The recent ructions in the British newspaper world remind us, as Patrick Parrinder insisted in a little-known 1991 article on News from Nowhere, that ‘Morris (among his multifarious activities) was a newspaperman’ too. Thus it is, as Parrinder notes, that ‘a surprising amount of space in the “How the Change Came” chapter is given to recounting the tactics of the socialist press and of their enemies, the capitalist newspaper barons’, including the Rupert Murdochs of the day. Politically shrewd though Morris is about much of this, however, he naively ‘stops short of imagining that a threatened state apparatus would turn on its journalistic opponents’ (pp.30-1).
‘News’ is important both in utopia and in the present, where Morris put remarkable amounts of time, energy and money into trying to create an effective socialist newspaper; and this task remains as pressing today. I’m addicted to my daily copy of The Guardian, but its left-liberalism is hardly socialism; and while I admire the staff of The Morning Star for keeping that paper going beyond the fall of the British Communist Party itself, I can’t feel that it has successfully plugged into everyday social experience (even if you can buy it in Sainsburys). So Morris’s Commonweal project remains no less urgent than on the day of that paper’s first publication in February 1885, and it is good to know that there are plans afoot for an exhibition on the radical press at Kelmscott House to inspire us in that direction.