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Journalism for Women
A Practical Guide
By E.A. Bennett
The Secret Significance of Journalism
Imperfections of the existing Woman-Journalist
The Roads towards Journalism
The Outside Contributor
The Search for Copy
The Art of Corresponding with an Editor
Notes on the Leading Types of Papers
"Woman's Sphere" in Journalism
Journalism for Women
A Practical Guide
The Secret Significance of Journalism
For the majority of people the earth is a dull planet.
It is only a Stevenson who can say: "I never remember being bored;" and
one may fairly doubt whether even Stevenson uttered truth when he made
that extraordinary statement. None of us escapes boredom entirely: some of
us, indeed, are bored during the greater part of our lives. The fact is
unpalatable, but it is a fact. Each thinks that his existence is
surrounded and hemmed in by the Ordinary; that his vocations and pastimes
are utterly commonplace; his friends prosaic; even his sorrows sordid. We
are (a few will say) colour blind to the rainbow tints of life, and we see
everything grey, or perhaps blue. We feel instinctively that if there is
such a thing as romance, it contrives to exhibit itself just where we are
not. Often we go in search of it (as a man will follow a fire-engine) to
the Continent, to the Soudan, to the East End, to the Divorce Court; but
the chances are a hundred to one against our finding it. The reason of our
failure lies in our firm though unacknowledged conviction that the events
_we_ have witnessed, the persons _we_ have known, are _ipso
facto_ less romantic, less diverting, than certain other events which
we happen not to have witnessed, certain other persons whom we happen not
to have known. And such is indubitably the case; for romance, interest,
dwell not in the thing seen, but in the eye of the beholder. And so the
earth is a dull planet--for the majority.
Yet there are exceptions: the most numerous exceptions are lovers and
journalists. A lover is one who deludes himself; a journalist is one who
deludes himself and other people. The born journalist comes into the world
with the fixed notion that nothing under the sun is uninteresting. He
says: "I cannot pass along the street, or cut my finger, or marry, or
catch a cold or a fish, or go to church, or perform any act whatever,
without being impressed anew by the _interestingness_ of mundane
phenomena, and without experiencing a desire to share this impression with
my fellow-creatures." His notions about the qualities of mundane
phenomena, are, as the majority knows too well, a pathetic, gigantic
fallacy, but to him they are real, and he is so possessed by them that he
must continually be striving to impart them to the public at large. If he
can compel the public, in spite of its instincts, to share his delusions
even partially, even for an hour, then he has reached success and he is in
the way to grow rich and happy.
* * * * *
We come to the secret significance of journalism:--
Life (says the public) is dull. But good newspapers are a report of life,
and good newspapers are not dull.
Therefore, journalism is an art: it is the art of lending to people and
events intrinsically dull an interest which does not properly belong to
This is a profound truth. If anyone doubts it, let him listen to a debate
in the House of Commons, and compare the impressions of the evening with
the impressions furnished by the parliamentary sketch in his daily paper
the next morning. The difference will be little less than miraculous. Yet
the bored observer of the previous night will find in the printed article
no discrepancies, no insidious departures from sober fact; and as he reads
it, the conviction will grow upon him that his own impressions were wrong,
and that after all a debate in the House of Commons is a remarkably
amusing and delightful entertainment. If the newspapers ceased to report
the proceedings of Parliament, the uncomfortable benches of the Strangers'
Gallery would for ever remain empty, simply because the delusion which now
fills them nightly during the session would die for lack of sustenance.
Again, take the case of the amiable feminine crowds which collect upon the
Mall whenever Her Majesty holds a Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace. What
has induced them to forsake lunch and the domestic joys in order to
frequent that draughty thoroughfare? Nothing but accounts which they have
read in vivacious newspapers of the sights to be seen there on these state
occasions. They go; they see; they return fatigued and privately
disappointed, with a vague feeling that some one has misled them. But with
the arrival later in the afternoon of the vendor of special editions, they
begin to be reassured. Under the heading "To-day's Drawing Room," they
encounter a description of incidents which they themselves have witnessed.
The sweet thought crosses their minds: "Perhaps that was written by the
curious woman with eye-glasses who stood near to me;" and by the time
dinner is over nothing would persuade them that the Mall on Drawing Room
day is not one of the most interesting places in the world.
So the journalist continues to gain a livelihood by forcing his rosy
fallacies upon the weary world.
* * * * *
In order to substantiate further the proposition that the art of
journalism is the art of lending interest to people and events
intrinsically dull, let me draw attention to the treatment accorded by
editors to those rare trifles of information which by general agreement
are not in themselves dull. Such an item, a jewel of its kind, was the
following: I copy it as it was allowed to appear in an evening newspaper
justly renowned for enterprise, talent, and imagination, under date 16th
"While walking in the Park at Tsarskoe Selo the Tsar beckoned to a
gardener. The man hastened to obey, but a guard, thinking he was running
up to attack the Emperor, shot him dead.
"His Majesty was deeply affected by the occurrence."
Observe the stark nakedness of it. There is no decorative treatment here,
no evidence of an attempt to impress upon the report the individuality of
the paper. The Editor rightly divined that the simple, splendid tragedy of
the event offered no opportunity for a display of his art. His art,
indeed, could have nothing to do with it. If all news were of a similar
quality, the art of journalism, as it exists at present, would instantly
expire, and a new art would arise to take its place, though what the
nature of that new art would be, it is hazardous to guess. One may,
however, assert that journalism in its highest development will only
thrive so long and so far as the march of events continues, in the eyes of
the majority, to be a dull, monotonous and funereal procession. The
insensible hack may trust himself to present attractively an occurrence or
a man that all the world concedes to be inherently attractive; but it
needs a heaven-born artist, trained in the subtleties of his craft and
gifted with the inexhaustible appreciative wonder of a child, to deal
finely and picturesquely with, say, bi-metallism or the Concert of Europe.
* * * * *
And how to create interest where interest is not? Alas, no dissertation
and no teacher can answer the question. As in other arts, so in
journalism, the high essentials may not be inculcated. It is the mere
technique which is imparted. By a curious paradox, the student is taught,
of art, only what he already knows. Anyone can learn to write, and to
write well, in any given style; but to see, to discern the interestingness
which is veiled from the crowd--that comes not by tuition; rather by
The best treatise on art can only hope:--
(1) To indicate the lines of study and training which should be pursued
in order to acquire the measure of mechanical accomplishment
necessary to the right using of the artistic faculty.
(2) If the artistic faculty exists but is dormant, to awaken it by
means of suggestion; and having awakened it, to show how it may be
properly excited to the fullest activity of which it is capable.
This book is an attempt to do these things, for women, in the art of
Imperfections of the Existing Woman-Journalist.
Despite a current impression to the contrary, implicit in nearly every
printed utterance on the subject, there should not be any essential
functional disparity between the journalist male and the journalist
female. A woman doctor (to instance another open calling) is rightly
regarded as a doctor who happens to be a woman, not as a woman who happens
to be a doctor. She undergoes the same training, and submits to the same
tests, as the young men who find their distraction in the music-halls and
flirt with nurses. Her sex is properly sunk, except where it may prove an
advantage, and certainly it is never allowed to pose as an excuse for
limitations, a palliative for shortcomings. Least of all is she credited
(or debited) with any abnormality on account of it. But towards the woman
journalist our attitude, and her own, is mysteriously different. Though
perhaps we do not say so, we leave it to be inferred that of the dwellers
in Fleet Street there are, not two sexes, but two species--journalists and
women-journalists--and that the one is about as far removed organically
from the other as a dog from a cat. And we treat these two species
differently. They are not expected to suffer the same discipline, nor are
they judged by the same standards. In Fleet Street femininity is an
absolution, not an accident. The statement may be denied, but it is
broadly true, and can easily be demonstrated.
Such a condition of affairs is mischievous. It works injustice to both
parties, but more particularly to the woman, since it sets an arbitrary
limit to healthy competition, while putting a premium on mediocrity. Is
there any sexual reason why a woman should be a less accomplished
journalist than a man? I can find none. Admitted that in certain fields--
say politics--he will surpass her, are there not other fields in which she
is pre-eminent, fields of which the man will not so much as climb the
gate? And even in politics women have excelled. There are at least three
women-journalists in Europe to-day whose influence is felt in Cabinets and
places where they govern (proving that sex is not a bar to the proper
understanding of _la haute politique_); whereas the man who dares to
write on fashions does not exist.
* * * * *
That women-journalists as a body have faults, none knows better than
myself. But I deny that these faults are natural, or necessary, or
incurable, or meet to be condoned. They are due, not to sex, but to the
subtle, far-reaching effects of early training; and the general remedies,
therefore, as I shall endeavour to indicate in subsequent chapters, lie to
hand. They seem to me to be traceable either to an imperfect development
of the sense of order, or to a certain lack of self-control. I should
enumerate them thus:--
First, a failure to appreciate the importance of the maxim: Business is
business. The history of most civil undertakings comprises, not one
Trafalgar, but many; and in journalism especially the signal _Business
is business_--commercial equivalent of _England expects_--must
always be flying at the mast-head. _On ne badine pas avec l'amour_--
much less with a newspaper. Consider the effects of any lapse from the
spirit of that signal in a profession where time is observed more strictly
than in pugilism, where whatever one does one does in the white light of
self-appointed publicity, where a single error or dereliction may ruin the
prestige of years! Consider also the rank turpitude of such a lapse! Alas,
women frequently do not consider these things. Some of them seem to have a
superstition that a newspaper is an automaton and has a will-to-live of
its own; that somehow (they know not how) it will _appear_, and
appear fitly, with or without man's aid. They cannot imagine the
possibility of mere carelessness or omission interfering with the
superhuman regularity and integrity of its existence. The simple fact of
course is that in journalism, as probably in no other profession, success
depends wholly upon the loyal co-operation, the perfect reliability, of a
number of people--some great, some small, but none irresponsible.
