3 APRIL 1920, Page 6


PERHAPS every journalist has at some time or another been struck by the eeriness of his profession. Ever since he was a " free-lance " and dangled his manuscripts like a fly over some editor whom he envisaged as a sort of lazy tyrant who lay perdu amid a tangled weedbed of " leadeos " he has been talking to some ona who for the most part did not vouchsafe a sign of life. Writing in a newspaper is like shouting down a tunnel to an unknown interlocutor. The journalist is at first delighted by the fine reverberation made by his voice, by the stately rumpus of which he is the originator, but presently he begins to long for the support of some answering shout from the other end. But no answer comes. At last a horrid thought obtrudes itself. Has the listener simply gone away, and is one talking to the empty air ? The journalist does of course occasionally hear from his public. Some one writes a letter, most likely to complain that he has spelt " Macamald " or " Mackay " " Mc " instead of "Mac." That happy epigram about Syndicalism, or about the source of the Zambezi, or about Mr. Aldous Huxley's verse, the little gem that was tucked away in that review the other day : has it really ever been read by anybody ? and if not, considering its extreme beauty, might it not be used again—used desperately until somebody took some notice of it, until somebody laughed ? Why don't readers ever laugh ? Perhaps they may ; but the sound, that divine sound, is for ever inaudible to the maker of the joke. And then the- journalist remembers how in his free-lance days he used to puzzle over the rejection of manuscripts. What was the fault that made "the Editor regret " ? And then he thought : " Ah I when I am on the staff I shall know where I am." But till his death he is doomed to utter a monologue to a chimera. The early darkness, the fog, which surrounds the editor can, however, to a certain extent be dissipated by the taking of some such course as is offered by the London School of Journalism, which will prove useful to beginners at least in- this particular. The trove "-writer, the dramatic critic, and the reviewer are probably irrevocably doomed to the position of an orator trying to address his meeting on the telephone.

But the reader may ask : "Is it not as wel that the journalist should be unable to cater too exactly to the public taste ? Is it not a question rather of what the public ought to know than of -what they want to read 1" Here is of' course the eternal controversy. The London School of Journalism holds strong and, we think, sound views upon the subject. The attitude of the journalist has got to be - Due of compromise, for at present not even in Soviet Russia, we believe, has newspaper-reading been made sompulsory. 'Therefore the reader possesses a perpetual right of closure—the man at the other end of the tits nel goes unobtrusively away if he is bored. The views of the journalist, however salutary, can never be forced upon the public, for before a man acquires knowledge from the printed page two acts have to be performed— the information, though written, has still to be read, and reading. is an active exercise into which no one can be forced. Here is perhaps the basic principle which underlies Mr. Kennedy Jones's theory of the slightness of the political power of the Press. Therefore it is that every journalist has to think first -and all the time of his readers, for it is upon their willingness to hear that his power depends, not only his income, but things for which (let the cynic deny it if he can) he cares far more—his political power, and his ability to enlighten and inform his readers. English journalists and-English -men of letters have always tacitly and explicitly denied Stevenson's theory that the artist and the writer-are thefi7,les de joie of the business community. -It is interesting to notice how much emphasis is laid on this attitude of mind, in the curriculum of the London School of Journalism. The course is in no way what an American would call " highbrow " ; it is severely practical, and is frankly intended to increase or create earning capacity in its students. And yet on almost every page various journalistic obligations of honour are insisted upon. We think that a good many readers of daily papers would be astonished if they could see how strong, even in the most frankly profit-making organizations, is a certain sense of responsibility. 'The journalist has a code of honour almost exactly opposite to that of the doctor. but its enact- ments are almost as strict. The critic may notice, especially In its practice, some striking omissions ; but if he be candid lie will also see that it is a genuine code of honour in that it is not solely based on the " Honesty is the best policy" principle, and that the fact that it may often involve sacrifice is cheerfully acknowledged. The journalist's unwritten- (lode is chiefly concerned with matters of truth. ft insists first on veracity, secondly upon publicity, and thirdly upon scrupulous respect for confidential informa- tion. The rest of the journalistic Ten Commandments are humanitarian—" Thou shalt not give unnecessary pain." An author or book may sometimes have to be abused, but he or it must rarely be gibbeted. Lastly, it is written that dog does not eat dog.

