March 15, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 32

By Winston S. Churchill in 1901

First published in The Inlander, Michigan University, vol. XI, no. 3, February 1901 (Cohen 218/1). Verified against an original copy of The Inlander, by Ronald I. Cohen. Republished by kind permission of the Churchill Literary Estate and Curtis Brown, Ltd.

The press offers an opportunity afforded by no other profession to anybody and everybody who will work. Good work is never lost. Its value never diminishes to the man who does it. It may not be paid for for a long time, but ultimately it will receive its reward. The public demands good work, and in time it will recognize the value of good work conscientiously done and will reward the man who has done it.

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Verify your quotations and avoid split infinitives—this is my advice, since you ask it, to the young newspaper correspondent.

Of course this latter is a little thing in itself, but it is one of innumerable grammatical imperfections which appeared in our prints today, and I mention it simply to illustrate the importance of paying greater heed to the technicalities of the language. It should be every journalist’s ambition to write pure, correct English.

It is a curious fact that to-day we have no person, or body of persons, who make it their duty to act as custodians of the language. We go on now just as anybody likes, adopting new expressions and rejecting old constructions. In the great days of Athens and Rome the best educated people—the lawyers, the statesmen, the orators and actors looked after the language and prescribed the style. Now-a-days the language does not get this inspiration from the highest sources. It follows the line of least resistance. As a result it follows those who are least qualified to direct it. It has a tendency to diverge into dialect. But the great newspapers are, and will continue to be, a great power for fusing these dialects into one.

There are many tendencies in the press which are dangerous, particularly among certain classes of the press which exist in this country. A great deal of sensational news is published; the doings of private persons, in which the public cannot possibly have any concern, are reported in the public sheets. In England less notice is taken of private affairs. No attention is paid a person so long as he remains in a private capacity. It is not until he becomes a public personage, such as a writer, an actor, an orator or statesman that notice is taken of him. Largely because it has avoided these dangerous tendencies the individual English newspaper wields a great influence.

A circumstance which arrests the attention of a foreigner is that Americans have no national newspaper. There are Chicago papers, New York papers, Philadelphia papers; these give the local news of these sections of the country. But there is no national, federal paper—no paper that assigns to local affairs their relative importance and makes it its business to give reports of national events, of national politics and to give expression to national life and national aspirations. A man takes his local paper and reads what has happened in Sleepy Hollow—but he should also take another paper which will show him what a little place the town he lives in is, compared with the vast organism of which it is a part.

Of course the immense area of the country is an obstacle in the way of a great national paper. From London we can send our papers almost all over England in the day. To overcome the great distances in this country recourse must be had to the telegraph and telephone. There should be centres of publication and distribution for different sections of the country. Your millionaires could invest their money to far better purpose by starting some good national paper that would give correct world-news in place of trivial local matter, that would form national sentiment, and give expression to national aspirations, than by founding hospitals, endowing universities and building libraries. The London Times fulfills my ideal for such a newspaper. It is a paper that gives a great deal of space to national news and to news from foreign countries. It goes all over the United Kingdom and is read by the people who take an interest in public affairs and who direct the politics of the nation.

Apart from other considerations, it is an enormous commercial advantage for Americans and Englishmen that they speak the same language. It not only facilitates trade, but it enables a writer to reach twice as many people—an actor can appeal to two publics. It is a great bond of union between these two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race. What fools we should be, then, were we to allow our language to drift apart! I hope someday to see a society, similar to the Académie française, established by these two English- speaking nations—a society whose object it would be to keep the language together, each year to incorporate such changes as are necessary to a healthy principle of growth in the language and to procure uniformity. Otherwise there is danger of our drifting apart and losing our common tongue, by making it too common.

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