Sunday, November 22, 2009

H. L. Mencken and the Art of Journalism

Reading Mencken's articles makes me wonder how it was possible, then, for someone with his intelligence and lucid, interesting and sometimes even learned style to be a journalist, and even-it seems-a journalist who was widely read.  I know of no journalist or columnist (or even blogger!) of our time who can compare.  Were those who read and wrote newspapers in his era simply more intelligent, or better writers or readers, than we are now?  If so, why?

It's important to note that I am speaking of articles in newspapers, not essays or articles in sophisticated journals.  He wrote for newspapers in Baltimore, of course, but also in New York and Chicago (and probably elsewhere also).  And, he wrote (I think) very well indeed, on a number of topics.  I confess to a fondness for the great "bathtub hoax", but he obviously could and did write on many serious subjects.

Unlike Ambrose Bierce (another personal favorite), he did most of his writing for newspapers in the 20th century, so one would think his audience was wider than was Bierce's, and not so much of an identifiable "elite."  Do current journalists and those others who feel they must tell us their opinions, and are allowed to do so by various media, feel they must talk down to us, or is it simply the case that they know no better?

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