I have been reading a little book called How to Write for the Press. Other books which have been published upon the same subject are How to Be an Author, How to Write a Play, How to Succeed as a Journalist, How to Write for the Magazines, and How to Earn œ600 a Year with the Pen. Of these the last-named has, I think, the most pleasing title. Anybody can write a play; the trouble is to get it produced. Almost anybody can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being. Writing for the magazines, again, sounds a delightful occupation, but literally it means nothing without the co- operation of the editors of the magazines, and it is this co- operation which is so difficult to secure. But to earn œ600 a year with the pen is to do a definite thing; if the book could really tell the secret of that, it would have an enormous sale. I have not read it, so I cannot say what the secret is. Perhaps it was only a handbook on forgery.
How to Write for the Press disappointed me. It is concerned not with the literary journalist (as I believe he is called) but with the reporter (as he is never called, the proper title being “special representative”). It gives in tabular form a list of the facts you should ascertain at the different functions you attend; with this book in your pocket there would be no excuse if you neglected to find out at a wedding the names of the bride and bridegroom. It also gives–and I think this is very friendly of it–a list of useful synonyms for the principal subjects, animate and inanimate, of description. The danger of calling the protagonists at the court of Hymen (this one is not from the book; I thought of it myself just now)–the danger of calling them “the happy pair” more than once in a column is that your readers begin to suspect that you are a person of extremely limited mind, and when once they get this idea into their heads they are not in a proper state to appreciate the rest of your article. But if in your second paragraph you speak of “the joyful couple,” and in your third of “the ecstatic brace,” you give an impression of careless mystery of the language which can never be shed away.
Among the many interesting chapters is one dealing with contested elections. One of the questions to which the special representative was advised to find an answer was this: “What outside bodies are taking active part in the contest?” In the bad old days–now happily gone for ever–the outside bodies of dead cats used to take an active and important part in the contest, and as the same body would often be used twice the reporter in search of statistics was placed in a position of great responsibility. Nowadays, I suppose, he is only meant to concern himself with such bodies as the Coal Consumers’ League and the Tariff Reform League, and there would be no doubt in the mind of anybody as to whether they were there or not.
I am afraid I should not be a success as “our special representative.” I should never think of half the things which occur to the good reporter. You read in your local paper a sentence like this: “The bride’s brother, who only arrived last week from Australia, where he held an important post under the Government, and is about to proceed on a tour through Canada with–curiously enough–a nephew of the bride-groom, gave her away.” Well, what a mass of information has to be gleaned before that sentence can be written. Or this. “The hall was packed to suffocation, and beneath the glare of the electric light– specially installed for this occasion by Messrs. Amp�re & Son of Pumpton, the building being at ordinary times strikingly deficient in the matter of artificial lighting in spite of the efforts of the more progressive members of the town council–the faces of not a few of the fairer sex could be observed.” You know, I am afraid I should have forgotten all that. I should simply have obtained a copy of the principal speech, and prefaced it with the words,” Mr. Dodberry then spoke as follows”; or, if my conscience would not allow of such a palpable misstatement, “Mr. Dodberry then rose with the intention of speaking as follows.”
In the more human art of interviewing I should be equally at fault. The interview itself would be satisfactory, but I am afraid that its publication would lead people to believe that all the best things had been said by me. To remember what anybody else has said is easy; to remember, even five minutes after, what one has said oneself is almost impossible. For to recall YOUR remarks in our argument at the club last night is simply a matter of memory; to recall MINE, I have to forget all that I meant to have said, all that I ought to have said, and all that I have thought upon the subject since.
In fact, I begin to see that the successful reporter must eliminate his personality altogether, whereas the successful literary journalist depends for his success entirely upon his personality –which is what is meant by “style.” I suppose it is for this reason that, when the literary journalist is sent as “our extra-special representative” to report a prize fight or a final cup tie or a political meeting, the result is always appalling. The “ego” bulges out of every line, obviously conscious that it is showing us no ordinary reporting, determined that it will not be overshadowed by the importance of the subject. And those who are more interested in the matter than in the manner regard him as an intruder, and the others regret that he is so greatly overtaxing his strength.
So each to his business, and his handbook to each–How to Write for the Press to the special representative, and How to Be an Author to the author. There is no book, I believe, called How to Be a Solicitor, or a doctor or an admiral or a brewer. That is a different matter altogether; but any fool can write for the papers.
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