Journalists are increasingly threatened and assassinated in conflict zones worldwide. But could the need for their protection be causing harm to free speech, and increasing the production of one-sided journalism?
Concern about journalists’ safety entered the official discourse with the United States’ 1983 invasion of Grenada. Inspired by similar British operations during the occupation of the Falkland Islands in 1982, the US successfully imposed a media blackout. Journalists – waiting on nearby Barbados – were prohibited from reporting on Grenada for 48 hours. After that time, they were progressively given permission to enter.
The US State Department suggested that a key reason for excluding journalists was that their safety couldn’t be guaranteed. At any rate, the media’s absence meant the main excuses for the invasion – such as the much-hyped rescue of students – went unexamined.
Backlash at the media blackout led to a reversal of policy, but the motivating principle remained the same. In 1984, the Sidle Commission planned greater journalistic engagement through pooling reporters in combat situations. This, it was said, would protect both operational security and journalist safety in future conflicts such as the Gulf War.
The option of embedding journalists with armed forces coincided with increasingly dangerous and protracted conflicts in which journalists were becoming targets. The embedding of journalists began in 1995 with the British in Bosnia. This practice continued in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
Embedding with the military is a more immediate and practical solution. But critics say journalists inevitably become partial to their military hosts, and the diversity of journalism suffers.
The proliferation of one-sided journalism had been flagged as a concern in war zones even before the rise of embedded journalism. In pursuit of a much-vaunted “objectivity”, “parachute” journalists reporting on armed conflict can rely too much on accessible official sources._
Can international law help?
Countries have broad powers under international law to organise and restrict journalistic access to information if there are concerns about safety. This is regardless of the impact on free speech.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the criteria are simply that the exercise of power be “not arbitrary”, and that it is “necessary and proportionate to the goal in question”.
However, even in the European Court of Human Rights, where the need for a plurality of information has received much attention, the judges do not favour one sort of journalism over the other as a human right. In one hate speech case, the European Court said:
… it is not for this court, nor for the national courts for that matter, to substitute their own views for those of the press as to what technique of reporting should be adopted by journalists.
International human rights law mainly talks of free speech values in terms of rights. Duties are also relevant, but generally underdeveloped. The “duties and responsibilities” clause in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is an exception to the rule.
The original “duties and responsibilities” clause was inspired by the mass media’s abuses of power. One example relates to excessive concentration of media ownership. The drafters of the European Convention were concerned about:
… the powerful influence of the modern media on expression upon the minds of men and upon national and international affairs.
The clause has now been applied to a range of situations where journalists have “overstepped the bounds”. These include defamation, incitement to violence and hate speech, whistleblowing, and safeguarding source protection.
Could the “duties and responsibilities” clause be indirectly applied to promote an ethical approach to diversity in the media in wartime?
In relation to a case concerning the disclosure of a leaked document, the European Court of Human Rights suggested, in connection with journalistic duties, that:
… steps taken by journalists to verify the accuracy of the information may be one of the factors taken into consideration by the courts.
How the duty for “accurate and reliable” journalism translates in modern war zones is a matter for future decision-makers, though the decision is a trend away from one-sided journalism towards a broader debate about ethics. In the meantime, a code of conduct for journalism in war zones might be useful to clarify free speech priorities in a safety-conscious environment.
Whether government should fund public interest journalism in Australia is a question a Senate select committee is currently being asked to consider. It’s a question that’s both simple and hard, as it raises all sorts of issues about the relationship between government, the media and consumers.
There’s an important reason for asking. There is now clear evidence that the market is failing us. There are gaps in coverage and no sign that they are going to be filled anytime soon.
Courts, local councils, state institutions, and even state parliaments are now missing out on proper coverage. The arts are under-covered. The regions are not properly represented, either to themselves or to the rest of Australia. Entire communities are missing out on local news services.
A cynic might say that some of these were never covered all that well by the news media. However, it’s certainly true that things have become much worse. This is mostly a result of digital disruption and the breaking of the model in which advertising paid for editorial content.
The ads have moved online, to Google and Facebook – which do not have an imperative to serve local communities, at least not with news and certainly not with public interest journalism.
