On Trade Journalism

By a Trade Paper I mean one published in the interests of a particular trade. Trade journals nowadays are as the sands on the seashore in number. Every trade, and often different branches of one trade, possesses its weekly advocate. The leather, boot and shoe, china, hardware, drapery, grocery, building— no trade is there but what has the asset of a trade paper.

These sheets have quite a respectable circulation, and form an important part of many large publishing businesses.

Trade papers typify humbug in its quintessence ; they give us the limit in parochialism, the extreme in self centered selfishness. The critic of capitalism, the scoffer at humanity, the lover of “unconscious” humour, all can be satisfied by a perusal of the trade journals. They will delight anyone who desires to see in the concrete an example of the divorce between a capitalist’s business and his Sabbath texts, between his weekday transactions and his Sunday jawing of the Litany.

Who does not enjoy the reference by a trade paper to a rival as “our esteemed contemporary” ? Who does not relish the wriggling by the owners of them betwixt the interests of their subscribers and those of the manufacturing capitalists who contribute the advertising revenue of the paper? Who is so dense as not to kick when the journal of the boot and shoe trade preaches on the immorality of drapers who brazenly sell boots, who leave their “legitimate” sphere and encroach on the boot dealers’ “sphere of influence?’’

A trade paper depends for its profits upon its advertising revenue; its value as an advertising medium depends, again, on its circulation among retail dealers. And the holding of the balance ’twixt the manufacturer and the retailer, the conciliation of their apparent rival interests, creates many a satirical smile on the face of the student of the machinery of capitalism. At a time of advancing prices, when the paper baa to defend the capitalists who form its advertising asset against suspicion of greed, and at the same time lull the tempers of the retailers who form its subscription list—then see how the wise editor finds arguments to support his position, as arguments can be found to support any position!

Penny-a-liner! The word properly names thousands of journalists enroled as the white-washers of capitalists. Business journals, like their “political” companions, find work for thousands of penmen who have no more belief in the creations of their pens than they have in — well, the sincerity of their political bosses. Were not the mercenaries of the camp more human, and did not they possess more socially useful qualities than do the mercenaries of the pen? We are no militants, but the decadence which Wordsworth foresaw when “swords gave way to ledgers” is here and now depicted in our modern mercenary business Press and organisation.

Abstract Morality! What havoc does a financial or a trade paper make with such theological thimblerigging! Such papers have at the least these things to do: To defend the story of the patient, intelligent capitalist, and the erratic, foolish workman; to reconcile the interests of producing advertisers and distributing subscribers ; to be independent on the fiscal question ; to know the exact spot where one trade commences to encroach on another ; to condemn vigorously all new-fangled ideas such as mail order businesses and cash on delivery systems, all of which are, forsooth, forms of “illegitimate” competition.

And although thousands of journalists and advertising hacks depend for their bread upon such journals, clerical jokers have the effrontery to gabble about a morality independent of productive systems, time or place, and of the possibility of capitalism being moralised; worse, even secularists, positivists and labourists believe such stuff, believe that humans can be made altruists and social when their very physical existence depends upon the facility with which they can put their tongues in their cheeks.

And with the death of capitalism what? Anti-Socialist mercenaries predict the decadence of mental life; the journalist will be the servile menial of “State bosses,” the hypocritical mouthpieces of a gang in temporary power !

Bat there can be no justification of such trifling argument, for when a journalist or author is in a position to say: “Looking forward to life’s end I can safely say I shall never want bread ”; when humans are all assured that decent material existence upon which to build up the higher things of life, surely ordinary human nature will score any suggestion of the systematic hypocrisy which personates to-day the name of journalism. When distribution is the result of a common-sense organisation in a free community, there will be no need for the inane puffs which disfigure the pages of trade journals and newspapers; when such words as retailer and wholesaler have become relics of the past, the parasitic journalism which is based upon their relationships and antagonisms will also surely die. Contemporary journalism is based upon modern business methods, upon that type of production and distribution which we call capitalism, so when capitalism bites the dust its sordid “literary” manifestation will also vanish. Talented artists ought not to waste their energies in selling pills, nor able writers and organisers in puffing obvious catch-pennies. When men and women can live leisurely and fully, with freedom to express their convictions, it is not much to believe of human nature that they will receive with surprise and resentment any suggestions of mental hypocrisy.

John A. Dawson

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