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   Chapter 6 TO THOSE ABOUT TO BECOME JOURNALISTS.

Faces and Places By Sir Henry W. Lucy Characters: 10825

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


AN OPEN LETTER.

My dear young friends,__

I suppose no one not prominently engaged in journalism knows how

widely spread is the human conviction that, failing all else, any

one can "write for the papers," making a lucrative living on easy

terms, amid agreeable circumstances. I have often wondered how

Dickens, familiar as he was with this frailty, did not make use of

it in the closing epoch of Micawber's life before he quitted

England. Knowing what he did, as letters coming to light at this

day testify, it would seem to be the most natural thing in the

world that finally, nothing else having turned up, it should occur

to Dickens that Mr. Micawber would join the Press--probably as

editor, certainly on the editorial staff, possibly as dramatic

critic, a position which involves a free run of the theatres and a

more than nodding acquaintance with the dramatic stars of the day.

Perhaps Dickens avoided this episode because it was too literally

near the truth in the life of the person who, all unconsciously,

stood as the lay figure of David Copperfield's incomparable friend.

It is, I believe, not generally known that Charles Dickens's father

did in his last desolate days become a member of the Press. When

Dickens was made editor of the Daily News, he thoughtfully provided

for his father by installing him leader of the Parliamentary Corps

of that journal. The old gentleman, of course, knew nothing of

journalism, was not even capable of shorthand. Providentially he

was not required to take notes, but generally to overlook things,

a post which exactly suited Mr. Micawber. So he was inducted, and

filled the office even for a short time after his son had

impetuously vacated the editorial chair. Only the other day there

died an original member of the Daily News Parliamentary Corps, who

told me he quite well remembered his first respected leader, his

grandly vague conception of his duties, and his almost ducal manner

of not performing them.

Of the many letters that come to me with the assurance that I have

in my possession blank appointments on the editorial and reportorial

staff of all contemporary journals paying good salaries, the saddest

are those written by more than middle-aged men with families. Some

have for years been earning a precarious living as reporters or

sub-editors on obscure papers, and now find themselves adrift;

others are men who, having vainly knocked at all other gates, are

flushed by the happy thought that at least they can write

acceptably for the newspapers; others, again, already engaged in

daily work, are anxious to burn the midnight oil, and so add

something to a scanty income. These last are chiefly clergymen and

schoolmasters--educated men with a love of letters and the idea that,

since it is easy and pleasant to read, it must be easy to write, and

that in the immensity of newspapers and periodical literature there

would be not only room, but eager welcome for them.

This class of correspondents is curiously alike in one feature.

There is an almost sprightliness in their conviction that what they

can write in these circumstances would exactly suit any paper, daily

or weekly, morning or evening. All they have to do is to give up

their odd savings of time to the work; all you--their hapless

correspondent--have to do is to fill up one of those blank

appointments with which your desk is clogged, and send it to them

by first post.

There is no other profession in the world thus viewed by outsiders.

No one supposes he can make boots, cut clothes, or paint the outside

of a house without having served some sort of apprenticeship, not to

mention the possession of special aptitude. Any one can, right off--,

become a journalist. Such as these, and all those about to become

journalists, I would advise to study a book published several years

ago. It is the Life of James MacDonell, a name which, before this

book was published, was an idle sound to the outer world, though to

contemporary workers in the inner circle of the Press Macdonell was

known as one of the ablest and most brilliant of modern journalists.

In these short and simple annals, the aspirant who imagines the

successful journalist's life is all beer and skittles will discover

what patient study, what self-denial, what strenuous effort, and,

more essential than all, what rare natural gifts are needed to

achieve the position into which Macdonell toiled.

It is this last consideration that makes me doubt whether there is

any utility in offering practical hints "To Those about to become

Journalists." If a boy or youth has in him the journalistic faculty,

it will come out, whatever unpromising or adverse circumstances he

may be born to. If he has it not, he had very much better take to

joinering or carpentering, to clerking, or to the dispensation of

goods over the retail counter. Journalism is an honourable and,

for those specially adapted, a lucrative profession. But it is a

poor business for the man who has mistaken his way into it. The

very fact that it has such strong allurement for human nature makes

harder the struggle for life with those engaged in its pursuit. I

gather from facts brought under my personal not

ice that at the

present time there are, proportionately with its numbers, more

unemployed in the business of journalism than in any other, not

exceeding that of the dockers. When a vacancy occurs on any staff,

the rush to fill it is tremendous. Where no vacancy exists the

knocking at the doors is incessant. All the gates are thronged

with suitors, and the accommodation is exceedingly limited.

