restricted access A Commentary (July 1938)
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640 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 17 (July 1938) 686-92 A column in The Times brought to my notice a Report on the British Press published by P.E.P. (Political and Economic Planning) and sold at the price of half a guinea.1 Attracted by the cheerful American-sounding title of this organization, and wondering who would pay half a guinea for a report on the British Press, I bought a copy in order to find out. I learnt that P E P (it is printed without the stops) is “an independent, voluntary, non-party group and is not run for profit”: it is agreeable to hear of a group that is not run for profit. P E P consists of “more than a hundred working members, and through its broadsheet, Planning, is in touch with many more hundreds of people actively interested in promoting national reconstruction through an objective fact-finding approach to current social and economic problems.”2 So far as one can judge from this volume and the enclosed leaflet, the more than a hundred working members choose to remain unknown to the public: not even the name of the Secretary is given. The “Report” is a document of quite unexceptionable propriety, and far from being sensational, tends to suffer from the dullness that frequently creeps into reports for which a number of persons are jointly responsible. But although nothing in the Report is put in such a way as to disturb those who do not wish to be disturbed, there is some interesting data, and some information of value to those who are already worried about the future of the Press. And there is an occasional phrase or paragraph that reads as if it had been written by an intelligent man in a sardonic mood, who was taking an interest in what he was writing. The Report is of use even beyond its information and its suggestions, by stimulating the mind to other questions with which it does not deal. I am more alarmed, than reassured, by being told the (to me) surprising fact that only 5 per cent. of the world’s annual output of timber is pulped for paper. By “output” I presume is meant the timber cut. When one thinks of the vast quantity of pulp that is converted daily into newspapers, in this country alone, and then remembers that this is only 5 per cent. of the timber being used, one wonders whether the most extensive afforestation could [ 641 A Commentary (july) keep pace with the destruction. And, apart from all the other effects of removal of forests, which we are beginning to recognize, there is one possible effect, in this context, that seems to me very likely. The first people to suffer from scarcity of paper will be those who consume the least: that is, the producers of periodicals of small circulation.3 (I am not concerning myself here with the effect on the publication of books.) The last people to suffer will be the producers of papers à gros tirage.4 A small business has to buy paper; a colossal business can buy forests. I remember reading some time ago a paragraph of which I did not keep the reference: it concerned the shortage of paper in Germany. It stated that in order to conserve paper supplies a number of unessential periodicals were to be closed down. But the papers with large circulations were to be kept going – they were politically necessary. The Report of P E P has little to say about the periodicals of small circulation : it is concerned almost exclusively with the great dailies and Sunday newspapers. It does mention two or three times The Spectator and The New Statesman, but does not discuss the present position or the future of such papers. But when I enumerate the periodicals that I read regularly, and the opinions of which I take seriously, I find that with the exception of The Times they are all periodicals of, I imagine, considerably smaller circulation than either The Spectator or The New Statesman. About the circulation and the circumstances of one or two of them I know something, and what I read in the Report of P E P does not reassure me about their future. And I do not mean periodicals of wholly special interests, but periodicals that should be of interest to every intelligent person who cares about politics, society, or the arts. Yet the Report on...


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