Not a Sword but a Weather Vane

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 13, 2007

I'm reading the delightful E. B. White collection Writings from The New Yorker 1927-1976 (edited by Rebecca M. Dale), loaned to me with an enthusiastic endorsement by fellow RTH scribbler Kevin Somers.

It's bursting with the kind of irreverent insight and sparkling wit which earned The New Yorker its reputation for sophisticated refinement and which renders E. B. White's more popular books such a delight for parents to read aloud to their children.

I could gleefully reprint half the book before I came anywhere near exhausting my exhiliration with it, but I'll limit myself to the following short essay, originally published on January 31, 1948, which I will reproduce here without further comment.

We have often wondered how journalism schools go about preparing young men and women for newspaperdom and magazineland. An answer came just the other day, in a surprising form. It came from Caliornia, via Editor & Publisher. We quote:

San Francisco - Public opinion polls are scientific tools which should be used by newspapers to prevent editorial errors of judgment, Dr. Chilton Bush, head of the Division of Journalism at Stanford University, believes.

"A publisher is smart to take a poll before he gets his neck out too far," he said. "Polls provide a better idea of acceptance of newspaper policies."

We have read this statement half a dozen times, probably in the faint hope that Editor & Publisher might be misquoting Dr. Bush or that we had failed to understand him. But there it stands - a clear guide to the life of expediency, a simple formula for journalism by acceptance, a short essay on how to run a newspaper by saying only the words the public wants to hear said.

It seems to us that Dr. Bush hands his students not a sword but a weather vane. Under such conditions, the fourth estate becomes a mere parody of the human intelligence, and had best be turned over to bright birds with split tongues or to monkeys who can make change.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By speculator (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2007 at 17:50:55

If only our local paper based their opinion on polls rather than their own shortsighted "Editorial Board" maybe we would see better content in the paper, rather than the same slanted commentnews they usually push.

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