Stated plainly, my first charge amounts to this: women-journalists are
unreliable as a class. They are unreliable, not by sexual imperfection, or
from any defect of loyalty or good faith, but because they have not yet
understood the codes of conduct prevailing in the temples so recently
opened to them. On the hearth, their respect for the exigencies of that
mysterious _business_ is unimpeachable; somehow, admittance to the
shrine engenders a certain forgetfulness, Or perhaps it would be kinder
and truer to say that the influences of domesticity are too strong to be
lightly thrown off. For commercial or professional purposes these
influences, in many cases, could not well be worse than they are. Regard,
for a moment, the average household in the light of a business
organisation for lodging and feeding a group of individuals; contrast its
lapses, makeshifts, delays, irregularities, continual excuses, with the
awful precisions of a city office. Is it a matter for surprise that the
young woman who is accustomed gaily to remark, "Only five minutes late
this morning, father," or "I quite forgot to order the coals, dear,"
confident that a frown or a hard word will end the affair, should carry
into business (be it never so grave) the laxities so long permitted her in
I would not charge the professional woman, as I know her, with any
consistent lack of seriousness. On the contrary, she is in the main
exquisitely serious. No one will deny that the average girl, when she
adopts a profession, exhibits a seriousness, an energy, and a
perseverance, of which the average man is apparently incapable. (It is
strange that the less her aptitude, the more dogged her industry.) The
seriousness of some women in Fleet Street and at the Slade School must be
reckoned among the sights of London. It seems almost impossible that this
priceless intensity of purpose should co-exist in the same individual with
that annoying irresponsibility which I have endeavoured to account for.
Yet such is the fact. Scores of instances of it might be furnished; let
one, however, suffice. Once there was a woman-journalist in the North of
England who wrote to a London paper for permission to act as its special
correspondent during the visit of some royal personages to her town. The
editor of the paper, knowing her for an industrious and conscientious
worker and a good descriptive writer, gave the necessary authority, with
explicit information as to the last moment for receiving copy. The moment
came, but not the copy; and the editor, for the time being a raging
misogynist (for he had in the meanwhile publicly announced his intention
to print a special report), went to press without it. The next day, no
explanation having arrived, he dispatched to his special correspondent a
particularly scathing and scornful letter. Then came the excuse. It was
long, but the root of it amounted to exactly this: "I was so knocked up
and had such a headache after the ceremonies were over, that I really did
not feel equal to the exertion of writing. _I thought it would not
matter._" Comment would be inartistic. The curious thing is that the
special correspondent was an editor's wife.
* * * * *
Secondly, inattention to detail. Though this shortcoming discloses itself
in many and various ways, it is to be observed chiefly in the matter of
literary style. Women enjoy a reputation for slipshod style. They have
earned it. A long and intimate familiarity with the manuscript of hundreds
of women writers, renowned and otherwise, has convinced me that not ten
per cent of them can be relied upon to satisfy even the most ordinary
tests in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I do not hesitate to say that
if twenty of the most honoured and popular women-writers were asked to sit
for an examination in these simple branches of learning, the general
result (granted that a few might emerge with credit) would not only
startle themselves but would provide innocent amusement for the rest of
mankind. Of course I make no reference here to the elegances and
refinements of written language. My charge is that not the mere rudiments
are understood. Even a lexicographer may nod, but it surely requires no
intellectual power surpassing the achievement of women to refrain from
regularly mis-spelling some of the commonest English words. The fact that
there are niceties of syntax which have proved too much for great literary
artists, does not make less culpable a wilful ignorance of the leading
grammatical rules; yet the average woman _will_ not undergo the brief
drudgery of learning them. As for punctuation, though each man probably
employs his own private system, women are for the most part content with
one--the system of dispensing with a system.
These accusations, I am aware, have no novelty. They are time-worn. They
have been insisted upon again and again; but never sufficiently. And now
the accusing sub-editors and proof-readers seem to have grown weary of
protest. They suffer in silence, correcting as little as they dare, while
all around are appearing women's articles, which, had their authors been
men, would either have met with curt refusal or been returned for thorough
The root of the evil lies, as I think, in training. The female sex is
prone to be inaccurate and careless of apparently trivial detail, because
that is the general tendency of mankind. In men destined for a business or
a profession, the proclivity is harshly discouraged at an early stage. In
women, who usually are not destined for anything whatever, it enjoys a
merry life, and often refuses to be improved out of existence when the
sudden need arises. No one by taking thought, can deracinate the mental
habits of, say, twenty years.
But some women are as accurate and as attentive to detail as the most
impeccable man, while some men (such as have suffered in training) present
in these respects all the characteristics usually termed feminine. Which
shows that this question at any rate is not one to be airily dismissed
with that over-worked quotation: "Male and female created he them."
* * * * *
Thirdly, a lack of restraint. This, again, touches the matter of literary
style. Many women-writers, though by no means all, have been cured of the
habit of italicising, which was the outcome of a natural desire to atone
for weakness by stridency. (Every writer, of whatever sex, must carry on a
guerilla against this desire.) It is useless, however, to discipline a
vicious instinct in one direction, if one panders to it in another. Women
have given up italics; but they have set no watch against over-emphasis in
more insidious forms. And so their writing is commonly marred by an undue
insistence, a shrillness, a certain quality of multiloquence. With a few
exceptions, the chief of whom are Jane Austen and Alice Meynell, the
greatest of them suffer from this garrulous, _gesticulating_
inefficacy. It runs abroad in _Wuthering Heights_ and _Aurora
Leigh_ and _Sonnets from the Portuguese_. And George Eliot, for
all her spurious masculinity, is as the rest. You may trace the disease in
her most admired passages. For example:--
"It was to Adam the time that a man can least forget in after life,
--the time when he believes that the first woman he has ever loved
betrays by a slight something--a word, a tone, a glance, the quivering
of a lip or an eyelid--that she is at least beginning to love him in
return. The sign is so slight, it is scarcely perceptible to the ear
or eye--he could describe it to no one--it is a mere feather-touch,
yet it seems to have changed his whole being, to have merged an uneasy
yearning into a delicious consciousness of everything but the present
moment." (_Adam Bede_, p. 187.)
Observe here the eager iteration of the woman, making haste to say what
she means, and, conscious of failure, falling back on insistence and
loquacity. Exactly the same vehement spirit of pseudo-forcefulness
characterises women's journalism to-day. And the worst is that these
tactics inevitably induce formlessness and exaggeration; the one by reason
of mere verbiage, the other as the result of a too feverish anxiety to be
I submit that this lack of restraint shown by women writers as a class is
due (like other defects) less to sex than to training. The value of
restraint is seldom inculcated upon women. Indeed, its opposites--gush and
a tendency to hysteria--are regarded, in many respectable quarters, as
among the proper attributes of true womanliness; attributes to be
artistically cultivated. When at length the principles on which women are
brought up come to be altered, then this fault (and the others which I
have mentioned) will disappear. In the meantime much can be done in
individual cases by suitable moral and intellectual calisthenics.
The Roads towards Journalism
More women long and strive to be journalists than by natural gifts are
fitted for the profession. By itself, the wish is no evidence of latent
capacity. Such desire may be induced by the need to earn a livelihood; or
by the peremptory impulse to do _something_ which drives forward so
many women to-day; or perhaps through conversing with an enthusiastic
journalist; or by printed statements as to the incomes and influence of
certain famous members of the craft; or by the mere glamour which
surrounds the newspaper life; or in forty other ways. The practice of
journalism does not demand intellectual power beyond the endowment of the
average clever brain. It is less difficult, I should say, to succeed
moderately in journalism than to succeed moderately in dressmaking. Any
woman of understanding and education, provided she has good health and the
necessary iron determination, can become a competent journalist of sorts
if she chooses to put herself into hard training for a year or two--and
this irrespective of natural bent. Yet even so, I would recommend you,
unless you are assured of a genuine predisposition towards it, to find
another and less exhausting, less disappointing occupation than
journalism. For it will surely prove both exhausting and disappointing to
those whose hearts are not set fast upon it.
But how are you, the woman who desires to be a journalist, to ascertain
whether you have that genuine predisposition, those natural gifts which
will renew your strength and take away the bitterness of disappointments?
You may come some way towards deciding the point by answering these three
1. Are you seriously addicted to reading newspapers and periodicals?
2. Does the thought regularly occur to you, apropos of fact or
incident personally observed: "Here is 'copy' for a paper"?
3. Have you the reputation among your friends of being a good
If you cannot reply in the affirmative to two of these queries, then take
up pokerwork, or oratory, or fiction, or nursing, but leave journalism
alone. If by good fortune you are able to say "Yes" to all three of them,
you may go forward rejoicing, for only perseverance will be necessary to
your success; you are indeed "called."
* * * * *
There are several ways of entering upon journalism. One is at once to
found or purchase a paper, and thus achieve the editorial chair at a
single step. This course is often adopted in novels, sometimes with the
happiest results; and much less often in real life, where the end is
invariably and inevitably painful.
Another way is to buy the sub-editorship of a third-rate paper, by
subscribing towards its capital. By such a transaction one gains
experience, but the cost is commonly too dear.
Another way is to possess friends of high influence in the world of
journalism, who will find for one a seat in a respectable office; an
office where one will be in a position to learn everything without
pecuniary risk, and where one can look forward to earning a salary within
a reasonable time. The sole objection to this method is that it is usually
Another way is to learn shorthand and the use of the typewriter, and so
obtain an editorial secretaryship. An editor's secretary has every
opportunity of conning the secrets of the profession, and it is her own
fault if she is not soon herself a journalist.
But the time-honoured, the only proper way of entering upon journalism is
to become what is called an "outside contributor." The outside contributor
sends unsolicited paragraphs and articles to papers, on the chance of
acceptance. By dint of a thousand refusals, she learns to gauge the
public, which is the editorial, taste, and at length, fortified by many
printed specimens of her work and a list as long as your arm of the
various publications for which she writes, she is able to demand with
dignity a position (in the office or out of it, as her tastes lie) on the
staff of some paper of renown. Some journalists are so successful as
outside contributors--writing when, how, and for whom they choose--that
they would scorn the offer of any regular appointment; but such are rare.
When you have decided to become an outside contributor you are entitled to
call yourself by the proud title of "journalistic aspirant."
