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As Interviewed by Clifton Johnson N OR seventeen years Mr. Gilder has room whose walls were lined with books R been editor-in-chief of “ The Cen- and pictures. The evening was warm, and
tury," a magazine that has always the windows were open. A light wind stood for what is best in American life, wafted in through the shutters, and the literature, and art. With his long experi- sound of footsteps and of the infrequent ence and his high personal standards as passing of vehicles came up to us from an editor, it seemed to me that whatever the street below. In what follows I report Mr. Gilder might say on the relations of as nearly as I can Mr. Gilder's own words. the press to its multitudinous readers He said: would have unusual interest and weight. “I suppose in no country are newsI wanted to discuss periodical literature papers so much an integral part of the . in its power for good and evil. It would people's life and thought as here in hardly be rash to affirm that the dailies, America. We are, as Mr. Bryce says, the weeklies, and monthlies of our country great reading people of the world. You wield a wider influence than the pulpit, see the contrast if you go to Southern and perhaps even than the schools ; for Europe, for instance. There, illiteracy is the press is a school we all attend every common, and the people depend to a great day in the week from the time we learn to extent on talk and local gossip for their read to the end of our lives. What, then, daily enlightenment. I think we have a are its faults and virtues, and what the greater eagerness than they to know what responsibilities of editors and of readers is going on in the world ; and this eagerin making it better?
ness is coming to be as characteristic of This was the line of inquiry pursued in the women as of the men. Women have the talk I had with Mr. Gilder when I the reputation of caring only for the gossip spent an evening with him recently at his and lighter news of the papers, and the New York home. I do not know that I bargain advertisements; but there is a had ever realized before that he had a large and growing class of women to whom home, it seems so natural to think of him social movements, civic matters, and all in his more public capacity of editor-a public affairs have a very great interest. man who, in the mystery of the “Cen- “ All our city people read at least a tury” quarters on Union Square, presides morning and an evening paper, and very over the destinies of manuscripts. He many read more. In times of excitement lives not far distant from the offices of the there's no measuring a person's capacity magazine, on one of the side streets that for absorbing newspapers. During the open away from the busier thoroughfares, war you'd see men go along the streets and that, by contrast, have a certain sense gathering newspapers as they would curof seclusion. The outer aspect of a city rants off a bush. A man would buy residence is usually noncommittal, and several to start with and walk along readreflects the character of the owner buting them, and every few blocks he'd buy slightly; and Mr. Gilder's old-fashioned a new edition just out with the latest. brick front is much like all the others on “ There has been a great change in the street. Its one point of distinction is journalism since I began to earn my living an enormous wistaria that climbs in sev- in Newark as a reporter on a daily paper. eral strands up the front to the very top I did police reports and all that sort of of the building, and its luxuriant greenerything, and gradually worked up to be mangives the dwelling a touch of rural retire- aging editor, and, on another paper, part ment that is very pleasant.
owner, so that I knew the journalism of While we talked we sat in an upstairs those days pretty thoroughly. There has
MR. GILDER'S OFFICE AT THE “ CENTURY MAGAZINE"
From a photograph taken for The Outlook by Clifton Johnson. been a vast transformation, not only in the through their private correspondence than introduction of pictures in the daily press, in any other way. Letters have weight but in the way the papers are managed with a.. our officials, from the humblest to all through, and in the immensely in- the highest. Even if you write to the creased cost of the management. Nor are President of the United States, your letter readers what they were. Then, men and has attention. He may never see it, but women were common who swore by one some one reads it and it is at least counted. paper, and they'd no more think of taking It is the same with letters sent to Congresssome other paper of a different stripe of men. Either personally or through his politics than they would of drinking milk secretary a Congressman knows the conon lobster. Now a man takes this or that tents of all the letters he receives. If the paper because it happens to be convenient secretary says, 'Here are two letters givor cheap; and maybe because there is no ing you particular fits,' the Congressman one paper he thoroughly trusts to do his wants to know whom they are from and thinking, as used to be the case. That a where they are from. paper supports a political faith opposed “He thinks that, while he has heard to his own doesn't count with the modern from only two men, as many thousands reader. Where a man takes more than may hold the same opinions, but haven't one paper he is apt to buy those of differ- taken the trouble to write ; and such letent politics purposely in order the better ters have a decided influence on his course. to get the drift of things, or simply to In the same way, editors and publishers enjoy the thrust and parry.
