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(_September_, 1888)


The Easy Chair has been asked whether there is any code of newspaper manners. It has no doubt that there is. But it is the universal code of courtesy, and not one restricted to newspapers. Good manners in civilized society are the same everywhere and in all relations. A newspaper is not a mystery. It is the work of several men and women, and their manners in doing the work are subject to the same principles that govern their manners in society or in any other human relation. If a man is a gentleman, he does not cease to be one because he enters a newspaper office, and it would seem to be equally true that if his work on the paper does not prove to be that of a gentleman, it could not have been a gentleman who did the work.

A gentleman, we will suppose, does not blackguard his neighbors, nor talk incessantly about himself and his achievements, nor behave elsewhere as he would be ashamed to behave in his club or in his own family. If a gentleman does not do these things, of course a gentleman does not do them in a newspaper. And does it not seem to follow, if such things are done in a newspaper, and are traced to a hand supposed to be that of a gentleman, that there has been some mistake about the hand?

Good manners are essentially a disposition which moulds conduct. They can be feigned, indeed, as gilt counterfeits gold, and plate silver. But the clearest glass is not diamond. A man may smile and smile and be a villain.

Scoundrels are sometimes described as of gentlemanly manners, and Lothario was not personally a boor. But he was not a gentleman, and he merely affected good manners. A gentleman, indeed, may sometimes lose his temper or his self-control, but no one who habitually does it, and swears and rails vociferously, can be called properly by that name. Here again it is easy to apply the canon to a newspaper. When a newspaper habitually takes an insulting tone, and deliberately falsifies, whether by assertion of an untruth or by a distortion and perversion of the truth, it is not the work of a gentleman, and if the writer be responsible for the tone of the paper, the manners of that newspaper are not good manners.

But there is no uniformity in newspaper manners, as there is none elsewhere. Therefore it cannot be said that newspapers, as a whole, are either well-mannered or unmannerly, as you cannot say that men, as a body, are courteous or uncouth. Some newspapers are unmistakably vulgar, like some people. They are not so of themselves, however; they are made vulgar by vulgar people. There are very able newspapers which have very bad manners, and some which have no other distinction than good manners. A very dull man may be very urbane, and so may a very dull newspaper. On the other hand, a newspaper which is both brilliant and clever may be sometimes guilty of an injustice, a deliberate and persistent misrepresentation, to attain a particular end--conduct which is sometimes called "journalistic."

But the person who is responsible for the performance, for similar conduct would be metaphorically kicked out of a club. But gentlemen are not kicked out of clubs.

A newspaper gains neither character nor influence by abandoning good manners. It may indeed make itself disagreeable and annoying, and so silence opposition, as a polecat may effectually close the wood path which you had designed to take. It may be feared, and in the same way as that animal--feared and despised. But this effect must not be confounded with newspaper power and influence. It is exceedingly annoying, undoubtedly, to be placarded all over town as a liar or a donkey, a hypocrite or a sneak-thief. But although the effect is most unpleasant, very little ability is required to produce it. A little paper and printing, a little paste, a great deal of malice, and a host of bill-stickers are all that are needed, and even the pecuniary cost is not large. The effect is produced, but it does not show ability or force or influence upon the part of its producer.

The manners of newspapers, as such, cannot be classified any more than the manners of legislatures, or of the professions or trades. This, however, seems to be true, that a well-mannered man will not produce an ill-mannered newspaper.

(_April_, 1891)


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