Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XV.

A NEWSPAPER EDITOR TELLS OF THE TRICKS OF HIS TRADE.

Boston, April 25, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Several weeks ago I was introduced by Mr. De Demain to the editor of the chief newspaper in Boston. It is a daily of thirty-two pages, each page about twelve inches long and nine inches wide,—quite convenient to read. The circulation is very large, often reaching, I am told, five hundred thousand copies in a single day. Editions are printed every hour from one a. m. to seven p. m. I will not attempt to further describe the paper for you, but will let the editor do that in his interesting talk with me.

“Without our papers,” said he, “I think anarchy would be impossible. Anarchy is nothing more or less than a nice adjustment of the different forces that cause individuals to act. The newspaper chronicles their acts, and thus enables the individuals to see when the social mechanism is out of order. In this way the equilibrium can be kept. The newspaper today is a mirror which reflects the acts of humanity. It gathers, but does not magnify, the rays of human actions, concentrating them so that one man can see with the eyes of all men. That is, he can see the facts pictured in truthful outlines. He gets a sketch that he may fill in to suit his fancy. If any part of society gets started on the wrong track, disastrous results will show themselves sooner or later. These results the newspaper records, and the reader is, in consequence, warned in time, and the evil tendency is corrected. You can readily see how such information, or news, is of very great value to every individual. It is no idle curiosity that prompts men to read the newspapers. It is absolutely necessary for their welfare that they do so. That newspaper which gives the greatest number of correct reports of events of the day is most valuable to the reader, and will naturally have the largest circulation. But the newspaper not only warns men against evil tendencies, but, by giving the news, shows them when they are going right, when they are advancing. In this way the newspaper is a most potent factor in the development of humanity.

“The province of the newspaper is not to criticise, not to advise. We simply print information, nothing else.”

“But,” said I, “you print advertisements?”

“Yes, but those are information. We receive payment for them according to the space they occupy, but they are all written by men connected with our office, who inspect the goods offered by the advertiser and then write the notices for the paper in accordance with the facts. Our intention is to print nothing but reports of things as they actually are, of past events as they actually happened, and of coming events which are controlled by man as it is proposed they shall actually happen.”

“Then you do not believe in making comment, favorable or unfavorable, in print on the acts of humanity?”

“I most certainly do believe in it, but not in a newspaper. Such comment is not information, and has no place in a newspaper. There are numbers of very successful dailies, weeklies, monthlies, and quarterlies whose space is almost entirely devoted to comment. Then there are many others filled with poems and romances for the amusement of their readers,—journals somewhat similar to those published two centuries ago.”

“Then the only difference between the newspaper of today and that of two hundred years ago is that today you have no editorial page?”

“We fancy that there is more difference than that,” said he with a smile. “But that is an important difference, for this reason: when we make no comments, we make no mistakes in judgment; we let each individual read the reports of events as they happen and form his own opinions first. If he desires the opinions of others, he can always find them in journals published for that purpose. [1]

“You appreciate the fact that we Anarchists believe in individual opinions. We like to read the opinions of others, but we prefer to form our own opinions first. ‘Editorial policy’ was the worst feature of the newspapers of two hundred years ago. It kept the people in a sort of slavery intellectually, and helped keep them in actual slavery to the profit-gatherers. If the newspapers of that time had printed faithful reports of current events, without comment, anarchy would have resulted in a very short time. The editorial policy of the newspapers was then dictated by those whose interests it was to keep alive the system of robbery fostered by government. Matter in the news columns every day showed that society was founded on false principles; the editorial columns were devoted to articles showing that these principles were not false.

“How absurd it is to speak of the editorial opinion of a newspaper! There can be no opinion but the opinion of man. All opinion must be individual opinion. This is recognized by those who edit publications which consist of comments; and all articles are signed with the name of the writer.”

“Are there, then, no papers which publish both news and comment?”

“There are a few, but, for the reasons that I mentioned above, they are not popular. There is a sort of mutual understanding between editors and readers that a man cannot deal in news and comment in large quantities both at the same time any better than he can deal in silk and groceries. Of course, a man may do the latter, but he can’t do it well. I think it is always well for a man to give his attention to one kind of work at a time, and the rule applies to papers as well.”

I suppose he must be right in his views about newspapers. However that may be, his paper is very interesting to me, and everybody reads it. I may send you a copy sometime.

Josephine.


[1] I dare not vie in prophecy with Josephine, Liberty’s correspondent from the Boston of 2085, for that fortunate young woman with her time-annihilating hat has an unfair advantage over me. Therefore I do not question her account of the journalism of two hundred years hence. But I will venture the opinion that, if the newspapers of that day abolish the editorial column, those of 2185 will restore it. Not the anonymous editorial, but the signed editorial. And the people who buy and read such journals will be truer Anarchists than any of their predecessors. For men will never be free until they have mastered the power of studying the opinions and arguments of others with the same independence that they show in the study of facts. Another’s opinion is as much a fact as any other fact, and the wise and truly free man will not exclude such facts from the data on which he forms his own opinions. The criticisms of the editor of 2085 whom Josephine has interviewed, upon the editorials of the present day, are perfectly just, but they tell against the editorials of policy rather than against the policy of editorials.

Certain kinds of news are of great importance to the public, but they can be presented advantageously in comparatively small space. Exclusive of the publication of these, editorial criticism is the most important province of a journal. No press in the world is so elevated in tone and so wisely influential as that of Paris, and in none with which I am familiar is the proportion of criticism to news so large. Perhaps Josephine’s editor will heed this fact, if not my opinion.—Benjamin R. Tucker.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2166 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.