The New Journalism, Nationalism, and the Popular Press
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Irish periodicals at the end of the nineteenth century were forced to react to an unprecedented number of political and social events. The Irish fight for women’s suffrage was dynamic and influential; the Land War, Parnellism, and the Home Rule movement preoccupied the government and the periodical press from the 1870s on. As we have seen, Ireland’s response in print to political pressure had always been robust, but the editorial and aesthetic tools used were usually fairly well defined and traditional. With the appearance of W.T. Stead as the editor of the Northern Echo in 1871, and his championing of the New Journalism within the pages of that paper, in the Pall Mall Gazette from 1880 and in the Review of Reviews from 1890, the power of the press to effect change was increased ten-fold. The characteristics of the New Journalism are well known now; they included an emphasis on investigative reporting, a strong editorial voice, a refusal to respect the anonymity of individuals or the sanctity of institutions if found to be corrupt, the employment of plain, declarative prose, and the utilization of visual material as integral to the composition of the page. Critics of the new forms included Matthew Arnold, who actually coined the phrase, but famously denounced its effects on literature in general. Arnold said that the New Journalism was "feather brained". His comment was part of an article that included his denunciation of Gladstone’s policy as regards Ireland, and it is no accident that the popular methods employed by the Home Rule movement, including harnessing the power of the press, were seen by Arnold as tantamount to societal chaos. However, Arnold’s attention to Stead and his admirers also indicated an understanding and grudging acceptance of their increasing influence. In response to Arnold, Frederic Whyte’s biography of Stead contained an apt assessment of the popular origin and audience of such journalism. It is certain that Whyte’s choice of the phrase “passionate enthusiasm” included an awareness of the overindulgence in textual or graphic metaphor frequently complained of in the New Journalism, and there is much in the press in the 1880s and 1890s that would qualify as ‘excessive’. In any case, Ireland was uniquely poised to take advantage of the general consumer acceptance of Stead’s style of writing, both in terms of his advocating for the crucial issues that entered the public sphere, and in the fairly recent possibility of an effective legislative response (as opposed to a military response) to those issues, as is evidenced in the press debate surrounding the fight for Home Rule.