The procedure of the aspirant is usually this:--
She casts about for a subject on which to write, and according to her
temperament and circumstances she will certainly choose one of six
things:--"A Spring Reverie" (or it may be "An Autumn Reverie," as the time
of year suits); or "Elsie, a character sketch" (describing one of those
insufferably angelic women whom happily God never made); or "Hints on
Economy in Dress"; or "My First Bicycle Ride"; or an exposure of the New
Woman; or, lastly, a short story, probably styled "An Incident." and
beginning: "Enid Anstruther had come to the end of her resources. As she
sat by the fire that winter afternoon, the glow of the red coal playing on
her soft brown hair, she reflected with a grim smile that," &c., &c.
The aspirant, left to herself, never goes beyond these six topics for her
Having written the thing, she copies it out in a hand as fair as she can
compass (or, if she can afford the expense, gets it typewritten)--on one
side of the paper only. She has read somewhere that manuscripts should be
on one side of the paper only, and that they have a better chance of
acceptance if typewritten. Next she stitches the sheets together, as a
rule with black cotton; occasionally she uses a safety-pin for safety.
Then she composes a pretty letter to the editor of the paper with which
she happens to be most familiar, telling him that she is anxious to make a
little money (though not dependent on her earnings for a livelihood), and
hopes he will come to a decision on her article at his earliest
convenience; she adds that she has always admired his journal, and would
esteem it a great honour to be counted among his contributors.
She has previously determined to keep the whole affair a profound secret,
but at the last moment she cannot refrain from showing the production, in
strict confidence, to some near and dear one. This person either
pronounces it to be really splendid, or damns it with a polite sneer; but
whatever the event, her own golden opinion of her work is confirmed. In
the act of dispatching the missive she suddenly remembers that the correct
thing is to send a stamped envelope for return; she does so, only the
envelope which she encloses is usually much too small to hold the
So the article goes forth. A few days pass, and the aspirant is beginning
to meditate upon the best manner of spending the money to be received for
it, when lo! it returns....
* * * * *
Needless to say, the aspirant has set about the difficult business of
becoming an outside contributor in quite the wrong way. Before daring to
enter upon the writing of an article, it is needful that she should, in
particular, make a study of four important subjects:--
1. The distinguishing characteristics, policy, and general tone of all
the leading dailies, weeklies, and monthlies.
4. Composition, including punctuation. I will deal briefly with these
1. The object of the journalistic aspirant is to supply a demand. But in
order successfully to supply a demand, it is necessary to know with some
exactitude the nature of that demand. Of what use to send stuff to editors
until you have determined what sort of stuff they lack? To obtain this
valuable information (since editors do not often issue circulars defining
their wants) the only way is to make a scrutiny of their papers. Go daily,
therefore, to a public reading-room, and examine attentively, observantly,
the contents of the various publications. Ignore no paper because it has
little interest for you personally, or because you have never heard its
name before. The more papers you are familiar with, the wider your field
for the disposal of articles. The outside contributor can never tell what
paper must serve her turn next. At any moment a subject may occur to her
which will suit, say, _The Pottery Gazette and China and Glass Trades
Review_, and only _The Pottery Gazette and China and Glass Trades
Review._ Study styles and subjects and idiosyncrasies, and count no
detail unworthy of attention. The importance to the aspirant of this
branch of self-training can scarcely be magnified.
2. Few men and very few women can be trusted to spell correctly every word
in common use. I have seen the MSS. of many of the foremost women
journalists of the day, and have found orthographic errors in nearly all
of them. Of course spelling is not a matter of the highest importance--a
certain great English novelist is notoriously incompetent in this respect,
and relies upon his printers--but it deserves attention. Bad spelling
spoils the appearance of the cleverest article, and raises a prejudice
against it in the editorial mind. And not all bad spellers have the
ingenuity of Mr. Umbrage of _The Silchester Mirror_, in Mr. J. M.
Barrie's novel, _When a Man's Single_:--
"When Umbrage returned, Billy Kirker, the chief reporter, was denouncing
John Milton [the junior reporter] for not being able to tell him how to
"'What is the use of you?' he asked indignantly, 'if you can't do a simple
thing like that?'
"'Say "cheat,"' suggested Umbrage.
"So Kirker wrote 'cheat.'"
I think, however, that women have at last learnt to spell words ending in
_ieve_ and _eive_. They go astray nowadays in _ance_ and _ence_; also
in _seperate_ and _irresistable_, and in the past participles of
verbs ending in _it_.
The simplest and best way to cure a case of weak spelling is to hand the
dictionary to some wise friend, and ask him or her to question you. A
quarter of an hour daily devoted to this treatment will effect a
remarkable improvement, even when the patient happens to think there is no
room for improvement.
3. Grammar, I suppose, is taught in girls' schools on approved modern
principles; nevertheless few women seem to have any acquaintance with it.
Yet grammar is not a difficult study, nor a lengthy one, and an
understanding knowledge of its principles is of the greatest assistance in
the formation of a good literary style. This is a truism: that is why it
needs saying again.
You will find Dr. Richard Morris's _Primer of English Grammar_
(Macmillans, _1s_.), with Mr. John Wetherell's _Exercises on
Morris's English Grammar_ (same publishers and price), very useful,
and, though they are small books, quite adequate to your needs. Both can
be mastered in a month. The first business is to learn to parse. To parse
is "to explain the duty each word performs in a sentence: that is, to tell
the relation each word bears to the rest in a sentence:" the definition
clearly shows how indispensable to a writer is some skill in parsing. Of
course many of the exercises are set obviously for children, but
sufficient remain to puzzle the woman of average intelligence. That lady
might, for example, have a difficulty in parsing the italicised words in
the following: "My cap, having _stuck on_ a long _time_, now
went _whirling_ down the lane." Afterwards comes analysis--the
breaking up of a sentence into its component parts--not less urgent than
parsing. This branch of the subject is treated well and thoroughly in Mr.
Wetherell's book, and his exercises should be worked through
conscientiously. Note further, in the same primer, the division relating
to syntax, and especially the exercises on pp. 74, 75. The chapter on
conjunctions is also of serious importance to women.
4. By "composition," I mean merely the art of writing without
transgressing the rules of grammar and kindred canons by which all writers
agree to be bound. The higher matter of "style" will be treated in the
The best book on this subject is Professor Nichol's _English
Composition_ (Macmillan's, 1s.). It is small, but it omits no point on
which beginners are likely to err. Women should give particular attention
to the following:--
False concords, p. 22.
Purity in the use of words, p. 33.
Want of discrimination between synonyms, p. 39.
Carelessness as to the meaning of sentences, p. 42.
The use of relatives, p. 52. Professor Nichol most truthfully says: "The
most fertile source of confusion in English is a slovenly use of
Arrangement, p. 63.
For guidance as to punctuation, study _Stops_, by Paul Allardyce (F.
Fisher Unwin, 1s.). No book, however, could possibly deal with every point
likely to arise under our wonderful English system of punctuation. It is
an excellent plan to read aloud any sentence which presents a difficulty,
and to punctuate it according to the pauses made (almost unconsciously) by
the voice. This method is well-nigh infallible. If doubt still remains,
remember that it is better to punctuate too little than too much.
* * * * *
Concurrently with the study of newspapers, spelling, grammar, and
composition, the aspirant must make a practice of writing daily a short
interesting description (say five hundred words) of some event or scene
personally observed during the day. Nothing should be allowed to interfere
with the regularity of this exercise, which is essential, not only for the
improvement of style, but also for the sharpening of that faculty of
subject-selection so necessary to the journalist. It is idle to say:
"Nothing interesting ever happens within _my_ ken," There is no
event, no scene, but has its interesting aspect. Your business, madam, is
to discover that aspect.
* * * * *
It may be well to state here that neither shorthand nor typewriting is
requisite to the ultimate success of the journalistic aspirant. The common
notion that shorthand is part of the equipment of every journalist is
quite wrong. If, however, the aspirant possesses a typewriter and the
skill to use it, she will of course be able to get her articles
transcribed for nothing.
"How can I acquire a good style of writing?"
Pathetic question, invariably asked by the artless beginner!
You cannot _acquire_ a good style; only a bad style can be acquired.
It is a current impression that style is something apart from, something
foreign to, matter--a beautiful robe which, once it is found, may be used
to clothe the nudity of matter. Young writers wander forth searching for
style, as one searches for that which is hidden. They might employ
themselves as profitably in looking for the noses on their faces. For
style is personal, as much a portion of one's self as the voice. It is
within, not without; it needs only to be elicited, brought to light.
The one possible way of developing the latent style which has always been
yours, is to forget absolutely that such a thing as style exists.
For good style consists in saying exactly what you mean with the utmost
clearness and the utmost naturalness: simply that! When you have
accomplished so much, you have accomplished good style. In no sense is
style of the nature of embroidery, an ornament superimposed: this is what
the beginner fails to grasp; she somehow cannot rid herself of the
superstition that after the meaning is precisely expressed, something
further remains to be done.
I have put clearness and naturalness as the two attributes of good style.
Clearness need not be defined. Naturalness will not suffer definition; it
depends on the individual, and must be determined by the individual. What
is proper for one person may be improper for another. Carlyle was
ungraceful with impunity; Lamb could not have been so. We may no more
choose our styles than our characters. Style, like character, can, it is
true, be trained--strengthened, chastened, refined, rendered shapely; but
in essentials it must for ever remain as it originally was. It is the
expression, not only of the thoughts immediately to be set down, but of
the very man himself, and with the man it will develop. It cannot be
invented; it cannot be concocted. It must be a natural growth--watched,
tended, fostered, pruned, but after all a natural growth.
