On March 16, 1899 Medill knew he was dying. The custom of his day was to take down the last words of prominent people. (Goethe’s last words–in German, of course–were, “More light!”) That explains Medill’s actions on this day.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Medill called his attending physician over to his bedside. Then he told the doctor: “My last words shall be–‘What is the news?'” After that, Medill spoke no more. Within ten minutes he was dead.
Now that’s what you call dedication to your craft. Here’s Medill approaching death, and he’s thinking about what will be catchy in the next day’s paper. Notice that he announces “My last words shall be . . .” Old Joe wanted to make sure the doctor knew what was coming after that, and would remember the words, and would pass them on.
Today you’ll find Joseph Medill’s last words quoted in numerous places. Just like he wanted them to be.