“Back To Journalism” (E33)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, February 11, 1928
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


An appropriately wide-ranging edition of the Wayward Press, with Guy Fawkes providing a generally favourable (or, less unfavourable than usual) survey of the New York media scene as it appeared to him during the fledgling weeks of 1928. He begins by noting that many of the inky inanities that had served as this column’s wellspring seemed to be drying up. Hardly any animal interest stories in The World? New York Times throttling back a little on the aviation exploits and circumpolar portraiture? Herald Tribune holding the line against a relapse into the follies that forced its antecedent components to seek mature completion in one another? What’s a media critic to do? (How much influence do these periodic protests against print culture piffle have, anyway? The writer wonders).

Fortunately for Fawkes, The World is still doing weird things like relegating Thomas Hardy’s death announcement to the agricultural news section, and the NYT still shows signs of a contractual obligation to publicize the minutiae of George Palmer Putnam’s life, despite his withdrawal from the Arctic. On the other hand, RB expresses genuine admiration for the Times’ irreverent take on the vicissitudes of molecular theory, taking particular delight in an anonymous report from the physics front entitled “Atom Theory Upset; Now ‘Wave System’” (possibly planting the seeds for E28?)

The rest of the column deals mainly with the fleeting furor over the execution du mois – of Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray, who each paid the ultimate penalty on January 12, 1928. RCB pores over a media concordance of reports-cum-tone poems poured forth by troupes of terse réalitterateurs. Compiled by Andrew McClean Parker, the overview exposes a fourth estate unable to agree upon even the most basic details of the gruesome scene, from the time the switch was thrown to the clothes the murderers wore to their respective rendezvous with doom. What’s the point of applying so much effort and poetic distortion to accounts that will be wrapped around a fish before nightfall? If you want to catch The Saturday Evening Post’s attention with your stark impressions, write fiction! James M. Cain did just that, a few years later, taking Snyder and Gray as anthropological Exhibits A and B.

Oh yes – and Fawkes concludes by chiding The World for currying favour with Eugene O’Neill by taking Alexander Woollcott off the opening night coverage of the Theatre Guild’s production of Strange Interlude, just because Woollcott hadn’t liked the play in manuscript.

Favourite Moment:
“…Thomas Hardy made the front pages of both The Times and The Herald Tribune, but The World considered him worth two-thirds of a column on page five, along with ‘Iowa Attorney Named for Commerce Board.’ That Death itself is not considered news-less by The World is shown by the fact that William Barton French made the front page on February second. The fault must have been with Thomas Hardy.”

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