* * * * *
To find out, to uncover, one's true style; to lay bare one's self: how is
this to be set about? Primarily, by experiment in the way of imitation,
which is the commencement of all art. Every great artist--Shakspere,
Beethoven, Velasquez, Inigo Jones--has started by imitating the models
which he admired and to which he felt drawn. You must do the same. It is
the surest and indeed the only way of arriving at one's true
I do not find it easy to recommend exemplars to the aspirant; so many
writers of indubitable greatness have been fatal to their disciples; take
the trite instance of Carlyle, whose influence twenty years ago ruined
styles innumerable. Shakspere and Congreve, possibly our two supreme prose
artists, have styles which, in directness and freedom from mannerism, are
well suited to be models for the young journalist; but since they wrote
only dialogue, now archaic in many details, it is very difficult for the
young journalist to follow them with profit in descriptive work. Among
modern writers, Mrs. Alice Meynell has a style unsurpassed in simplicity,
fineness, and strength. Nevertheless I hesitate to name her as a model,
lest the student, in trying to attain her succinct perfection, should fall
into mere baldness. On the whole, my inclination turns towards Huxley's
_Essays_. Here you have a style which, though by no means great,
possesses every good quality, and has besides no tricks to lead the
beginner astray; nothing more adorably fitted to the uses of newspaper
work could be conceived. To these might be added the letters of Cowper,
and the more popular essays of Matthew Arnold.
Paraphrasing is an excellent practice. Read a passage from the author of
your choice; grasp thoroughly its purport, but do not learn it by heart.
Then close the book, and endeavour to set down in fresh words the thing
you have read. In a few days (not at once) compare your work with the
classic. The comparison will induce humility, and humility is the
beginning of knowledge. After a period of pure imitation you will begin,
at first almost imperceptibly, to diverge into a direction of your own.
Then proceed warily, making the curve very gradual.
Never attempt to pass judgment on your writing before it is a week old.
Until a reasonable interval has elapsed, it is impossible for you to
distinguish between what you had in your mind and what is actually on the
paper; the brain, still occupied with the thought to be expressed,
unconsciously supplies the omissions and clarifies the obscurities of the
written word, which thus seems more satisfactory and convincing than it
really is. With the passage of time, the thought fades, and the written
expression of it, no longer illuminated by memory, must then stand with
you on its intrinsic merits. When thus examining your work, read it aloud:
the process will disclose weaknesses of all sorts not previously
Do not destroy anything which you have written. It is well from time to
time to refer to past work. To find that one has progressed is always an
encouragement to further effort.
So far generally.
As this book does not happen to be a guide to style, it is impossible here
to discuss every point likely to arise during the aspirant's self-education
in the art of literary expression. But there are several scarlet sins
against which she must be briefly warned.
The worst of them is the sin of using trite expressions--phrases, figures,
metaphors, and quotations; such as--not to mince the matter, took occasion
to, won golden opinions, the cynosure of all eyes, mental vision, smell of
the lamp, read mark learn and inwardly digest, inclines towards, indulge
in, it is whispered, staple topic of conversation, hit the happy medium,
not wisely but too well, I grieve to say, reign supreme, much in request,
justify its existence, lend itself amiably to, choice galore, call for
remark, hail with delight; and forty thousand others. The work of some
writers is chiefly made up of these hackneyed locutions. Says
Schopenhauer, in an illuminative passage which I cull from his clever but
uneven essay "On Authorship and Style":--"Everyday authors are only half
conscious when they write, a fact which accounts for their want of
intellect and the tediousness of their writings: they do not really
themselves understand the meaning of their own words, because they take
ready-made words and learn them. Hence they combine whole phrases more
than words--_phrases banales_. This accounts for that obviously
characteristic want of clearly defined thought; in fact, they lack the die
that stamps their thoughts, they have no clear thought of their own; and
in place of it we find an indefinite, obscure interweaving of words,
current phrases, worn-out terms of speech, and fashionable expressions.
The result is that their foggy kind of writing is like print that has been
done with old type. On the other hand, intelligent people _really_
speak to us in their writings, and this is why they are able both to move
and to entertain us. It is only intelligent writers who _place
individual words together with a full consciousness of their use,_ and
select them with deliberation."
If you have something to say, instead of accepting the first phrases that
present themselves (which are naturally those you have heard the most
often, and therefore the tritest), endeavour to express yourself in words
of your own individual choice, _selected singly_. When you have put a
sentence together, examine each word separately, and unless it can
satisfactorily account for its position there, by proving appositeness and
either originality or indispensability, then cast it aside. The
conscientious performance of this rite will soon give a wonderful
freshness and piquancy to your style.
Here I must mention a book invaluable to all writers--a book of which I
(as a writer) think so well, that if I might only possess one book and had
to choose between this and a Shakspere, I would let the Shakspere go. I
refer to Roget's _Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases_ (Longman,
10s. 6d.). It is in effect a vast collection of synonyms, divided and
subdivided minutely and with precision. When you lack the _mot
juste_, turn in the index at the end of the volume to any word which,
however distantly, approaches in meaning the one you need but cannot
summon; you will find a reference to a laborious and magnificent group of
allied words amongst which the desired, the unique word is sure to be
discovered. For example, we will suppose you require another word for
"difficulty"; consider this list:--
"Nouns. Difficulty, hardness (and nouns formed from similar adjectives);
impracticability, &c. (see _impossibility_); tough-, hard-, uphill-
work; hard-, herculean-, Augean-task; task of Sisyphus, Sisyphean labour,
tough job, teaser, rasper, dead lift.
"Dilemma, embarrassment; perplexity, &c. (see _uncertainty_);
intricacy; entanglement; cross fire; awkwardness, delicacy, ticklish card
to play, knot, Gordian knot, _dignus vindice nodus_, net, meshes,
maze; coil, &c. (see _convolution_); crooked path.
"Nice-, delicate-, subtle-, knotty point; vexed question, _vexata
quaestio_, poser, puzzle, &c. (see riddle); paradox; hard-, nut to
crack; bone to pick, crux, _pons asinorum_, where the shoe pinches.
"Nonplus, quandary, strait, pass, pinch, pretty pass, stress, brunt;
critical situation, crisis; trial, rub, emergency, exigency, scramble.
"Scrape, hobble, slough, quagmire, hot water, hornet's nest; sea-, peck of
troubles: pretty kettle of fish; pickle, stew, _imbroglio_ mess, ado;
false position; set fast, stand; dead,-lock,-set; fix, horns of a dilemma,
_cul de sac_; hitch; stumbling block, &c. (see _hindrance_)."
The catalogues of allied adjectives and of allied verbs are even longer
than the foregoing.
The Introduction to the _Thesaurus_, by the way, though deserving of
study, is a dull and cumbrous piece of work and not necessary to the
usefulness of the book.
* * * * *
The sin of using trite expressions is equally common among men and women.
There are others which chiefly beset women:--
Undue insistence. I have touched upon this in Chapter II. The remedy is to
use superlatives only under compulsion, and to eschew italics and such
adverbs as "absolutely," "utterly," "positively."
Wordiness. When you have written a paragraph, examine it carefully with
the object of eliminating every word which is not necessary to the
expression of the meaning. Be sure that you have not said the same thing
twice in different words. Keep watch especially against pleonasms. Let
this be your motto: Brevity without baldness.
Undue use of metaphor, simile, and figure. This is a sin to which women
are wofully prone. They commit it with glee, and I have often found it a
most difficult matter to make them realise the absurdities which result
from the practice of it. As an illustration of the ludicrous consequences
of unbridled indulgence in metaphor and simile, I quote the following
extract (not, however, the work of a woman) from a serious and justly
"I have gasped in wonder to witness one of Her Majesty's judges forsake--
on very insufficient provocation--the gossamer of recreative conversation,
to upraise a few monumental, I may say memorable, judgments on the subject
of lithography. Now, there are many red rags in the various arts with
which to encompass the discomfiture of the Philistine's bull, and the
raven will always appropriate the feathers of the peacock and look
ridiculous in them; but the rapier enwreathed in the red rag of painting
is more readily rushed upon, and plumes of appreciation more wantonly
borrowed and grotesquely worn in this walk of art than in any other."
Shun especially mixed metaphors. [Footnote: The most beautiful instance of
mixed metaphor I have ever seen occurred in a solicitor's letter, brought
to my notice by the clerk to whom it was dictated. It ran thus:--"We go
upon the principle that, in order to pull the matter out of the fire, a
fourth of a fifth of a loaf is better than no bread, which the terms
proposed are."] See the section on figurative language (p. 76) in Nichols'
_English Composition_. But do not take Nichols himself as a model; I
find him writing thus:--"Avoid an accumulation of little words. The
_luggage_ of particles is an _impediment_ to strong speech and a
_jar_ in the harmony of style," which is nearly as funny as the funny
examples which he quotes.
The Outside Contributor
In Mr. J.M. Barrie's _When a Man's Single_ [Footnote: This brilliant
novel should be seriously studied by every young journalist. It contains
more useful advice to the outside contributor than all the manuals of
journalism ever written.] the following homily is delivered by a
journalist of experience to a naive and innocent beginner:--
"There are only about a dozen papers in London worth writing for, but
I can give you a good account of them. Not only do they pay
handsomely, but the majority are open to contributions from anyone.
Don't you believe what one reads about newspaper rings. Everything
sent in is looked at, and if it is suitable any editor is glad to
have it. Men fail to get a footing on the press because--well, as a
rule because they are stupid."
This is indeed wisdom. I demur to the first sentence alone. There are
to-day (whatever the case ten years ago) many more than a dozen papers in
London worth writing for; I should put the number nearer a hundred; papers
which pay, if not handsomely, at least adequately, seldom lower than
fifteen shillings per thousand, and in some noble instances ascending to
two guineas--which is princely. A dozen papers worth writing for in the
whole of London! Why, it is scarcely uncommon for a single firm to have
control of a dozen reputable publications!
