Based on a true story, a new reporter is beat up by gangsters for getting them raided and then collects for not exposing their activities.
Breckenridge Lee (Richard Barthelmess) has a letter from a Savannah editor and gets a job on Chicago's Press. Marcia Collins (Fay Wray) and Breezy (Regis Toomey) help him get started. The paper reports a gang war and declares a crusade. Lee investigates the Sphinx Club and asks Larry Hayes (Robert Gleckler) about the casino opening. Lee gets only $35 a week, and Louie Blanco (Clark Gable) offers him $2,000 to forget. Breezy and Lee call on Marcia. Breezy and she warn Lee about Hayes. Lee's story is on the front page. Police raid the place and arrest Hayes, who threatens Lee. On the street Lee is beat up by two men. Marcia visits Lee at the hospital, and he asks her to marry.
Lee is welcomed back to the Press and looks at his medical bills. He asks city editor Carter (Robert Elliott) if the paper could help with the bills or give him a raise or an advance; but Carter says no. Lee goes to see Louie and shows him his next assignment. Louie makes a call and gets $20,000, giving Lee $5,000 of it and forming a partnership whereby Lee will hold back stories unless the gangsters don't pay. At a bank Marcia sees Lee put cash in a safe deposit box. Lee calls on Marcia and asks what is the matter. She says he has changed; she knows what he is doing and says it's wrong. Lee says he won't turn back, and Marcia tells him to go. Louie calls on Lee, because he collected from Gervaso. Lee says Louie took extra on the Clancey deal, and he won't let Louie push him around anymore. Lee needs a story on Waverly, and Louie warns him. Lee gives Louie his split after he evened it up. Marcia has coffee with Breezy, and he asks her to marry. She says no, because he doesn't try. Breezy offers to work harder.
Louie tells Lee to see #1 and takes him to him. Lee is to told to lay off on Waverly. Lee asks for $100,000 and gets it. Breezy tells Carter about Waverly and writes the story. Lee calls on Marcia and apologizes, saying he works against the racketeers, terrorizing them, and making them pay. Marcia says they'll get him and asks him to quit. If he goes away, she will marry him. They plan to leave and kiss. Carter likes Breezy's story and stops the presses to put it on the front page. In the morning Breezy finds Lee at Marcia's and learns they are getting married. Breezy shows Lee the Waverly exposé and leaves. Lee answers the phone, and a voice says the finger is on him. Marcia is scared. Lee leaves for the bank and is shot on the street. The paper calls Lee a martyr. Breezy says they couldn't buy him, and Marcia says it is a pity.
This drama reveals how violent gangsters could be during Prohibition to keep their rackets going. Lee believes they wouldn't kill a reporter; but after becoming a racketeer himself he finds out otherwise.