No one has yet appeared on this site to object to more than one of us remarking that The Guardian has been behaving as if it’s just a business, with no purpose other than to make a profit.
Does no one remember that it’s a newspaper still supposedly charged with the responsibilities of The Fourth Estate?
Here’s Thomas Carlyle, writing in 1841 (if the Wikipedia date is accurate):
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,–very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing [. . .] is equivalent to Democracy [. . .]. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. [my emphases]
The Guardian’s adherence to its charter is monitored by the Scott Trust. This body is supposed to ensure that the paper retains its editorial independence, and it doesn’t absolve it of a duty to show a profit on its operations. The trust’s job is:
[t]o secure the financial and editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity: as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation; remaining faithful to liberal tradition; as a profit-seeking enterprise managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
But in the area that interests us, books, should that mean censoring or discouraging criticism of the exclusively money-oriented book publishing industry – as The Guardian has been doing? And being seemingly oblivious of the abysmal consequences for our culture of allying itself with it, as in George Steiner‘s lament here?
Yesterday, the GU books blog posted yet another coy defence of publishing’s transformation into a mercantilist tool unconcerned with literary quality – which is increasingly treated as a sort of joke, or a ludicrous form of preciousness.
Jean Hannah Edelstein writes entertainingly enough, here, but her conclusion, in which her tone turns serious, is craven — to say the least:
Erica Heller is making the cardinal mistake – as many of the left-leaning intellectual elite who write really good books are apt to do –that the publishing industry are gatekeepers of high culture, that having work published should be an honour granted only to the most gifted writers. This despite the fact that such a model would cause the publishing industry to collapse entirely, because they wouldn’t have any money at all. Of the 411,000 books that were published in the US last year, probably very few, if any, were as groundbreaking and influential as Catch-22, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have been published. I cringe to admit it, but I’m starting to see how left-leaning snobbery like this makes people like Palin refer to places outside New York as “Real America”. [my highlighting]
Jean Hannah’s merry war dance and flailing tomahawk are directed at a pathetic straw man, as she knows perfectly well. No one with half a gram of grey matter is arguing, as she claims, that only ‘the most gifted writers’ should be allowed to publish books (how would one measure talent, for a start?). The trouble is, the industry has been steadily adjusting its modus operandi to put no creative effort or imagination into selling books other than those written by ghost writers on behalf of celebrities — or by easily marketable writers, for many of whom literary aspirations don’t even rank second or third on the list of what matters most.
Yesterday, BaronCharlus said in this spot – not approvingly, as I read him, but with an air of weary resignation:
I’m not sure publishing has ever been much more than commerce and, if it was, it was a rarefied industry for those with private incomes,
But should that also be true of what was once seen as a leading liberal newspaper? Should pleasing book publishers mean deleting comments critical of that industry by bloggers, on The Guardian’s arts site – without apology or explanation? . . . and publishing an endless stream of articles to assist the agendas of powerful book merchants?
And surely publishing, for that matter, could never rightly be treated as just another business when it has always — implicitly — been crucial to the preservation, enrichment, elevation and advancement of our culture?