are a good deal concerned about the let“The editorial opinion on political move- ters written them by their readers. A ments as expressed in the papers doesn't newspaper both creates public opinion and have the weight with readers it once did. is largely regulated by it. The papers, of Journalism's greatest power to-day lies in course, want to be popular—want to sell ; the dissemination of fact rather than in and there's nothing a publisher is more the advocacy of policy. I don't mean to sensitive to than the criticisms of readers. imply that the editorial page has not great If the day's mail brings three fault-finding influence, but only that this influence seems letters, it makes the publisher nervous. to be less marked than formerly. We go It's not just those three writers that he to the newspapers because they give facts cares about, but he is fearful that they or alleged facts, and an alert modern represent the opinions of a small army of newspaper does not let its politics greatly readers. injure its news. It gives both sides, and, “The enormous appetite the public has indeed, prides itself on the impartiality of for periodical literature seems astonishing, its reports. You can thus draw your own but it is perfectly natural. One of the conclusions independent of editorial opin- strongest traits in the human mind is ion if you choose.
curiosity. We wake up in the morning “To men in office the attitude of the and we are curious to know what has press is now and always has been a mat- happened the day before. The newspaper ter of considerable concern; not that they habit is the result of our attitude of inquiry care very much what any particular editor toward all mankind; it is just the same thinks, but because of the controlling as is expressed in the words with which relation that public opinion is understood we greet a friend— How do you do?' to exert over the public press. The papers 'How goes it?' 'How are all the folks ?' reflect with more or less accuracy the “What's the news down your way?' Buyway the people are thinking, and for this ing a newspaper is our method of taking reason most of the politicians and offi- the world by the hand and saying, cials in general watch them very closely. “How goes it?' That greeting is extended Some public men keep scrap-books of through the newspaper to our neighbors, newspaper clippings. But, whether they to our home country, and to all nations ; preserve a record or not, the trend of we say, · How do you do?' to President popular opinion is a matter of keenest McKinley and to Queen Victoria and to interest to all of them.
all the other powers and personages. If “There are statesmen, however, who anything has happened to them, the paper seem to get more in touch with the people informs us about it. If we don't find Queen Victoria and this or that one actually “In criticising the prevalence of the mentioned, we know just as well that they photograph in our periodicals I would not are all right.
say that its influence on art has been “ Curiosity accounts in large measure wholly bad. It has had a corrective effect for our love of literature, for our love of in a certain way, and has made illustrators news, for our love of life. A great many truer to fact; but at the same time it has extraordinary careers, both of men and made them more prosaic. However, a women, have their springs in curiosity. change is coming. The illustrator of the They want to see life and experience life future is not going merely to pose a young in all its phases. You know how the man and a young woman gracefully in a Rough Riders came to New York on their north light' and call it a proposal scene. return from Cuba. To begin with, they The demand will be for artists who can were gathered into a godly refuge on the forget the academic requirements and give East Side ; and no doubt they were deco- us two lovers who are alive in their relarous enough while there, but it was far tion to each other. The misfit' joke from satisfying their curiosity as to metro- picture cannot stay in competition with politan life. They were no sooner let real illustration. loose than they said, “Now, boys, let's see “ The aspect in which the daily press the town!' and they saw it.
