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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Alfred Harmsworth, Newspaper Publisher

alfred-harmsworthAlfred Charles William Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, one of the most successful newspaper publishers in the history of the British press and a founder of popular modern journalism, is born on July 15, 1865 in Chapelizod, near Dublin.

After an impoverished childhood and a few attempts at making a quick fortune, young Harmsworth embarks on freelance journalism as a contributor to popular papers, rises to editorial positions, and starts a paper called Answers to Correspondents. After some difficulty in securing financial backing, he begins publication, soon shortening the name to Answers. As the paper gains public favour, he is joined by his brother Harold, whose financial ability and capacity for attracting advertising, combined with Alfred’s genius for sensing the public taste, make it a success. Answers is followed by many other inexpensive popular periodicals, chief among them Comic Cuts and Forget-Me-Not, for the new reading public of women. These form the basis for what becomes Amalgamated Press, the largest periodical-publishing empire in the world.

In 1894 Harmsworth enters the newspaper field, purchasing the nearly bankrupt London Evening News and transforming it into a popular newspaper with brief news reports, a daily story, and a column for women. Within a year circulation grows to 160,000 copies, and profits are substantial. Conceiving the idea of a chain of halfpenny morning papers in the provinces, he purchases two papers in Glasgow, Scotland, and merges them into the Glasgow Daily Record. He then decides to experiment with a popular national daily in London. The Daily Mail, first published on May 4, 1896, is a sensational success. Announced as “the penny newspaper for one halfpenny” and “the busy man’s daily journal,” it is exactly suited to the new reading public. All news stories and feature articles are kept short, and articles of interest to women, political and social gossip, and a serial story are made regular features. With its first issue, the Daily Mail establishes a world record in daily newspaper circulation, a lead it never loses during Harmsworth’s lifetime.

Next Harmsworth purchases the Weekly Dispatch when it is nearly bankrupt and transforms it into the Sunday Dispatch, the biggest-selling Sunday newspaper in the country. In 1903 he founds the Daily Mirror, which successfully exploits a new market as a picture paper, with a circulation rivaling that of the Daily Mail. He saves The Observer from extinction in 1905, the year in which he is made Baron Northcliffe. In 1908 he reaches the pinnacle of his career by securing control of The Times, which he transforms from a 19th-century relic into a modern newspaper.

Northcliffe’s contributions to the British effort in World War I begin with his early exposure in the Daily Mail of the British army’s shell shortage. His criticisms of Lord Kitchener arouse intense resentment in some quarters, but he also presses for the creation of a separate Ministry of Munitions and for the formation in 1915 of a wartime coalition government. For his service as head of the British war mission in the United States in 1917, he is created a viscount. He acts as the British government’s director of propaganda aimed at Germany and other enemy countries in 1918. By this time Northcliffe’s press empire appears to hold such power over public opinion that he tries unsuccessfully to influence the composition of Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s cabinet. Always unpredictable, he becomes the victim of a megalomania that damages his judgment and leads to the breakdown that precedes his death.

Harmsworth’s health declines during 1921 due mainly to a streptococcal infection. He goes on a world tour to revive himself, but it fails to do so. He dies of endocarditis in a hut on the roof of his London house on August 14, 1922, leaving three months’ pay to each of his six thousand employees. The viscountcy, barony, and baronetcy of Northcliffe become extinct upon his death. His body is buried at East Finchley Cemetery in North London.

Northcliffe’s success as a publisher rests on his instinctive understanding of the new reading public that had been created by compulsory education. Though he wants political power, the effect of his newspapers upon public affairs is generally considered to have been smaller than he believed. His influence lay rather in changing the direction of much of the press away from its traditional informative and interpretative role to that of the commercial exploiter and entertainer of mass publics.

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Birth of Novelist Shan Fadh Bullock

shan-fadh-bullockNovelist Shan Fadh Bullock is born on May 17, 1865 at Inisherk, County Fermanagh just outside the County Cavan border near Belturbet. His works include fourteen novels set in Ulster and he is admired by James Matthew Barrie and Thomas Hardy.

Bullock’s father, Thomas Bullock, is a strict man who has eleven children and drives several to emigration because of his stern demeanour. Thomas Bullock works on the Crom Castle estate which runs along the Cavan/Fermanagh border and has both Catholic and Protestant workers. Protestant workers have the prime jobs and are employed as craftsmen and supervisors while Catholics work in the outer area of the estate at unskilled jobs. Folk memories of the Battle of Newtownbutler in 1689 remain long in the memory in the area where up to 1,500 Jacobite troops are hacked down or drowned in Upper Lough Erne when pursued by the Williamite cavalry. Many of the Williamite army is drawn from the local Protestant population.

Bullock is educated at Crom estate primary school run by the Church of Ireland and Farra School near Bunbrosna, County Westmeath. He fails the entrance exams at the University of Dublin. He tries his hand at farming but finds he is not suited. He moves to London in 1883 and becomes a Civil Service clerk. He takes to journalism to supplement his salary and publishes his first book of stories, The Awkward squads, in 1893. His stories are centered on Irish Catholic and Protestant small farmers and labourers and their struggles and tensions. He marries Emma Mitchell in 1899 and they have a son and daughter.

Bullock is well respected in literary circles but his books are never successful enough for him to become a full time writer. He says that the English are not interested in Irish stories and that there is no reading public in Ireland. He dislikes Orange sectarianism and is ambivalent to Irish nationalism. His novel The Red Leaguers looks at sectarianism conflict and Robert Thorne examines the lives of London clerks which is a popular theme at the time. His last and best novel The Loughsiders is published in 1924 and is the story of a conniving smallholder based on William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Shan Bullock’s wife dies in 1922. He spends the final years of his life in Sutton, Surrey and dies there on February 27, 1935.


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Death of Mary Raftery, Investigative Journalist

mary-rafteryMary Frances Thérèse Raftery, Irish investigative journalist, filmmaker and writer, dies in Dublin on January 10, 2012.

Raftery is born in Dublin on December 21, 1957. Her father, Adrian, is in the Irish foreign service, and she spends much of her childhood abroad. Though she enters University College Dublin to study engineering, she is derailed by an interest in journalism and never finishes her degree.

Raftery starts her investigative journalism career with In Dublin magazine in the 1970s, before moving on to Magill magazine and then to the Irish television channel Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) in 1984. Her documentary series States of Fear is broadcast on RTÉ in 1999. A book she writes later that year called Suffer the Little Children adds more detail to her claim that the Irish childcare system between the 1930s and 1970s was guilty of widespread persecution and abuse.

In 2000, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is established by the Irish Government to examine the evidence with its report published in May 2009. Her programme “Cardinal Secrets” is broadcast as a Prime Time special on RTÉ in 2002. It leads to the setting up of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin which published the Murphy Report in 2009. Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland says, “Ms. Raftery’s work transformed Ireland. Without the work that Mary did as a journalist (on the abuse of children), I don’t think much of this would have surfaced.”

Raftery is nominated for “NNI National Journalist of the Year” in 2011 for her work in exposing clerical abuse of children.

Mary Frances Thérèse Raftery dies of ovarian cancer at the age of 54 at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on January 10, 2012. She is survived by her mother, three siblings, her husband and her son.