The first thing the youth who turns his face earnestly towards

journalism should convince himself of is, that the sole guiding

principle controlling admission to the Press or advance in its ranks

is merit. This, as your communications, my dear young friends, have

convinced me, is a statement in direct contravention of general

belief. You are convinced that it is all done by patronage, and that

if only some one in authority will interest himself in you, you

straightway enter upon a glorious career. There is, however, no

royal road to advancement on the Press. Proprietors and editors

simply could not afford it. Living as newspapers do in the fierce

light focussed from a million eyes, fighting daily with keen

competition, the instinct of self-preservation compels their

directors to engage the highest talent where it is discoverable,

and, failing that, the most sedulously nurtured skill. For this they

will pay almost anything; and they ask nothing more, neither

blood-relationship, social distinction, nor even academic training.

In journalism, more than in any other profession, not excepting the

Bar, a man gets on by his own effort, and only by that. Of course,

proprietors, and even editors, may, if the commercial prosperity of

their journal permit the self-indulgence, find salaried situations

for brothers, sons, or nephews or may oblige old friends in the

same direction. Charles Dickens, as we have seen, made his father

manager of the Parliamentary Corps of the Daily News. But that did

not make him a journalist, nor did he, after his son's severance of

his connection with the paper, long retain the post.

This line of reflection is, I am afraid, not encouraging to you, my

dear young friends; but it leads up to one fact in which I trust

you will be justified in finding ground for hope. Amongst the crowd

struggling to obtain a footing within the pale of journalism, the

reiterated rebuffs they meet with naturally lead to the conviction

that it is a sort of close borough, those already in possession

jealously resenting the efforts of outsiders to breach its sacred

portals. Nothing could be further removed from the fact. A nugget of

gold is not more pleasing to the sight of the anxious miner than is

the discovery by the editor or manager of a newspaper of a new light

in the world of journalism. This I put in the forefront of friendly

words of advice to those about to enter journalism. Get rid of the

fatal idea that some one will open the door for you and land you

safely inside. You must force the door yourself with incessant

knocking if need be, prepared for searching inquiry as to your right

to enter, but certain of a hearty welcome and fraternal assistance

when you have proved your right.

As an ounce of example is worth a ton of precept, I may perhaps

mention that in a journalistic career now extending over just

twenty-five years, I never but once received anything in the way of

patronage, and that was extended at the very outset only after a

severe test of the grounds upon which recommendation could be made.

My parents, in their wisdom, destined me for a commercial career.

If I had followed the bent given me when I left school, I should

now have been a very indifferent clerk in the hide and valonia

business. But like you, my dear young friends, I felt that my true

vocation was journalism, and I determined to be a journalist.

I will tell you exactly how I did it. Like you, I meant to be an

editor some day, but also, I trust, like you, I felt that it would

be convenient, if not necessary to start by being a reporter. So I

began to study shorthand, teaching myself by Pitman's system. When,

after infinite pains, I had mastered this mystery, I began to look

out for an opening on the Press. I had no friends in journalism, not

the remotest acquaintance. I made the tour of the newspaper offices

in the town where I lived, was more or less courteously received,

and uniformly assured that there was no opening. One exception was

made by a dear friend whose name is to-day known and honoured

throughout Great Britain, who was then the young assistant-editor of

a local daily paper. He gave me some trial work to do, and was so

far satisfied that he promised me the first vacancy on the junior

staff of reporters.

That was excellent, but I did not sit down waiting till fortune

dropped the promised plum into my mouth. I got at all the newspapers

within reach, searched for advertisements for reporters, answered

them day after day, week after week, even month after month,

without response. At last a cautious inquiry came. The reply was

deemed satisfactory, and I got my chance.

This, dear young friends, is the short and simple annal of my start

in journalism, and you will see that the pathway is equally open to

you.

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