The beginner must, for her encouragement and solace under rebuffs, grasp
firmly the fact that the immense majority of London editors are not merely
willing but in truth anxious to peruse such manuscripts as she cares to
submit to their notice, and to accept them if suitable. The supply of
really suitable material of average quality does not often exceed the
demand, and the supply of suitable material which can be called
distinguished is always less than the demand. This is why the editorial
eye keeps a sleepless watch for that long-desired new writer, who may be
yourself. Also, the beginner should remember with pride that the Press as
a whole relies for much of its freshness and attraction upon the outside
contributor. If the stream of unsolicited contributions were suddenly to
cease flowing into Fleet Street, the monthlies would find themselves in a
predicament; all the weeklies (except certain "class" organs), from the
esoteric literary sixpenny to the penny popular with a circulation equal
to the population of Glasgow, would be compelled to cast aside dignity,
and solicit instead of being solicited; even those pompous creatures, the
"great dailies," would feel the pinch, despite their regular services and
seething staffs. Let it be your glory, therefore, O outside contributors,
that the very existence of the Press, as at present organised, depends
* * * * *
I have already referred to the necessity of visiting regularly a public
news-room. As you progress in the power of composition, so must your
knowledge of the "make-up" of all the principal papers increase; for the
first is useless without the second. You must, in particular, know
intimately the complicated topography of all the daily papers--on what
days certain features appear; what length of article is affected by each
paper; and the subtle variations of tone which, apart from grosser
differences, distinguish one organ from another. You must also be well
acquainted with the various editorial notices, and take care, when sending
in manuscripts, always to obey the instructions there laid down.
The length of an article is a most important matter and frequently decides
its fate. Accordingly, the question of lengths must be thoroughly studied.
For a simple example, you must know that a _Globe_ "turnover" (the
celebrated daily article which occupies the last column on the first page
and "turns over" to the second page) must necessarily exceed a thousand
words; no article intended for that position, whatever its merit, can have
the least chance of acceptance if it falls short of this minimum. Again,
the first article in the _Evening Standard_ must exactly fill the
column, no more and no less.
Do net despise "class" papers, those which appeal only to a particular
section of the community--religious, architectural, literary, artistic,
and so forth. These papers sometimes experience a difficulty in getting
what articles they desire, and indeed it is notorious that the editors of
certain of them are often at their wits' end in the search for new
treatments of an exhausted subject. The reasons for such a state of
affairs are, of course, first, that outside contributors in their
blindness pass over these papers, and secondly, that as the subjects are
sharply limited, so is the field for copy.
It would be well to buy for reference Sells' _Dictionary of the World's
Press_ (7s. 6d.), a vast volume containing indexes of all papers, with
their addresses, and a quantity of useful information concerning them.
_The Literary Year Book_ (George Allen, 3s. 6d.), gives a tabular
statement (incomplete, but useful so far as it goes) showing the editorial
requirements of a number of weekly and monthly organs.
* * * * *
Naturally it is impossible to offer particular advice upon so immense a
subject as the selection of topics for articles, but attention is directed
to the following three points:--
1. Editors, especially editors of weeklies and monthlies, find it
necessary to make their arrangements far in advance of publishing day.
Therefore the outside contributor must always look ahead. In March she
should have an eye on Midsummer, at Midsummer she should be engrossed by
Christmas, and at Christmas that notorious article, "Easter in many
Lands," should be approaching completion. It is useless to send in (as so
many thoughtless ones do send in) an essay on the New Year just before
Christmas, or a seaside dissertation towards the end of July. And this
applies not only to the great annual festivals and seasons, but also to
all important political, social, and general events whose dates are known
beforehand. Take, for an instance, the annual meeting of the British
Association. If you send to an editor an anecdotal history of the British
Association only a a few days before the meeting itself, you thereby
assume that the editor is depending for his topical articles on chance
contributions received at the last moment. Which is patently absurd.
Without doubt that editor had arranged his British Association articles a
couple of months previously, and it is not improbable that he accepted the
suggestions of some outside contributor who had been clever enough to look
into the future. It is a good plan to compile for reference a calendar of
festivals, seasons, and public events, exactly such as the editor himself
2. Women need not confine themselves to women's subjects. Many women
writers seem to think that they are debarred by some defect or limitation
of sex from treating topics other than those commonly termed feminine. But
there is no reason why a woman should not deal as effectively as a man
with general matters. (To argue that, because the male journalist does not
usually touch women's affairs without being ridiculous, therefore the
converse holds good, is illogical.) I lay stress on this.
3. Do not disdain to write mere paragraphs. The present is an era of
paragraphs, and they form a most marketable commodity. Scarcely an editor
but is continually gaping for topical paragraphs. Moreover paragraphs are
less difficult to write than articles, since they demand less constructive
skill; many aspirants can put together a passable paragraph who would fail
miserably with an article. Further, they have a better chance of
acceptance, _caeteris paribus_, for the reason that editors find them
easier to handle. Often an editor declines an article which he likes,
simply because he knows that to use it would involve the re-modelling of
an entire issue; a paragraph is more amenable. Lastly, paragraphs are paid
for, and just as much as articles they may afford one the encouraging
satisfaction of seeing her stuff in print. The beginner, therefore, will
do well to begin with paragraph work; articles may follow at a later
* * * * *
Your paragraph or article having been composed, there arises the question
of the proper way to copy and dispatch it:--
1. In the majority of instances it is unnecessary to typewrite.
Typewriting is somewhat expensive and often inaccurate, and unless you
happen to possess your own typewriter, there is no reason why caligraphy
should not suffice for your needs. (A few editors, however, insist that
all copy submitted shall be typewritten.) Use quarto paper--that is, the
size of a sheet of note-paper opened--and only one side of it. Write very
plainly, not too small, leaving a wide margin at the left hand, and a good
space between the words and between the lines.
2. Fasten the sheets together at the top left hand corner with a paper
fastener, the pointed ends of the fastener being at the top. Do not pin
the sheets; do not stitch them; whatever else you do, refrain from
stitching them all the way down the left hand side, as this process makes
it irritatingly difficult to turn them over.
3. Write your name and address not only at the top of the manuscript
itself, but also on the back, so that they may be prominent when the
manuscript is folded up. Write boldly on the first page the exact length
of the article in words.
4. Enclose a stamped and addressed envelope--not a book-post wrapper;
manuscripts which see much of the world (and your earlier manuscripts will
probably see a very great deal of the world) become damaged and ruinous by
travelling in a book-post wrapper. Be sure that the envelope is
sufficiently stamped, and be sure also that it is large enough to hold the
5. Never send out a dirty or ragged manuscript. The editor is prejudiced
by the first sight of such a manuscript, for he knows at once that it has
been refused elsewhere.
* * * * *
Her manuscript decently dispatched, the aspirant will feel happy and well
satisfied till shortly before the earliest hour possible for its return.
Then begins suspense. She will sit awaiting with counterfeit calm the
postman. She hears his tread on the pavement outside; he mounts the steps,
knocks; there is the gentle concussion of a packet against the bottom of
the letter-box. Is it the article returned? She still keeps hope. Even
when one day the large envelope, addressed in her own writing, is put into
her hands, she says to herself that the editor has only returned it for a
few trifling modifications....
Invariably the thing does come back, sooner or later, with some curt
circular of refusal. Moodiness and discouragement follow. But it is as
wise to be annoyed by editors as to quarrel with the weather. Idle
depression must instantly give place to renewed activity. The journalistic
instinct, says Noble Simms in _When a Man's Single_, "includes a
determination not to be beaten as well as an aptitude for selecting the
If at first you fail--as will certainly be the case; you may sell nothing
whatever for twelve months--be quite sure that it is not--
Because there is a conspiracy among editors to suppress talented
Or because the market is overcrowded.
Or because your manuscripts have not been carefully read.
Or because editors do not know their business.
Try to convince yourself that the true reason is--
Because your stuff has not yet reached the (low) level of merely technical
accomplishment which the average editor exacts.
Or because your topics are devoid of interest for any numerous body of
Or because you persist in sending your articles to the wrong papers.
The first defect ought to be remedied speedily. The second is more
difficult to deal with, and the third is most difficult. The eradication
of these two will necessitate careful and continuous study of journalism
in all its manifestations, and nothing but successive defeats will teach
you how to be victorious. However, perseverance granted, the hour will
come when an article of yours finds its way to the composing room. A day
of ecstasy, upon which every disappointment is forgotten and the way
forward seems straight and facile!
As soon as you can rely upon selling one article out of four, count it
that you are progressing.
* * * * *
As to remuneration, a few papers send out cheques at regular intervals
without putting their contributors to any trouble in the matter. Others,
and among them some of the best, never pay till a demand is made. Some,
including one or two organs of note, never pay till they are compelled to
do so. If a remittance is not received during the month following
publication, it is advisable to deliver an account, giving the date of
appearance, exact title, and number of pages, columns, or inches.
The Search for Copy
There comes a time when the aspirant, proudly conscious of a certain
technical skill in composition and construction, and disheartened by
repeated failures, exclaims with petulance: "What _shall_ I write
about?" She dolefully imagines that the list of feasible subjects is
exhausted; her wearied brain refuses any longer to carry on its sterile
activities, and despair settles down upon her. This is because her eyes
have not been opened to the limitless possibilities for the making of good
"copy" which exist on every side. Most probably she has been looking in
quite the wrong direction.
When Rob Angus, in _When a Man's Single_, remarks to Rorrison, "And
yet I had thirty articles rejected before the 'Minotaur' accepted that
one," Rorrison's reply is, "Yes, and you will have another thirty rejected
if they are of the same kind. You beginners seem able to write nothing but
your views on politics, and your reflections on art, and your theories on
life, which you sometimes even think original. Editors won't have that,
because their readers don't want it. Every paper has its regular staff of
leader-writers, _and what is wanted from the outsider is freshness_.
An editor tosses aside your column and a half about evolution, but is glad
to have a paragraph saying that you saw Herbert Spencer the day before
yesterday gazing solemnly for ten minutes in a milliner's window. Fleet
Street at this moment is simply running with men who want to air their
views about things in general."
With slight modification the satire applies admirably to women. Perhaps
women are not so anxious as men to air their views about things in general
(though they are tolerably anxious), but they are certainly too prone to
write down vaguely their vague _fancies_ about things in general.