If journalists are a body of men with a scrupulous code of honour, if the London School of Journalism's curriculum shows that even the most frankly business journalist has a respect for scholarship, 'wide reading, and accurate general information, why are the papers of largest circula- tion so widely acknowledged to be downright bad ? Do readers insist that their paper should be bad ? Or is it just an unfortunate chance ? Are the hearts of the public really in the "Golden Apple" Beauty Competition ? Do they really care for the works of a well-known American humorist which appear every day in a certain London daily ? Do they like the "sob, stuff" offered them in a " write up," such for instance as was accorded in most daily papers to the two minutes' silence last November ? If we only know what was at the other end of the tunnel The present writer, like every other journalist, has .a theory about readers. He believes that that is indeed the sort of thing they like, especially in their daily papers. He believes, further, that that is the sort of thing he likes himself. But instead of having the gentlemen at present employed in producing these features, he would have the "write up" of the two minutes' silence done by Mr. De La Mare ; the Beauty Competition conducted by Mr. Glyn Philpot, assisted by Mr. W. J. Turner (dramatic critic of the London Mercury); the American humorist replaced by Mr. Baumer. or Mr. Bateman; the "Cold-Blooded Murder in Eccleston Square," "The Haunted Rectory," • and " Laundress's Fatal Mistake " reported by Mr. Chester- ton. That paper, run by men who knew their work, would be really efficient. Newspaper-reading is but an interlude in some more exacting profession. What we want is to substitute real for factitious humour, adventure, and fantasy. We (the Press) are doing the right things, but we are doing them so desperately badly. We are doing them badly because -we still lack Matthew Arnold's "sweetness and light," because we lack humour, because our touch is heavy, because we lack fastidiousness. " %egg is in custody." The eyes of Matthew Arnold would still be seared by a hundred such phrases in every paper. Is the London School of Journalism an institution which inculcate El the great.er or the lesser efficiency ? It recommends omnivorous reading, but we notice that when instances are cited its conductors only suggest classics for perusal. Though they very properly insist upon the celtivation of a sense of proportion, metaphysics and logic are not particularly recommended. Neither do they lay much stress upon the work -of contemporary writers ; indeed, we note with pain a passage in which it is said that the style of the modern novel is bad ! The style of ninety- nine novels in a hundred is certainly bad, but have they forgotten that The Secret City and The Tunnel are modern novels, and that Mr. Conrad is not only a financial imecess but a magnificent narrator and master of a prose style of extraordinary flexibility and beauty? To the young half a modern instance is better than two old saws. The School must not let its attitude resemble that of the notorious prig who said : " When I hear of a new book I take down an old one." NI haps the legend which should be inscribed ia gold over the doors of the School would be : "Remember that Conrad is 1920's best seller." It is in that sign that we shall conquer. The book and newspaper public will be -entertained at all costs. If they cannot get a newspaper which is 1 o h good-and "bright," no doubt they will read the one which is 'only bright ; but let the merely bright writer beware At present there are still very few really good journalists. In old days poets and serious followers of the Muses dropped daily journalism like a hot potato as soon as they could earn an income without it. Quarterlies represented the journalistic speed-limit for writers who respected their art. But that is not the spirit of the age. Things are already moving. The merely commercial journalist must remember that he may one day have to face the rivalry of real poets and real men of letters who are no longer too unpractical or too fastidious to submit themselves to the conditions of daily journalism. There will then be Loom only at the bottom of the ladder for the ill-educated perfunctory writer who understands nothing but news -