CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Londonrnby Andrei NavrozovrnThe Skinny on the PulpsrnIn the days before my life became a perpetualrnholiday, there was always the pairrnof inquisitive Italians across the tablernwho wanted to know why I had chosen tornlive in London. They saw I was a writer,rnand an unambitious one at that; why notrnlive in Italy? They saw I liked eating; allom,rnwhy England?rnI would invariably reply that Britishrnpublishing is like Italian food, with largernmorning newspapers and interestingrnsmall-circulation weeklies playing thernpart of fresh ingredients. Private Eye, Irnwould say, is our buffalo mozzarella.rnThe Times is our De Cecco, our dailyrndread, our pastasciutta. All sentimentalrnat the mention of foodstuffs, they noddedrnencouragement. That was the momentrnto fix them with my most solemn starernand to argue that newspapers create thernnecessary conditions for writing by markingrnout the cultural median above whichrnthe actual cooking, as it were, takesrnplace. Everything else is just kitchen machinery,rnsieves, and graters.rnI am still proud of the analog}’, for thernreason alluded to in one of my earlierrncommunications from Rome. Italianrnfood is palpable proof and variegated illustrationrnof the notion that it is supplyrn(which is another word for God and mayrnassume the form of tradition, talent, orrnthe weather), not demand (which usuallyrnassumes the form of money), thatrnmakes a thing good. The world’s betterrnmousetraps are invented by capriciousrneccentrics who care little for their bankrnaccounts and nothing for the peace ofrntheir neighbors’ larders. The ghosts ofrnher mother and grandmother, not thernwild catcalls of a foreigner’s taste buds,rnare on the mind of our Porto Ercole cookrnwhen she is in the kitchen. Ten yearsrnago in London, in a memorable taunt ofrnthe devil that is demand, AuberonrnWaugh’s Literary Review promoted arnwriter called David Sexton because thisrnway they would always have the wordrnSEX on the cover.rnThese days, in Italy as much as inrnAmerica, no sooner do I menhon Britishrnpublishing than the conversation turns tornRupert Murdoch, rather the way justrnabout anything British a couple of yearsrnago meant the Princess of Wales. Yet thernfact is that here in Britain Mr. Murdochrnowns just one large book publishing concernrnand only one serious daily newspaper,rnthe Times, together with its Sundayrnsister, the Sunday Times. This, naturally,rnis quite apart from the vast variety ofrnpatently unserious —that is to say,rnpulp —print and television holdingsrnwhich he has amassed, here and thernworld over. And it is these ver)’ interestsrnthat are at the heart of the whole tragicrnmisunderstanding I want to describe.rnI just spent three weeks in London,rnwhere, on the Wednesday between thernopening day of Ascot (your correspondentrnlost £60 without once leavingrnWhite’s) and Ladies’ Day (your correspondentrnmade £130 betting from thernAspinalls marquee), I finally had thernleisure to acquaint myself with the latestrnnewspaper circulation figures. The dynamicsrnhave indeed changed. The chiefrnunderlying concern of all journalistic activityrnis no longer who can write what forrnwhom, but whether Mr. Murdoch ofrnNews Internahonal or Mr. Conrad Blackrnof the Telegraph Group is top dog andrnhence the more beauteous animal tornsuck up to. Apparently it is Mr. Black,rnbecause, outside the Murdoch papers,rnnearly every article about publishing isrninterrupted to abuse the monopolizingrnvillain and to decry his works.rnThe inscrutable facts are these. ThernDaily Telegraph’s circulation has fallenrnby almost five percent since May 1997 torna total of 1,070,313 and keeps falling.rnThe Times, which gained more than fivernpercent over the same period, has beenrnlosing readers for four months runningrnand now has 753,043, down from the alltimernhigh of 861,931 in November 1996.rnTrue, the gap between the two widenedrnby 9,000 readers during the month ofrnMay, despite the continuing price warrnwhich Mr. Murdoch started some fivernyears ago and which has so far cost himrnupwards of $ 150 million. But, as RobertrnMaxwell used to say, we’ll see whosernpocket is deeper, which brings us back tornthe pulp interests which are the source ofrnMr. Murdoch’s wealth rather the wayrnthev were the late Mr. Maxwell’s.rnThe truth is that, however numerousrnor lucrative, such interests can’t actuallyrnplay a significant role in the discussion ofrnBritish publishing, its tragedy and its likelyrnfinal, American-style demise. It isrnquite self-evident that blatant, shamelessrnpulp has existed always, has always beenrnsuccessful, and has often enjoyed a clearrncommercial advantage over the lessrnfrivolous and more rarified subject matter.rnTo rail at Mr. Murdoch for beingrnamong our epoch’s purveyors of pulprnmay be a good thing, a moral thing, evenrna Christian thing; or else it may be a hypocriticalrnthing, a puritanical thing, evenrna selfish thing; as with much else in ourrnsad sublunar world, it rather depends onrnthe provenance of the criticism. Onernthing railing at Mr. Murdoch is not,rnhowever, is relevant.rnWhat is relevant is the role in all this ofrnthe editor, the journalist, the writer.rnWhen I first came to London, one summerrnafternoon in 1985,1 took a taxi fromrnthe airport to the offices of a magazinernand asked to see an editor. He came out,rnspoke with me for five minutes, and gavernme work. Nonetheless, if I could berncalled a prospector, this could not havernbeen called a lucky strike, because whatrnlay all about me in the London of 15rnyears ago was a writer’s Klondike, a diversernand competitive environmentrnwhere the gold of publication lay abovernground. The man was one of many, indeedrnone of a hundred or even a thousandrnothers like him.rnIt may well be that somewhere in therndepths of the New York Times today therernlurks a kindly gentleman, not unlikernMaxwell Perkins the All-American, whorndoes what he can to foster whatever talentrncomes his way, protecting it from thernharsh conformist winds that howl inrnTimes Square and make grown menrnshiver from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.rnBut against the background of a nationalrnmonopoly —which, unlike Mr. Murdoch’srnNews International, the NewrnYork Times Company is and has beenrnsince the demise of its nearest competitorrnsome 30 years ago—the role of such arnfigure is morally ambiguous, smackingrnof provocation and entrapment, while itsrnbeneficial effect on the literary life of thernnation can only be negligible.rn”In a field of battle,” goes a Russianrnproverb, “one man is no warrior.” Todayrnas yesterday, if the Maxwell Perkins ofrnOCTOBER 1998/33rnrnrn