Fleet Street at this moment (to use Rorrison's expressive phrase) is
simply running with women who are writing fanciful essays and not selling
them because editors don't want fanciful essays--or indeed any sort of
Let us see this fact clear: editors have little use for essays and they
have no use for views (except their own). To gain acceptance essays must
be extremely well done, and emphatically they are not stuff for beginners
to tackle. Apparently the easiest form of composition in the world, the
essay is in truth one of the most difficult. Not much experience is needed
to prove this. Yet every woman who aspires to journalism must needs employ
her clumsy pen upon essays. "From my Window" is a favourite title with the
rank beginner. Charles Lamb might conceivably have written an essay called
"From my Window" which would have been a masterpiece--and there is a
remote chance that some editor might have accepted it. But then Charles
Lamb is dead, and his secret died with him.
* * * * *
Despite the vast number of articles written and printed during recent
years, there remains a yet vaster number of articles waiting to be
written--even after leaving essays out of account. In fact the more
articles written, the more to be written. The field for copy has a
resemblance to Klondyke: removal of treasure serves only to bring larger
quantities into sight.
Journalism ever grows wider, more comprehensive; the whole history of the
profession demonstrates this. In the early years of daily journalism, for
example, the sole subjects deemed worthy of a newspaper's attention were
politics, money, and the law. Some conservative sheets still endeavour to
live up to this ideal, but the circulation and the influence go to those
which find no aspect of human existence beneath their notice. Formerly
newspapers had a morbid dread of being readable. They have lost that dread
now, and those which have lost it most completely, most completely
succeed. As with the dailies, so with every other sort of paper. The aim
is to be inclusive, satisfying the public curiosity and at the same time
whetting it; for the more the public knows, the more it wants to know. And
it refuses any longer to make a task of newspaper-reading. It demands that
it shall be amused while it is instructed, like a child at a kindergarten.
To make sure that you are availing yourself of the immense possibilities
for copy which this extraordinary inquisitiveness on the part of the
public has fortunately created, you must cultivate an attitude of mind
which is constantly asking the question:--
"Is there copy here?"
This attitude may and must be cultivated to such an extent that instead of
vainly searching for subjects, you are at a loss to choose among the
multitude of ideas for articles which suggest themselves at every turn of
I will illustrate what I mean.
In the first place, it is necessary to remember that articles are divided
into two classes--those which are not topical and those which are. Daily
papers subsist almost exclusively upon the latter; other papers require
We will take the non-topical articles first. These, since they do not
spring naturally from passing events, must be suggested by the occurrences
of one's everyday life. Thus:--
You get up in the morning.
"Queer ways of sleeping." For _Tit-Bits_ and its class. Material at
"My alarum." Humorous.
"How to economise space in a small bedroom." For a women's paper.
"Where some Queens sleep." About the sleeping apartments of sovereigns.
Ample material in biographies and periodical literature.
"Does a woman require more sleep than a man?" For the silly season.
"Is breakfast in bed enjoyable?" Ditto.
You walk downstairs.
"Some famous staircases."
"Stair-climbing as a form of indoor exercise."
"How to decorate a staircase inexpensively."
You sit down to breakfast.
"Our newsboy." Humorous.
"Papa at breakfast." Ditto.
"The proper way of making coffee." (There is always a market for this kind
"How a cup and saucer are made."
"Should the English breakfast be abolished?"
And so on throughout the day.
I put forward these suggestions, not to be worked out, but merely to
indicate how notions for articles should come to life in you. A constant
effort to evolve ideas in this way cannot fail to be fruitful, and though
most of the ideas will be cast aside as valueless, a few promising ones
will remain. On no account abandon good articles because you fear they
have been done before. Rorrison said: "Of course they have, but do them in
your own way; the public has no memory, and besides, new publics are
always springing up."
Topical articles are possibly more shy of suggesting themselves than
non-topical, but on the other hand they always have a better chance of
acceptance. Notions for these cluster about every event or personage that
happens to be in the public eye. Suppose we are in April, and the Covent
Garden Opera is to open in a month's time. At such a moment editors are
naturally susceptible to articles bearing on the subject. For example:--
"Earnings of operatic stars."
"Whims of operatic stars."
Anecdotes (in paragraphic form) relating to any of the singers engaged.
These three could be worked up from files of newspapers, particularly of
"How an opera chorus is trained." Material for this might be obtained from
intelligent women-members of the chorus, interviewed on the spot.
Notes on the new operas to be produced.
Notes about composers and conductors.
"The Fortunes of Covent Garden Theatre." A historic-anecdotal article.
Material at the British Museum.
Notes about the titled box-holders for the season. Material to be obtained
from the theatre officials.
And about ninety-nine similar articles.
In the matter of topical articles, I must quote once more from _When a
Man's Single_. Simms told Rob Angus "that when anything remarkable
occurred in London he should at once do an article at the British Museum
on the times the same thing had happened before." This kind of article, if
delivered promptly, almost invariably finds a market; but it must be
delivered promptly. Then, of course, there are the fixed and movable
feasts--Christmas, Easter, &c.,--for which seasonable articles are
required. Seasonable articles about these too trite festivals the editor
must have (though he would much prefer to dispense with them), and he
accepts the least hackneyed suggestions which offer themselves.
* * * * *
Wide as the field for copy already is, it widens, as I have said,
continually. In America it is always somewhat wider than in England, and a
perusal of the Sunday editions of the leading New York papers, the
_Herald, World, Sun, Journal_, &c. (which may be obtained in London),
will not be profitless to the alert student. These huge and flaring
productions have objectionable features which are only too obvious, but
they are conducted by the cleverest journalists in the world, and the
invaluable journalistic instinct is apparent on every page of them. The
splendid pertinacity and ingenuity of the American journalist in wringing
copy out of any and every side of existence cannot fail to quicken the
pulses of those who are accustomed to the soberer, narrower, sleepier ways
of English newspapers. Fleet Street pretends to despise and contemn
American methods, yet a gradual Americanising of the English press is
always taking place, with results on the whole admirable.
* * * * *
Photography is an aid to the outside contributor. Illustrations always
assist an article; sometimes they are sufficient to make an unsaleable
article saleable. Many articles are capable of being illustrated by means
of the camera, and almost any photographic pictures are capable of being
"written round." For example, a series of pictures, with brief
letterpress, under the title, "The Strand from dawn to dusk," showing
incidents of traffic, such as a horse down, &c., would be easily disposed
of to an illustrated weekly; such photographs could be taken instanteously
on a bright day without any difficulty whatever.
* * * * *
The foregoing remarks on the search for copy are of course addressed to
the aspirant living in London, who possesses immense advantages over her
rural sister. She has, chiefly, the British Museum, that blessed fount of
universal information, and her first duty must be to apply to the Chief
Librarian for a reading ticket. Some time will elapse before she is able
to use handily the vast apparatus here placed at her disposal, but she
will find the officials benignantly omniscient, and always ready to help
the unskilled in research. Also, she must not be shy of going into the
world and collecting such facts as she may require, ferreting things out,
and refusing to be abashed. So soon as she has contributed to a few papers
of standing, she should have some cards engraved with her name, and a list
of these papers after the words "Contributor to." Such a card will
constitute sufficient credentials on any expedition of enquiry, and will
frequently aid her to obtain interviews with "people of importance in
their day." Interviews, it need scarcely be said, are most popular with
the average editor.
The provincial aspirant is less fortunately placed, though if she resides
in a large town with a good public library, she may manage tolerably well.
It is the woman sepulchred in a small village who finds herself most
severely handicapped. Still, I know instances of women so situated who
have gained the position of regular contributors to journals of dignity.
Their success has been usually due to specialising on some single topic or
group of topics, such as "nature notes," "household affairs," "country
occupations," "parochial management," "home handiwork," "village
sketches," and so on. There is copy even in a village. A woman afflicted
with journalistic ambitions once wrote to an editor complaining that she
was out of the world, actually two miles from a shop. "Then write an
article," the editor replied, "entitled 'Two miles from a shop.'" She did
so; it was accepted and followed by others of a similar kind.
The Art of Corresponding with an Editor
Women contributors are commonly much too fond of corresponding with
editors. When the aspirant dispatches the first article, it is quite
customary for her to send it under cover of a long epistle (not
unfrequently extending to eight pages) in which she gives her personal
history in brief, and a short statement of her literary ambitions,
including in particular her ambition to contribute to "your excellent
paper which I have always admired"; often she adds that though not
dependant (so she spells the word) upon her own efforts for a livelihood,
she is nevertheless anxious to earn a little money; or it may be that she
is in fact thrown upon her own resources, in which case she explains that
she has turned to journalism as the readiest means of providing for
herself. Sometimes she ventures to hope that the editor will judge her
work leniently, since she is only a beginner. Sometimes, with affecting
candour, she avows that she does not expect for a moment to be accepted.
Sometimes she requests that in case of refusal the editor will advise her
where next to send the manuscript. Sometimes she begs for a frank
criticism, and if the editor is foolish enough to justify his heartless
refusal by such a criticism, she pesters the devoted fellow with another
long letter of thanks, in which she timidly suggests that he may be able
to assist her further, but hopes that he will not trouble to send any
answer unless it is quite, quite convenient to him to do so. He doesn't.
In her pre-occupation, she usually forgets either to write her name and
address on the manuscript or to enclose stamps; occasionally she omits
even to stamp her own letter.
* * * * *
Let this be your rule: Don't write to an editor. He has an objection to
both reading letters and answering them; he thinks he does enough when he
peruses your manuscript. A good article requires no explanation; it should
be its own commentary. Be content, therefore, simply to put your article
in an envelope with another envelope, and dispatch it. The editor needs
not to be told that it is sent for publication if suitable and for return
if unsuitable. And he does not care a pin what are your ambitions and your
circumstances; or whether this is your "very first" or your ten thousandth
effort; whether you have written in the flush of health or on your dying
couch; whether you are starving or beautifully rich. What are these facts
to him? They do not in the least affect the value of the article. If it
pleases him, he accepts; if not, he refuses. He is scarcely Adviser-in-
Chief to the Literary Ladies of Great Britain, nor yet the Charity
Organisation Society. He has no interest in you. What interests him is his
circulation, his influence, his advertisement department.
The editorial notices of a few papers state that the title and scope of an
article must be submitted before the article itself. This is absurd, and
in most cases you are safe in ignoring the regulation. An article cannot
be judged by its title and a _resume_ of it, and there is no doubt
that editors who enforce such a rule often decline to see articles which
would have suited them.
