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Ireland and the New Journalism

A Journey through European Stereotypes
Karen Steele, Michael de Nie (eds)
Palgrave Macmillan


In April of 1912, the Belfast-built R. M. S. Titanic sank in the Atlantic, marking a turning point in modernity that rivaled Virginia Woolf's "on or about December 1910," when "human nature changed."1 At the time of its launching, the Titanic was among the largest ships of its time, a marvel of modern Irish design and engineering. Its vanquish­ing by iceberg and the subsequent scale of human loss inspired numer­ous memorials, tributes, and elegies, published almost immediately in the aftermath in newspapers, periodicals, and special commemorative issues. Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain," which was written for the Titanic "Disaster Fund" held at Covent Garden Theatre (now the Royal Opera House) and republished in the June 1912 issue of the Fortnightly Review, characterized the tragic outcome as an instance of transnational modernity, when ice and steel consummate in an earth-shuddering tremor that "jars two hemispheres."2 Looking back from a century's distance—and in the midst of a host of cente­nary reflections on Irish modernity, from the Dublin lockout of 1913 and the onset of World War I to the Easter Rising of 1916—one is struck by how each of these signal events was narrated, reflected, and interpreted in print. Indeed, reviewing these events from the vantage of our own digital era, we can see that the early twentieth century was a turning point in print culture that captured Ireland's complex transition to modernity.

Perhaps few individuals showcased the breadth and diversity of this periodical culture than W. T. Stead, one of the 1,513 individu­als to perish on the Titanic. An acquaintance of Hardy's, Stead was also one of the key innovators responsible for ushering in one of the most significant transformations in periodical culture, the New Journalism. In May 1912, following his death, Stead's monthly The Review of Reviews issued a memorial tribute number that regis­tered his wide-ranging influence on journalistic practices. As the Westminster Gazette noted, Stead's interests and political stances oscillated widely: "He was Peace-Man and Imperialist, Jingoist and humanitarian combined."3 In their introduction to a recent special issue on Stead, Laurel Brake and James Mussell remind us that Stead was a "mass of contradictions and a crucial figure in the history of the British press... a towering presence in the cultural life of late-Victorian and Edwardian society."4 A case in point is Stead's "com­plicated" treatment of and influence on one of his pet topics, Ireland. An enthusiastic supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell, he was one of the most virulent critics of the uncrowned king's moral lapses. A canvasser for Irish Home Rule, he nonetheless propounded upon "Imperialism within the limits of sanity and the Ten Commandments" and "Home Rule within the Ten Commandments."5 Stead's style of New Journalism deeply influenced Ireland, too. This contributed volume showcases how one of the most significant transformations in late nineteenth-century media practices, New Journalism, affected Ireland's newspaper business, editorial practices, and cultural land­scape during the tumultuous years leading to Ireland's independence from Great Britain.

This halcyon age of newspaper reading was also marked by sig­nificant changes in cultural and media practices. As the Irish Literary Revival was gathering momentum, across the Irish Sea, Matthew Arnold took public issue with Stead's form of reporting, and simultaneously coined the term "New Journalism" in his 1887 essay in Nineteenth Century: "We have had opportunities of observing a New Journalism which a clever and energetic man has lately invented. It has much to recommend it: it is full of ability, novelty, variety, sensation, sympa­thy, generous instincts; its one great fault is that it is featherbrained."6 Although Arnold is undoubtedly focused on Stead's style of report­age, Arnold's censure depends upon a vocabulary that evokes Ireland. "Novelty, variety, sensation, sympathy.. .featherbrained" echo Arnold's earlier characterization of "Celtic" culture.7

Arnold's label "New Journalism" was influential both in its nam­ing and its negative associations, especially among cultural arbiters to come. Yet, at Stead's death in 1912, journalists immediately registered and reflected upon his impact on the profession. According to the Times, Stead "struck the personal note" with his use of interviews, cross heads, signed contributions, and illustrations.8 Many contem­poraries saw him as a "journalist crusader," the "Don Quixote of Modern Journalism."9 Indeed, as Joseph Baylen has remarked more broadly about the New Journalism, "in his hands, [journalism] pos­sessed a 'moral thrust,' social conviction, directness of language and political ambition which were decidedly novel."10