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Second hand gift a first class choice, thanks to RD Blumenfield

PUBLISHED: 10:06 08 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:46 07 September 2010

ONE of the most thoughtful Christmas presents I received had all too obviously been through many hands before it reached mine, but this merely added to its allure. The gift in question was an antiquarian hardback book – and by that I mean that it is even

ONE of the most thoughtful Christmas presents I received had all too obviously been through many hands before it reached mine, but this merely added to its allure.

The gift in question was an antiquarian hardback book - and by that I mean that it is even older than me. My journalist son Paul had unearthed it from its former resting place as part of the Belfast Library's special collection for promoting knowledge, before it was unceremoniously stamped with the doleful word 'discarded'.

It shouldn't have been, for the book, The Press In My Time, is a fascinating historical document and its author, RD Blumenfield, was decades ahead of his contemporaries.

Unless he is presently enjoying the lifespan of Methusala, RD has long since departed this mortal coil. He had already been a journalist for 50 years when the book was published in 1933 by Rich & Cowan Ltd of The Strand.

But he was obviously a man who was passionate about newspapers, crediting them with altering ''the habits and thoughts of the so-called civilised world'' and ''directing humanity as it has never been directed before''.

Amid warnings about the need to be alert to the propaganda techniques of politicians like 'Herr Hitler', his fascinating analysis grapples with what we nowadays might believe to be a modern-day phenomenen, and which we refer to as 'dumbing down'.

''The problem of what is news and what is the sham stuff that is so insistently fobbed off on us must sooner or later be settled,'' writes Mr Blumenfield. ''For if the sham article is ever permitted to maintain itself it will grow and grow until civilization itself will disappear and we shall sink in a pit of false fireworks and hopeless perversions. News, first, real, not sham news, must mark the successful conduct of any newspaper.''

Mr Blumenfield does not explain what he means by the 'sham stuff' but it isn't hard to guess. But he does say a lot about what he considers real news to be: ''By news I mean actualities, facts and occurrences. An earthquake in Japan, a new discovery or invention, the failure of a bank, a split in the cabinet, the escape of a lion from the Zoo, a destructive hail-storm, an attack of coughing of the Derby favourite. Anything from an epoch-making event to an interesting triviality, but always a happening, a fact.''

Reading through the dusty pages, I could only reflect that when modern editors eagerly fill page after page with coverage of reality television shows, JD's apocalyptical vision of a world tormented by sham journalism is surely upon us.

Poor man: he must be whirling in his grave.

Geoff Martin


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