If for any special reason a letter should be essential, make it brief,
explicit, and formal; spend as much care over the letter as you have given
to the article which it is to cover. See that it contains no superfluous
words, and see that it is correctly spelt; some letters aren't.
When a series of articles is in contemplation or a novel departure to be
suggested, it sometimes happens that a rather elaborate explanation is
necessary. Do not send such an explanation in writing until you have
demonstrated the impossibility of seeing the editor in person.
Now editors do not like being seen, and certainly they do not like being
seen by the casual contributor. Despite the fact that this persevering
person is indispensable to them and often their best friend, they fall
into the habit of regarding the casual contributor as their natural enemy,
against whom warfare is to be waged. It is ridiculous, but it is true. So
be it. Accept the situation, and fight for yourself, taking your advantage
where you can, and casting away scruples of punctilio. By actually seeing
an editor you gain a double advantage. For in the first place it is much
more difficult for him to refuse _viva voce_ (especially to a woman
[Footnote: I by no means suggest that a woman should exploit her
femininity in order to gain points against a man.]) than by letter, and in
the second place a personal explanation of a scheme is likely to be much
more effective than a written one. Therefore resolve to see your editor
face to face.
That editors are invisible is taken for granted only by the inexperienced.
Without doubt editors love to surround themselves with an atmosphere of
mystery, aloofness, and sovereignty, but in truth they are human beings,
and may be so treated. The invisibility of editors is mainly a legend. If
you call at a newspaper office and, presenting your card, ask in a firm
voice to see the editor, the probability is that you will see him, or some
one else clothed with authority. You may be requested to state the nature
of your business, in which case you will make the nature of your business
as vague and enticing as possible. Possibly the editor, if he is timid,
will invent the story that he is engaged; possibly he may really be
engaged; in either case you will ask for an appointment, or wait; a
personal interview is worth waiting for. If you are refused an appointment
and also told that to wait would be useless, say that you will call
to-morrow or the next day in the hope of the editor being then disengaged.
In any event, be pertinacious; and do not fear to worry the man. By
pertinacity you will eventually see him.
Having at last got sight of your editor, treat him considerately. Since
you have conquered you can afford to show mercy. Explain yourself tersely,
and let your visit be brief. Strive to impress by your directness and
business-like thought and action.
Notes on the Leading Types of Papers
In a previous chapter I have emphasised the urgency of examining with care
and regularity all the principal papers. Nothing is more important to the
outside contributor than a thorough comprehension of their various
policies and their essential differences. Many beginners, with a quite
creditable literary technique, render all effort futile by omitting to
study what I may call the _characters_ of the publications to which
they offer MSS. They know papers (except the one or two which they happen
to read for pleasure) merely by name. They may by chance have some dim
notion, gathered from hearsay, of the aim and spirit of this paper or
that--but accurate, direct information concerning these things, they
possess none. Having written an article, they send it to the first paper
whose name enters their heads, without giving a single thought to the
question of suitability. By such beginners the _Standard_, the
_Sun_, and the _Morning Advertiser_ are recognised merely as so
many dailies, the _Saturday Review_, _Tit-Bits_, and the _Bazaar_
merely as so many weeklies, and the _Strand_, _Macmillan's Magazine_,
and the _Fortnightly_ merely as so many monthlies; and no doubt when
their stuff has been refused by the _Standard_, they blithely forward
it to the _Sun_, and so on.
Since the early failures of every aspirant are without doubt largely due
to the neglect of this branch of journalistic learning, let me once more
lay stress on the fact that every paper differs from every other paper in
its needs--in what it demands from the outside contributor. Each paper has
its own public, its own policy, its own tone, its own physiognomy, its own
preferences, its own prejudices. These must be studied--as one would study
a subject like zoology. And as in zoology, to acquire a useful knowledge,
it is necessary to classify. The press divides itself naturally into a few
distinctive groups, an acquaintance with whose characteristics will form
the best, indeed the only, foundation for that wide, detailed erudition
ultimately to be obtained through years of experience and observation. Of
these groups I will briefly mention the most important.
* * * * *
Perhaps of all the different kinds of papers, that most useful to the
beginner is the "popular weekly" class, chiefly represented by _Tit-Bits,
Answers, Pearson's Weekly, Cassell's Saturday Journal_, and _Success_.
These papers pay liberally and promptly (one or two of them before
publication), and they do not exact from the contributor a high literary
standard. Their matter falls into two main divisions: articles beginning
with "How"--broadly, "How the other half lives;" and articles enumerating
curious facts and incidents--for example, "Peers who have become Cabmen."
If you can evolve novel and striking subjects, and have the patience to
collect such information as may be necessary to work the subjects out,
you may fairly rely upon gaining entrance sooner or later to the columns
of these papers, however elementary your technique. Here is also a busy
market for short melodramatic stories--stories for which "action" and a
certain ingenuity of plot are the only essentials. Do not imagine that
the editors of this sort of periodical are easily pleased. Although they
care nothing for the graces of style, they know precisely what they
want, and they insist on getting it.
Next to the popular penny weeklies as prey meet for the aspirant, I name
the three "Gazettes," the _Pall Mall_, the _Westminster_, and
the _St. James's_. These--the first two especially--make a point of
their hospitality to the outside contributor. They appeal of course to a
cultured class, and they are catholic in their tastes--ready for anything
provided it is topical and well done. They pride themselves on being
literary, and therefore good style is essential. In this particular, and
also in their habits of returning rejected MSS. with promptness, and of
paying regularly without demanding the delivery of an account, they differ
from most of the penny morning papers. With them may be bracketed the
_Globe_ and the _Evening Standard_, both celebrated in Grub
Street for a regular daily un-editorial article, to which I have referred
in Chapter VI. When you have contributed a "turnover" to the _Globe_,
you may congratulate yourself. The _Evening Standard_ article has
Save as receptacles for short stories of a lurid inferior kind, the
halfpenny evening papers have little interest for the outside contributor.
The _Echo_ is an exception, showing a fondness for short, quiet,
topical articles of a rather serious nature.
Among morning papers, the most attractive to the outside contributor is
the _Daily Mail_, one of the best-edited newspapers in the world. The
_Daily Mail_ does not ask itself on receiving an unsolicited
contribution: "Is it our custom to publish things of this kind"? No, it
scorns precedent and is always anxious for novelty. It demands absolute
freshness, a great deal of _verve_, and the strictest brevity. It
makes a feature of very short interviews and articles on topics of the
hour. On its seventh page, under the title "The Daily Magazine," room is
usually found for matter of a general nature--glorified _Tit-Bits_
confections. If the _Daily Mail_ has a weakness, it is for
statistical articles of an international character, illustrated by
ingenious diagrams--articles in which Great Britain by hook or by crook is
made to surpass and outvie every other country.
Another halfpenny morning paper, _The Morning_, has burst the fetters
of precedent and usage, and willingly considers every suggestion of
originality. Its methods are those of New York and frankly sensational.
The penny morning papers are difficult of access, relying chiefly on bands
of regular contributors. The least hide-bound are the _Daily
Chronicle_ and the _Daily News_. On Saturday the former has a
women's page, for which it accepts outside contributions with some
freedom. The _Daily News_ has a reputation for humorous articles
dealing with the domesticities.
Of the illustrated sixpenny weeklies, _Black and White_ and the
_Sketch_ are usually ready to consider short stories, dialogues,
interviews, and light articles, the _Sketch_ being the more exigent
of the two. The _Illustrated London News_ and the _Graphic_
depend for matter upon their own staffs and regular correspondents, and I
believe that neither accepts any fiction from outsiders. To the politico-
literary weeklies, _Saturday Review_, _Speaker_, and _Spectator_,
the aspirant need not turn her ambitious eye. They are fastidious; they
demand advanced technique, and moreover they touch subjects with which
women are not often conversant. Of the three, the _Speaker_ is the
With the vast hordes of religious papers (it is stated that several
hundred are published in London alone) I shall make no attempt to deal.
But it may be well to say that many of them pay very badly and many of
them do not pay at all. The best, speaking from a journalistic point of
view, is the _British Weekly_, a Nonconformist journal which prints
all sorts of things, and which is edited with brilliant skill;
unfortunately it has the bad habit of not returning rejected articles.
As regards the comic weekly press, not much falls to be said. It may be
separated into three divisions. First, _Punch_ (threepence), which
for several decades has stood, and still stands, quite alone. It is usual
to say that _Punch_ has of late years been steadily losing its
reputation, but the truth of the statement seems at least doubtful; and
however this may be, indubitably _Punch_ is yet the foremost comic
weekly. Though it depends in the main upon a regular staff, its doors are
not locked against the outside contributor. Second, _Judy_ (recently
edited by a woman), _Fun_, _Moonshine_, and _Pick-Me-Up_ (one penny).
Like _Punch_, all these papers, except _Pick-Me-Up_, are noticeably
conservative in their policies, and continue to move in the old grooves.
They do not, I imagine, offer much opportunity to the outside contributor.
_Pick-Me-Up_ devotes itself to the humour of the music-hall, and is
probably not largely beholden to women for its sprightliness. Third, the
halfpenny organs of wit, represented by _Comic Cuts_, and twenty other
sorts of _Cuts_. If a woman considers herself destined for the
comic press, her wisest course is to collaborate with an artist. A joke
may be the best and most original joke in the world, but it will not
have a very safe chance of acceptance unless it is illustrated. The
illustration _per se_ may be without talent; no matter; mediocre
pictures have certainly been instrumental in selling innumerable jokes.
And as with jokes, so with "skits," satires, and parodies: the writer
must combine with the artist if success is to be reached.
Monthly magazines divide themselves into three classes:--First, the purely
popular,--_Strand, Ludgate, Pearson's, Windsor, Woman at Home, Lady's
Realm,_ &c. Second, the high-class general,--_Blackwoods'_, _Pall Mall_,
_Macmillans' Cornhill_, _Longmans'_, &c. Third, the reviews,--
_Nineteenth Century_, _Contemporary_, _Fortnightly_, _National_, and
_Westminster_. Of these three classes, the aspirant is likely to succeed
best with the second, since the first demands names of renown, and the
third either expert knowledge, scholarship, or high technique.