has changed most within my recollection “Yes, curiosity is a great power; and is in its development of sensationalism. one of its gratifications is the daily press, This sensational wave, which started in and another is the weekly press, and still its most violent form in the West, has now another is the monthly magazine. But swept across the country from ocean to people draw the line at quarterlies in this ocean. But the new journalism is not country. Curiosity gets to be too atten- without its good points. Along with all uated to span a three months' interval. the sensationalism, the lack of responsi
“ Art in the daily papers has been bility, the getting together of fake news greatly improved since it was first intro- and the contriving of evident pictorial ducéd. The caricatures are often excel- falsehoods, a great deal of talent goes lent. So, too, are many of the drawings into the make-up of the papers. The edifrom photographs. Really, art in the torial pages, especially, contain a remarkanewspapers is frequently better than it is ble amount of expert and expressive writin some of the magazines—that is, such ing. I think a most deplorable thing magazines as confine their illustrations to about the present conditions of journalism ordinary photographs which they preserve is that young men fresh from college, who with all their defects by a cheap reproduc- go to work on these sensational papers tive process. I think there is to be a attracted by the high pay, suffer degeneragreat reaction soon in public taste—that tion in character under pressure to produce people will tire of photographic reproduc- what is demanded by cynical employers. tion, and that those magazines will find They are soon doing things that before this most favor which lead in original art. they would believe themselves incapable of. The tendency will be to raise up real “Yet, with all its faults, the press, even illustrators, of whom there is a lack in the sensational press, has certain generous America now. We have many bright qualities that make it ready to facilitate young men drawing magazine pictures, any disinterested work taken up by publicbut the results are too often like easel spirited members of the community. The pictures and without illustrative vitality. greatest service the press does for civiliIt seems, almost, as if the artists knew too zation is in the searchlight it throws much, as if they were too highly trained on the dark places. Before there were academically, or else it is that they are any health laws in this city there was a unable to forget that training. They tenement-house owned by a prominent think of the effects of light and shade, and member of a popular church, from which forget character and expression. What did came a large number of typhus patients. Cruikshank and Du Maurier think about Many of them died. Appeals to the tenewhile they were drawing ? Surely, not ment-house owner were unavailing, and simply of light and shade and the effects the only way found to compel this man to studied in ateliers.
stop murdering people, clean his house,
and put it in shape to live in was the threat “ Readers ought to realize that they of publicity. He resisted all argument themselves are largely responsible for the until Mr. Bryant threatened to publish his sensationalism of the daily papers. They name and the condition of his house in the can't put all the blame on the speculative • Evening Post.' That humbled the man proprietors with their rotary presses and at once, and he said, “I'll do anything you cheap processes. If readers are self-inwant if you'll keep the matter quiet.' I dulgent and willing to gratify curiosity by confess I am a little disappointed with patronizing and helping support a trashy the present searchlight service of the publication, the moral responsibility rests newspapers in connection with our present on them as well as on the owners. Pubcity government. But if some opportuni- lishers will furnish better papers if readers ties are being lost, it will not be for long. refuse to buy poor ones. We need not
“One of the best tests you can find of carry the sense of responsibility to the the moral caliber of a periodical is in the point of morbidness, but we should feel it character of its advertising. By the sense and act accordingly. of responsibility shown in the advertise- “ All this applies to magazines as forments admitted you may not be able to cibly as to newspapers. The sphere of discern the religious denomination, but the magazine and the sphere of the newsyou can gauge correctly the moral grade of paper overlap, but it is all journalism. the proprietorship.
The difference is mainly that the magazine, “ That the public mind is vulgarized by as a rule, gives literature and art prepared the swash served in the sensational papers with more deliberation and with greater is certain, and it is to be hoped that authority. As for sensationalism, you find there will soon be a reaction. Just what it in monthlies as well as in dailies, though degree of excellence in journalism the so far the magazines have shown more public are prepared for is a question. It restraint than the newspapers. Yet that is perhaps not to be expected that people there are differences in ethical and literary without culture will show fine taste and and artistic standards in magazines, as in discrimination, but at the same time we all other classes of periodicals, is very apknow very well that some of the best lit- parent. The public has a duty of selecerature has the widest circulation. One tion here, of course, as well as with the would think this evidence that there is daily press. opportunity for the best in newspapers. “There is one thing that one does not The discouraging thing is that so many hear so much about now as formerlymembers of the more intelligent portion of namely, the suppression of genius. There the community will buy the very papers are so many periodicals that it would be abuse and despise, and will read them they difficult for any one of them to suppress whether they believe what they read or any given new genius.' He or she is not. They get to craving news, and lots not only sure of getting a hearing, but of of it, and unconsciously look for something getting a printing. The editor, therefore, put out with a bang. There is so much is no longer the terrible being who decides criticism that one would think there would fates. This is well, for I suspect he never be more selection, but people have the quite deserved his fame as a distributor notion that a one-cent crime is no sin. of literary destinies."