The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
We hardly know whether to take the Hon. Mr. McKenzie's Libel Amendment Bill seriously. New Zealand Liberalism may be prepared for new departures, but hardly for so surprising a new departure as the abolition of anonymous journalism. In France, during the Empire, anonymous journalism was prohibited, and though it is not prohibited now the results of the prohibition remain. The institution still bears its stamp. A description of journalism has arisen which presents a marked and a very interesting contrast to the English system. There are one class who are immensely the gainers by it, that is the contributors of articles to the press. No English newspaper writer gets anything like the remuneration that M. Albert Wolff used to get from the Figaro for his articles on the Salon, or M. Zola for his contributions on social subjects. Where articles are not signed with the true name, they are mostly signed with a nom de plume, and it does not matter much whether a man makes his reputation under a real name or a nom de plume, he makes it, and can charge for his services accordingly. In proportion as the newspaper writers gain, the newspaper proprietors lose. There is no journal in Paris so well got up as the Christchurch Press say, or the New Zealand Herald, while many newspapers that had or have a European reputation such as the Pays, the Gaulois, or the Voltaire are in appearance what we should here reckon second-class rags. Their number, however, is legion. Every day or two one dies and another rises from its ashes. Not only when the present writer was last in Paris had such literary men as Victor Hugo or such politicians as Gambetta their special organ, but numbers of men whose names are never heard outside Paris had theirs also. One printing office alone turned out about 20 of these journals daily. The whole system presented a marked and marvellous contrast to the Fourth Estate in England.
If the newspaper writers were gainers and the newspaper owners the losers that was mainly their concern; the point of interest is how it affected the public. The salutary influence of the responsible utterances of such papers as the great London dailies was altogether absent. The idea that the editorial "we" is a fiction is not altogether correct. We believe that when some important subject is on the tapis the Times gets half a dozen leaders written on it and pays for them all, the final leader being composed after the perusal of the lot. The lesser lights of journalism cannot emulate this practice, but, for all that, any journalist who knows his business at all has the best information, and the best intelligence of the community open to him, and will not fail to draw upon it for inspiration on any special subject. He may have to deal with many subjects in regard to which his own information is necessarily limited. The information which goes into his paper need not, however, be as limited as his own. His duties are often of an eclectic character. After having ascertained, as best he can, what is the right line to take by the comparison of many opinions, he may then sit down and put into shape what are really to a large extent the thoughts of others. He page 18 would hardly, in some such cases, be justified in signing his own name to his articles, however willing he might be to do so.