VI.--The British and the American Press
THE only paper from which a man can really get the news of the world in a shape that he can understand is the newspaper of his own "home town." For me, unless I can have the Montreal Gazette at my breakfast, and the Montreal Star at my dinner, I don't really know what is happening. In the same way I have seen a man from the south of Scotland settle down to read the Dumfries Chronicle with a deep sigh of satisfaction: and a man from Burlington, Vermont, pick up the Burlington Eagle and study the foreign news in it as the only way of getting at what was really happening in France and Germany.
The reason is, I suppose, that there are different ways of serving up the news and we each get used to our own. Some people like the news fed to them gently: others like it thrown at them in a bombshell: some prefer it to be made as little of as possible; they want it minimised: others want the maximum.
This is where the greatest difference lies between the British newspapers and those of the United States and Canada. With us in America the great thing is to get the news and shout it at the reader; in England they get the news and then break it to him as gently as possible. Hence the big headings, the bold type, and the double columns of the American paper, and the small headings and the general air of quiet and respectability of the English Press.
It is quite beside the question to ask which is the better. Neither is. They are different things: that's all. The English newspaper is designed to be read quietly, propped up against the sugar bowl of a man eating a slow breakfast in a quiet corner of a club, or by a retired banker seated in a leather chair nearly asleep, or by a country vicar sitting in a wicker chair under a pergola. The American paper is for reading by a man hanging on the straps of a clattering subway express, by a man eating at a lunch counter, by a man standing on one leg, by a man getting a two-minute shave, or by a man about to have his teeth drawn by a dentist.
In other words, there is a difference of atmosphere. It is not merely in the type and the lettering, it is a difference in the way the news is treated and the kind of words that are used. In America we love such words as "gun-men" and "joy-ride" and "death-cell": in England they prefer "person of doubtful character" and "motor travelling at excessive speed" and "corridor No. 6." If a milk-waggon collides in the street with a coal-cart, we write that a "life-waggon" has struck a "death-cart." We call a murderer a "thug" or a "gun-man" or a "yeg-man." In England they simply call him "the accused who is a grocer's assistant in Houndsditch." That designation would knock any decent murder story to pieces.
Hence comes the great difference between the American "lead" or opening sentence of the article, and the English method of commencement. In the American paper the idea is that the reader is so busy that he must first be offered the news in one gulp. After that if he likes it he can go on and eat some more of it. So the opening sentence must give the whole thing. Thus, suppose that a leading member of the United States Congress has committed suicide. This is the way in which the American reporter deals with it.
"Seated in his room at the Grand Hotel with his carpet slippers on his feet and his body wrapped in a blue dressing-gown with pink insertions, after writing a letter of farewell to his wife and emptying a bottle of Scotch whisky in which he exonerated her from all culpability in his death, Congressman Ahasuerus P. Tigg was found by night-watchman, Henry T. Smith, while making his rounds as usual with four bullets in his stomach."