G. K. Chesterton on the Incompetence of Journalists

G. K. Chesterton on the Incompetence of Journalists November 26, 2019

[all excerpts from The Illustrated London News (Vol. 27: 1905-1907 and Vol.28: 1908-1910) ]

The real way of reading the newspapers is to read nothing but the posters and head-lines. If we read nothing but these, we can keep, like a perpetual childhood, the belief that wonderful things are really happening on every side of us. If we are unwise enough to read the journalistic text itself, we discover that nothing has happened at all. (2 June 1906)

Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed: a passage which some have considered a prophecy of modern journalism. (9 June 1906)

Journalists . . . are the priests of the modern world, and infallible (I need hardly say) on faith and morals . . . (30 June 1906)

A Labour Member made recently the following observations, if he is correctly reported — which, since I am a journalist myself I know to be extremely unlikely. (9 February 1907)

Journalists are generally the stupidest of men . . . (1 June 1907)

The curse of all journalism, but especially of the yellow journalism which is the shame of our profession, is that we think ourselves cleverer than the people for whom we write, whereas, in fact, we are generally even stupider. (29 June 1907)

I receive a large number of letters from total strangers; . . . most of them are interesting — much more interesting than anything that ever gets into print. In fact, I believe the editors who conduct newspaper controversies purposely select and print all the silliest letters and leave out the most sensible. . . .

But in all of them there is a certain human sincerity and instinct of rebellion . . . they have not, at any rate, the dreary hypocrisy of public speeches and leading articles. I am convinced that much good human material is poured out and wasted in this way. If ever the office of a great paper caught fire, and everyone rushed for his most valuable treasures, I know what I should seek to save. . . . I should grasp the waste-paper basket, and bear it away in my arms rejoicing. (14 September 1907)

I fancy that it is only another example of the loss of ordinary rationalistic logic in the impetuous rapidity and restlessness of the journalistic world. If we concentrate so much of our concern and labour merely on making journalism rapid, we shall necessarily make it emptier and sillier even as journalism. (21 September 1907)

[T]he Yellow Press is exaggerative, over-emotional, illiterate, and anarchical, and a hundred other long words; whereas the only objection to it is that it tells lies. (19 October 1907)

It is our business to criticise the world; but certainly the world will not stand it unless we begin by criticising ourselves. (26 October 1907)

[N]early everything, as reported in the ordinary newspapers, seems to be pure nonsense. . . . [F]ortunately, I have penetrated far enough into the facts of the modern world never to believe the newspapers. . . . All that anybody ever really meant as the evil of gossip is much more characteristic of established journalism . . .  (1 February 1908)


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