I have left to the last the women's papers, which are, in the natural
order of things, written chiefly by women. It is of course to be expected
that women-aspirants should turn first to women's papers, of whose
characteristics they should certainly make a special and minute study, but
at the same time I must repeat the warning already given against the habit
of dealing only with subjects interesting to or connected with the female
sex. Women's papers are sharply divided into two classes--those which
appeal to women of education and breeding, and those which appeal to women
of a lower social status. To the former group belong the _Queen_, the
_Lady's Pictorial_, the _Gentlewoman_ (sixpence), _Hearth and
Home_ and the _Lady_ (threepence), and _Woman_ (one penny). To
the latter belong _Home Chat_, _Home Notes_, and their countless
The beginner must bear in mind the essential differences between these two
groups, which, in catering for quite different tastes, necessarily follow
widely divergent policies. Both groups pay reasonably well, and it may be
said that all women's papers of any reputation whatever give a considerate
ear to the outside contributor. The sixpennies, having what amounts to
unlimited room, offer to the aspirant a spacious and delightful field.
"Woman's Sphere" in Journalism
There are certain departments of journalism which women have always had,
and probably will always have, to themselves: I mean the departments
comprising fashion, cookery and domestic economy, furniture, the toilet,
and (less exclusively) weddings and what is called society news. It is
unlikely that men will ever seriously compete with women in the business
of supplying the stuff which women as a sex are supposed to read. My own
belief is that men could deal very capably with these subjects, or most of
them, if they chose to assume the task; but there happens to be a
superstition that such matters are beyond a man's scope; men accept the
superstition, and leave them alone. Hence the distinctive "woman's sphere"
Now almost all the work falling within this sphere is done badly--with a
lack of technical skill which can only be described as shameful. I have
argued (in Chapter II.) that the defect is attributable to the early
training which women receive. A further explanation lies in the fact that,
in their particular field, they are never stimulated to improvement by the
sight of better performances than their own; the result, viewed
dispassionately, is deplorable.
In the first place, nearly all women's work dealing with feminine subjects
is in a special degree disfigured by slipshod writing. This is
particularly true of fashion articles, which are on the whole worse
written even than police reports in country newspapers. Of the scores of
fashion articles appearing week by week in journals of standing, not five
per cent. would pass muster as the work of men. I take up, for an example,
one of the "great London dailies," containing a short signed contribution
by a journalist whose fame as a chronicler of modes is unrivalled, a lady
who earns the wage of a Cabinet Minister, and has indeed arrived at the
highest places in her profession; and I find in the article the following
--shall I call them?--lapses from the rectitude of sound writing.
Hackneyed phrases and quotations:--
"Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest."
"Inclines towards the portly."
"Hold on our affections."
"Ignore the charms of."
"So that such a jacket be cut well and worn by a woman of fairly slim
proportions round the waist and hips it will be exceedingly successful,
but she who inclines towards the portly should rigidly ignore the charms
of the jacket with the belt." Unless this sentence has a comma after
"well," it bears a meaning quite different from what the writer intended;
it needs also a comma after "hips" and a semicolon after "successful."
Words wrongly used:--
"It is one of the _earnest_ principles of my faith to commend
fashion." A principle cannot be earnest, and faith cannot be an action.
The writer probably means that she sincerely thinks it her duty to commend
"There are only two hats _well_ worn in Paris just now--this style
and the small velvet toque trimmed with a group of plumes." For "well,"
read "largely" or "extensively." Note the other fault in this sentence.
Wrong or clumsy constructions, laxity in the use of metaphors, &c.:--
"[We may] read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest their different charms."
Fancy reading or learning or digesting a charm!
"I have no objection to the lion lying down with the lamb--the Persian
lamb--or rather, I should say, to the sable being allied to this fur, or
to the combination of black caracule, or sable with ermine; any two furs,
or indeed three furs, put together, I recognise as appropriate and
elegant, but the frivolous working of furs with coloured satins and silks
now obtaining the affections of the many is not at all to my taste." To
comment on this piece of composition would be wicked.
"There is a great fancy shown by the authorities this year _to_
elaborate furs." In English one says "_take_ a fancy _to_" but
"_show_ a fancy _for_."
"_It is_ small wonder that the fashion has obtained _such_ a
hold on our affections, because _it is so_ becoming if _it is_
"A single row of white pearls next the fair or even dark throat of a woman
has always a beneficial effect upon her complexion." Has a woman then two
"And talking about a beneficial effect upon a woman's complexion, let me
mention once again the exceeding _becomingness_ of the new shades of
blue, these being rather of the sugar-paper order of blue, but a little
lighter in colour perhaps, yet having _that_ vivid tone about
_it_. _This_ is freely mixed with dark blue, the lighter shade
being used for _making_ trimmings to bodices, or indeed _to
make_ an entire bodice, while the dark cloth forms the skirt and coat.
The hat which completes _it_ will take every shade of blue." Observe
particularly the two "its" and the "this," neither of which refers
properly to any substantive.
So much for the craftsmanship of one of our most celebrated women-
journalists! When such a person, writing over her own name in the columns
of a renowned and powerful paper, may thus brazenly ignore the elementary
principles of composition, it may be guessed what latitude of carelessness
and error is allowed to obscurer performers in obscurer sheets.
* * * * *
It is not only in the apparently trivial but really important details of
style that women's work falls short, but in qualities even more vital.
Fashion, to refer again to that branch of journalism, is a complicated and
difficult subject, requiring for its adequate treatment the utmost
orderliness and lucidity. Yet fashion articles are seldom arranged with
any skill, and seldom lucid. The subject is usually handled after a
haphazard method resulting in misty paragraphs of which often not even the
writers could explain the meaning. It is said that men cannot understand
fashion articles. Certainly they cannot, but the fault is not theirs. Over
and over again I have heard expert fashion-journalists confess that they
had failed to comprehend the writings of their colleagues. If articles on
dress were properly done, men could understand, though they might not be
interested in them.
Fashion gives the widest scope for the journalist's art. The constant
change, the bewildering variety of it, offer opportunities for descriptive
and critical work which, if they were seized, might result in articles as
interesting, as accomplished, as distinguished, as any in the literary
reviews. But these opportunities are uniformly missed.
Cookery, that is to say practical cookery, gives fewer opportunities than
fashion for the display of merely literary skill. It is a subject which
demands from the journalist clearness and thoroughness. The average
cookery article may be passably clear so far as it goes, but it is rarely
thorough, and so it fails in usefulness. Writers upon cookery in women's
papers have been content, without thinking upon what is really wanted, to
follow the methods of cookery books, ignoring the truism that cookery
books, by reason of their omissions and silences, are valuable only to
efficient cooks, who stand in no deep need of them. It is to the
inexperienced cook that cookery articles are designed to appeal, and
therefore they should be exhaustive, describing processes exactly,
measuring quantities with precision, taking nothing for granted, leaving
nothing to the imagination. That cookery articles, even if read, are
certainly not acted upon, is proved by the monotony of the suburban
dinner. And they are not acted upon because the reader finds them
incomplete, "sketchy," and superficial.
It would be possible to take all the other subjects coming within "woman's
sphere" in journalism, and to show that women have failed in the treatment
of them to reach even a moderate standard of competence. Look, for another
instance, at the reports of weddings and society entertainments, all done
after one execrable model, dull and perfunctory.
* * * * *
I bring this general indictment in order that the eyes of the aspirant may
be opened to the opportunities which await her. A brilliant future lies
before the woman who will devote to these neglected women's subjects
skilled craftmanship and the enthusiasm of an artist, of which surely they
are as worthy as anything else in journalism. At present it seems as if
the women who write for women are content to remain all their lives mere
amateurs of the pen; the one who first puts herself to the trouble of
becoming an expert may rely upon making a sensation in the world of
It is not part of my scheme to deal with newspaper offices, and so disturb
the illusions of the aspirant concerning the "glamour" of those places. To
those who are outside them and would fain be inside, a newspaper office is
a retreat where, amid cigarette smoke and the rumour of continual event,
clever people write what they like when they like, while others, only one
degree less gifted, correct, by means of cabalistic signs, proofs, with
the rapidity of lightning and the omniscience of gods, exchanging at
intervals brilliant repartee with the beings who write. Round these are
supposed to hover boys, compositors, porters, famous contributors and
timid aspirants, and in the underground distance is the roar and vibration
of vast steam machines which disgorge papers more quickly than one can
The reality is perhaps different from this picture--how different the
aspirant will realise when she has at last obtained a position in an
office. Having obtained such a position, she may congratulate herself that
the most trying part of the apprenticeship is over. Henceforward she will
be among those who can put her in the right way. She will no longer need
the assistance of a handbook; it is only the unattached beginner, working
(so pathetically) without guidance and in the dark, who needs that.
One thing, however, may be said about the newspaper office. It is as
strictly a place of business as a draper's shop or a bank. Many women-
journalists fail to recognise this fact. They do not see that in an office
the relations of people must be first and foremost official; that social
considerations, and even considerations of animal comfort, must be put
aside in order that Business may have a clear road.
I have met in newspaper offices the sprightly woman who martyrises herself
because she must work in a room with other women whose dullness and
primness jar on her vivacities; the woman who is aggrieved because winter
is warmed for her by a gas stove instead of an open fire; the woman who
feels insulted because male associates do not accord her the elaborate
ritual of deference to which she has been accustomed in drawing-rooms; the
woman who arrives late because she is tired, and blandly offers to "make
up the time at night;" the woman who says, "I forgot to do so and so, I'm
_so_ sorry," and stands like a spoiled child smilingly expectant of
forgiveness; and other women of a similar kind.
A vast number of women engaged in journalism, I verily believe, secretly
regard it as a delightful game. The tremendous seriousness of it they
completely miss. On no other assumption can the attitude of many women-
journalists towards their work be explained. Therefore, my final words to
the outside contributor, as I leave her on the threshold of an office, are
these: Journalism is not a game, and in journalism there are no excuses.