There are several ideas about how to tackle this. These include creating a form of charitable status for news organisations, as well as tax incentives to encourage greater philanthropy. Together these could help sustain existing media players or encourage start-ups. They might help create a culture in which people donate to fund journalistic investigations.
Another way might be to provide publicly funded grants for journalism.
The Public Interest Journalism Foundation, of which I’m a board member, has made a submission to the Senate inquiry calling for an Independent Production Fund for public interest journalism. Its principal function would be to help make important journalism happen.
Along the way, it might encourage experimentation and new forms of storytelling, while fostering coverage of neglected topics or regions.
Imagine if a freelance reporter – or even one working for a larger media company – could apply to the fund for financial support to develop an important story. Imagine if the fund was focused on supporting the type of journalism that was in the public’s interest.
Immediately this might conjure an image of undue government control, or of Big Brother intervening in the editorial process. Or you might ask: what government would hand out funds to a journalist working on a story about, say, government corruption?
The answer is it’s happening already. The government already funds journalism at SBS and the ABC. It does this through triennial funding and in a way that ensures the national broadcasters retain editorial control. A raft of conventions and a healthy editorial culture ensure both organisations are free to report critically on the federal government and any other institution.
And the government already does it through bodies like Screen Australia, which funds films and documentaries. It doesn’t set editorial parameters on those funds by insisting that certain things get taken out or left in.
But all of these examples are for screen-based journalism, not text – or what used to be called print – reporting.
Print media companies have not generally received grants to support journalism, although there are exceptions such as The Australian newspaper, which once accepted subsidies to fund its Australian Literary Review. Other literary/journalism publications, such as Meanjin, have also been supported over the years through government grants.
So, the concept has already been tried. Now might be the time to expand it to cover several forms of journalism, across all mediums and specifically for public interest reporting.
Perhaps this could be funded by revenue derived from taxing media conglomerates like Google and Facebook? After all, they’re the companies that have contributed to the problem by taking away advertising revenue without any concomitant requirement to provide news for consumers. Nor are they currently compelled to pay much taxation in the jurisdictions in which they operate.
I’d like to see a production fund with a clear vision and a sense of adventure about what it can achieve. It doesn’t need to be weighed down by corporate structures or old costly modes of production.
This could fund projects from across public, commercial and community media, and it could play an important role in nurturing young investigative reporters, audio storytellers and videographers – many of whom are now missing out on the opportunities and mentoring that were traditionally provided by established media companies.
Imagine if an Independent Production Fund encouraged reportage on important issues that are not well-served by the established media, and if the national broadcasters and commercial media companies opened their doors to publishing the content created.
As a journalism educator, I know how much a keen graduate can do with a cheap video camera, some off-the-shelf editing gear, and a small grant to kick-start a great idea. As a member of the New Beats project tracking the progress of Australia’s many redundant journalists, I know how much older reporters still have to contribute and how financial support can make great things happen.
So yes, there is a role for governments to play, and providing small grants to encourage public interest journalism has definitely got merit.
Specialist science journalists are vital in our society in a few key ways. These include as public disseminators of sound science that can lead to policy, as identifiers of flawed journalism and “dodgy” (even life-threatening) science, and as gatekeepers between public relations departments in research institutions and the general media.
And yet the number of specialist science reporters in Australia is in serious decline.
Not only was the story given robust and prominent coverage across Australian news media platforms, the Daily Telegraph and news site MamaMia also ran campaigns encouraging readers to pledge to immunise their children.
In 2013 the Daily Telegraph followed up with a “No jab, no play” concept, promoting the idea that childcare centres should ban children who had not been immunised. State and federal governments have subsequently introduced legislation to effect this proposal. The program is still being monitored.
Linked to this coverage, a successful case was mounted in the NSW Office of Fair Trading against anti-immunisation activist group the Australian Vaccination Network. The network’s name was found to be misleading and the group has now re-badged itself as the “Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network”.
Journalism as a gatekeeper for “bad” science
Sound peer review and editorial procedures are in place in many research journals, but sometimes what can best be described as “dodgy” science is published, and this can lead to disastrous results.
The classic example is the (now falsified) study in 1998 that reported on autism-like symptoms and gastrointestinal abnormalities in children associated with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination. The study was small (only 12 children), observational, and submitted for publication without key disclosures from lead author Andrew Wakefield.
Had the journalists at that initial press conference been equipped to appraise the findings critically, the poor science may have been revealed from the start. The paper was later found to be fraudulent by investigative journalist Brian Deer, who published stories in print and made a documentary revealing the hoax.
Science journalism vs science PR
Science journalism and science public relations (PR) can be difficult to distinguish. The job of the PR specialist is to maximise eyeballs on each story. The job of the journalist is to find the story and report the evidence behind it, no matter whose story it is.
Stories that are written with a university press release – rather than a peer-reviewed science paper – as the main source of evidence can easily cross the line into infotainment rather than independent reporting.
It’s also the case that some stories that look like science journalism are heavily sponsored by universities and research institutions. This so-called “native content” – in that it looks appropriate for its context – is becoming more prevalent.
It’s a trend exacerbated by the movement of journalists from media organisations into communication roles in academic and research institutions. While the writing style is journalistic, the focus is to promote the science from the institutions that employ them. This bypasses robust and independent examination of the evidence.
There may be more of this to come as science journalists become an endangered species.
An endangered species
Embedded in Australian news rooms, the investigative science journalist is a rare beast; the most recent in a long line of casualties are Marcus Strom from The Sydney Morning Herald, and Bridie Smith of Melbourne’s The Age, who left Fairfax last week after 16 years.
It seems the ABC is the only mainstream media outlet with a science unit. Here, specialists Anna Salleh and Jake Sturmer along with experienced science journalists, communicators and broadcasters (Robyn Williams, Natasha Mitchell, Joel Werner, Bernie Hobbs, Ruben Meerman and Dr Karl amongst others) present regular science content on various platforms.
Journalists in specialities such as environment, health and technology do still hold positions at major media platforms, and Cosmos Magazine provides another platform for science content in Australia. Freelance science journalists including Bianca Nogrady, Leigh Dayton and Graham Readfearn work on specific projects across a variety of platforms.
Specialist correspondents develop a deep and complex understanding of their round over time, and carry a knowledge of what’s gone before that surpasses a quick internet search. They might, for instance, recognise that a particular “breakthrough” is simply an old study repackaged, that a study is very small, or that its promises have been made before without amounting to much. Or that the “faster than light” neutrinos were a statistical anomaly (and an error) rather than a tested matter of fact.
The disappearance of the specialist science correspondent means a loss of personnel with the time and the expertise to probe deeply and to ask uncomfortable questions. The consequences are declines in the breadth, depth and quality of science coverage. Pair this with an increased workload, the need for journalists to apply multimedia skills and the constant pressure to publish (driven by the 24-hour news cycle), and the opportunities for genuine investigation are slim.
New ways to cover science
As the number of science correspondents has fallen, the science sector has rushed in to fill the online void with blogs and social media sites (some terrifically successful).
Facilities such as the Australian Science Media Centre now work to support and facilitate evidence-based science journalism. The Centre boasts 1,600 subscribers and informs hundreds of reporters who attend regular briefings.
When the Australian Science Media Centre started in 2005, there were around 35 specialist science reporters in mainstream newsrooms around the country. Now you need less than one hand to count them.
This loss of specialist reporters means that there is no one to fight for good science in editorial meetings or look for science angles in everyday news stories.
We’re all going to have to do everything we can to help general reporters cover science and make sure they don’t miss the important stuff.
The future of science journalism
It may be that science journalism has never enjoyed a consistent position in media outlets – some report that “peak science journalism” happened in 1987. In an important review of the history of popular science, writer Martin Bauer points out that science journalism is prone to a “boom and bust cycle”.
The call for more and improved science journalism is based on an assumption that lives are worse off without it. This is an easy leap for academics to make; after all, our very existence is based on the idea that more knowledge is better than less knowledge.
But how can we convince the general public this is the case? Studying the “decline of science journalism” – fewer numbers of journalists, diffuse science reporting, the rise of branded and native content – will not be enough to show that we need more science journalists. We must be able to clearly identify a public good, and convince media-saturated consumers that science deserves a place in their lives.
We must also develop a clear business case that supports science journalism. Relatively new media platforms such as Nautilus and narrative.ly provide some evidence that blending science with creative nonfiction, philanthropic funding, subscription services, paywalls, and hybrid models of journalism and public relations are worth further exploration.
However there has yet to be a convincing case of overwhelming public support for robust science journalism. In our view, this is a shame. We think academic and media groups, and those private sectors that rely on science and technology, should start articulating the public value of science journalism.
This article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia, and Visiting Fellow at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University.
Independent journalism’s importance to healthy democracies is undisputed. In a time of rising autocratic tendencies around the world, this independent check on power is more needed than ever. This is well illustrated by US President Donald Trump’s disrespect for the balance-of-power doctrine in general and for the US judiciary in particular.
But what is “public interest journalism”? From a journalistic point of view, this covers topics that are vital for citizens to make informed decisions and choices. There is a clear distinction between what the public is interested in, which includes gossip, celebrities and lifestyle topics, compared to what is important to the health of our democracy.
The public interest is about what matters to everyone in society. It is about the common good, the general welfare and the security and wellbeing of everyone in the community.
As I have argued before, without this kind of journalism a lot of corruption, maladministration and abuse of power would not be known to the public. We would then risk sliding further down the slippery slope towards autocracy.
So, what can and should governments do? Many submissions to the Senate inquiry will argue that it’s time for governments to step up support for public interest journalism.
Fortunately, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are plenty of models around the globe where governments are supporting public interest journalism at arm’s length.
It’s important to point out that a significant amount of research clearly shows that in mature liberal democracies government funding for such journalism does not equal government influence over reporting.
The first and most obvious thing to do is finance Australia’s public broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, to a level that enables them to consistently produce public interest journalism. The minimum is to restore, and index up, the funding to the 2013 level before the current severe cuts instigated by the Abbott government.
Public broadcasting is a tried and tested source of public interest journalism. It will be a repository for such content until market-financed journalism has transitioned to new business models. Australia has a national and global responsibility to fund the ABC and SBS, as there are only about ten properly funded public broadcasters globally.
The rest of the sustainable funding models will, most likely, be a combination of government, market and private altruistic funding. There are a number of international models:
The most obvious indirect funding model is to exempt public interest journalism companies from GST and payroll taxes.
A second option is to make donations to such journalistic organisations tax-deductible to encourage private altruism.
Another option is to introduce a version of the “low-profit limited liability corporations” (L3Cs) that exist in some states in the US and the UK (community interest company). L3Cs are businesses that produce a social good. Investments in such companies receive various tax breaks.
A fourth option is to introduce a government-funded base operational fund open to public interest journalism ventures. This could include a special grant for start-up companies.
All of the above already exist in a number of countries with a long tradition of funding public interest journalism. Here it’s important to point out that Australia, for more than 100 years, supported such journalism via printing and distribution subsidies.
Another option drawing on international experience is an Australia Council-like fund that could contribute to journalism residencies at universities. This would create a win-win situation in which experienced journalists would work with students to create public interest journalism.
Finally, and most importantly, a sustainable funding model must involve Google and Facebook in some way. As Ben Eltham has eloquently argued in The Conversation, Google and Facebook have hoovered up the advertising money that used to fund public interest journalism. They have effectively created a global media oligopoly partly based on journalism they are not paying for.
A levy on Google and Facebook advertising revenue would be a very important funding source for public interest journalism. The bonus is that this would encourage the social media giants to acknowledge that they are publishers rather than just platforms.
Engaging with the two global media companies illustrates the core challenge for domestic policymakers: media policy that used to be predominantly national is increasingly global. Domestic policy may prove to be a blunt policy tool in meeting the challenge of supporting public interest journalism.
The conclusion from this international survey is that, historically, market forces on their own never have been able to carry public interest journalism. Now more than ever governments need to help carry it across the morass that is the current transformation of the industry.
The Senate inquiry reports in early December 2017. It would be a tragedy for democratic accountability in Australia if government inaction is the outcome.
It’s 20 years on June 26 since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the seven-book series. The Philosopher’s Stone has sold more than 450 million copies and been translated into 79 languages; the series has inspired a movie franchise, a dedicated fan website, and spinoff stories.
I recall the long periods of frustration and excited anticipation as my son and I waited for each new instalment of the series. This experience of waiting is one we share with other fans who read it progressively across the ten years between the publication of the first and last Potter novel. It is not an experience contemporary readers can recreate.
The Harry Potter series has been celebrated for encouraging children to read, condemned as a commercial rather than a literary success and had its status as literature challenged. Rowling’s writing was described as “basic”, “awkward”, “clumsy” and “flat”. A Guardian article in 2007, just prior to the release of the final book in the series, was particularly scathing, calling her style “toxic”.
My own focus is on the pleasure of reading. I’m more interested in the enjoyment children experience reading Harry Potter, including the appeal of the stories. What was it about the story that engaged so many?
Before the books were a commercial success and highly marketed, children learnt about them from their peers. A community of Harry Potter readers and fans developed and grew as it became a commercial success. Like other fans, children gained cultural capital from the depth of their knowledge of the series.
My own son, on the autism spectrum, adored Harry Potter. He had me read each book in the series in order again (and again) while we waited for the next book to be released. And once we finished the new book, we would start the series again from the beginning. I knew those early books really well.
Assessing the series’ literary merit is not straightforward. In the context of concern about falling literacy rates, the Harry Potter series was initially widely celebrated for encouraging children – especially boys – to read. The books, particularly the early ones, won numerous awards and honours, including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize three years in a row, and were shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1998.
Criticism of the literary merit of the books, both scholarly and popular, appeared to coincide with the growing commercial and popular success of the series. Rowling was criticised for overuse of capital letters and exclamation marks, her use of speech or dialogue tags (which identify who is speaking) and her use of adverbs to provide specific information (for example, “said the boy miserably”).
The criticism was particularly prolific around the UK’s first conference on Harry Potter held at the prestigious University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2012. The focus of commentary seemed to be on the conference’s positioning of Harry Potter as a work of “literature” worthy of scholarly attention. As one article said of J.K. Rowling, she “may be a great storyteller, but she’s no Shakespeare”.
Even the most scathing of reviews of Rowling’s writing generally compliment her storytelling ability. This is often used to account for the popularity of the series, particularly with children. However, this has then been presented as further proof of Rowling’s failings as an author. It is as though the capacity to tell a compelling story can be completely divorced from the way a story is told.
Writing for kids
The assessment of the literary merits of a text is highly subjective. Children’s literature in particular may fare badly when assessed using adult measures of quality and according to adult tastes. Many children’s books, including picture books, pop-up books, flap books and multimedia texts are not amenable to conventional forms of literary analysis.
Books for younger children may seem simple and conventional when judged against adult standards. The use of speech tags in younger children’s books, for example, is frequently used to clarify who is talking for less experienced readers. The literary value of a children’s book is often closely tied to adults’ perception of a book’s educational value rather than the pleasure children may gain from reading or engaging with the book. For example, Rowling’s writing was criticised for not “stretching children” or teaching children “anything new about words”.
Many of the criticisms of Rowling’s writing are similar to those levelled at another popular children’s author, Enid Blyton. Like Rowling, Blyton’s writing has described by one commentator as “poison” for its “limited vocabulary”, “colourless” and “undemanding language”. Although children are overwhelmingly encouraged to read, it would appear that many adults view with suspicion books that are too popular with children.
There have been many defences of the literary merits of Harry Potter which extend beyond mere analysis of Rowling’s prose. The sheer volume of scholarly work that has been produced on the series and continues to be produced, even ten years after publication of the final book, attests to the richness and depth of the series.
A focus on children’s reading pleasure rather than on literary merit shifts the focus of research to a different set of questions. I will not pretend to know why Harry Potter appealed so strongly to my son but I suspect its familiarity, predictability and repetition were factors. These qualities are unlikely to score high by adult standards of literary merit but are a feature of children’s series fiction.
If there is any difficulty in reading what I write it is because of the material I use. In my case the thought is always simple.
“Difficulty” is an understatement for the reader’s experience of the bewildering Ulysses, with its notoriously experimental styles and form, extravagantly wrought language, and approach, in which nothing is “stupidly explained” – a stance that the young Joyce had praised in his idol, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
Declan Kiberd’s book Ulysses and us: The art of everyday living explores the somewhat generous proposition that Ulysses is a “book of wisdom” about the everyday world. The key to understanding the genius and richness of Ulysses, I suggest, is Joyce’s inspired “simple” thought of interjecting into this “one day in the life” of a city — its smells and sounds, its sandwichboard men, jingling brass bed quoits, gorgonzola cheese and burgundy, its trams and pubs — an epic apparatus of correspondence that draws us to explore the vast canvas of the work.
By “correspondence”, I mean where one element – say an object, sensation, or cognition – resonates with another, forging a meaningful connection. The most overt form of this is the referencing of Homer’s Odyssey throughout the novel’s 18 episodes. Homer tells the story of Odysseus (the Roman form of this name being “Ulysses”), a guileful Greek warrior, and his epic adventures throughout the Mediterranean region on his way home to Ithaca, to be reunited with his kingdom, his constant wife Penelope (whose virtue is besieged by suitors), and his son Telemachus.
The correspondences between this story and a rather uneventful day in Dublin are by no means self-evident. Odysseus’ counterpart in Ulysses, Leopold (Poldy) Bloom is an advertising salesman who leaves home to go to a funeral, and to work, in the knowledge that his wife Molly (Penelope) intends to have an affair that day with Blazes Boylan. Meanwhile, the young poet and intellectual Stephen Dedalus is living a somewhat bohemian life in the Martello Tower with the blasphemous, garrulous, amusing Buck Mulligan. The paths of Dedalus and Bloom cross during the day and night until they meet and have a wide-ranging conversation. Bloom takes care of a now drunken Stephen, and invites him home to stay the night.
The correspondences then, do not necessarily entail finding similarities between everyday life and the epic, but they can evoke connections and comparisons that lead us to reflect. The effect is often comic (Odysseus, participant in the great siege of Troy is reduced to Bloom besieging potential advertisers), in a book of which Joyce said “there is not one single serious line in it”, but some correspondences resonate deeply.
For instance, Poldy misses his natural son Rudy, whose death has badly affected his marriage. Stephen (corresponding to the son Telemachus) resembles his literal father rather too much: the verbally inventive, intemperately drinking Simon Dedalus. He could perhaps use the tempering touch of caring, practical-minded Bloom. And even a marriage marred by infidelity is, in Ulysses, something to celebrate. Learning how to read Ulysses also leads us to read human experience in ways that defy conventional expectations.
Dirt for art’s sake: Ulysses’ reception
Ulysses’ electrifying novelty polarised opinion from the outset. After it was published by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922, T.S. Eliot called it the
most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.
Many readers were unprepared for the strong language, detailed attention to bodily functions, including female orgasm, and Molly Bloom’s uninhibited discourse. Not only does this modern-day Penelope defy the Homeric virtue of constancy, but she revels in her transgression: (“yes and damn well fucked too up to my neck nearly”). For many, including those who had read the book only partly or not at all, it was chaotic, formless, or as Joseph Brooker notes, a latrine, a “phone book”, a desert “as dry as it is stinking”.
First published by The Little Review, in serial form, it was the subject of an obscenity trial and was banned in the USA, then the UK. In 1933, however, Justice Woolsey’s decision in the US District Court observed that Ulysses was not “dirt for dirt’s sake”.
In Australia, the news that it was obscene, and the news that it was not, took longer to break. The Brisbane Courier Mail of 19 September 1941 claimed that “after being freely available to the public of Australia for the last 20 years”, Ulysses had been “banned by the Minister for Customs”. The ban was not overturned until Gough Whitlam’s 1972 accession to power. (Gough once gave a copy of the banned book to his wife.)
A damaged love story
One of Joyce’s enduring creations is that of a community of people worldwide who meet to read, discuss or dramatise Ulysses each June 16. Ulysses is not only Joyce’s time capsule of Dublin on that day in 1904, but a monument to his beloved partner Nora Barnacle. It was on June 16 1904 that Nora first “walked out” with Joyce, and administered what he described to her in a letter as a sexual “sacrament”. Later that year they eloped in self-proclaimed exile to the Continent.
However, on a rare return trip to Dublin five years later, Joyce’s friend Vincent Cosgrave hinted that he had enjoyed Nora’s favours before Joyce did. Joyce, agonised with doubt, was shattered. Ultimately a good friend, J.F. