Chesterton: Journalist?

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I have troubles referring to GKC as a journalist. When I hear “journalist,” I think “Kolchak.” I’m not the only person who has grappled with the idea that Chesterton was a journalist. Paul Johnson wrote in the Winter 2002 Chesterton Review:

[M]ost of his time was spent in journalism. In one sense, this is curious. Journalists deal with facts, or at least factual lies or half-truths. GKC avoided facts. There are fewer facts in his books, including his history of England, than anyone else’s. Yet his journalism survives just as fairy stories survive, because neither is attached to facts, which grow out of date and are uninteresting. GKC was a highly unprofessional journalist but he believed strongly in the ethics of journalism.

A “highly unprofessional journalist.” That seems apt.

It’s not fair to say he wasn’t a journalist, just because he didn’t engage in the muckraking of his era  or doesn’t resemble the shoe hounds of today. After all, he was a denizen of that hotbed of journalism, Fleet Street, his biographer Michael Coren noting that “most of the mythology about Gilbert had its origins in Fleet Street,” and that “Fleet Street was his domain, and he was as much a part of it as the El Vino and Cheshire Cheese watering holes which he frequented.”

It might be apt to say that GKC was an op-ed writer. That, after all, is what he wrote: opinion pieces by the truck-full, especially for the Illustrated London News. He landed that weekly column gig in 1905 and would do it for over thirty years, publishing over 1,600 columns. They paid him 350 pounds annually (which would equal about $45,000 today). The assignment gave him financial stability and continued access to the leisure that allowed him to create some of the finest books of the early twentieth century.

So even if he isn’t properly considered a journalist, we can be grateful that the journals of his day thought him worthy of the title.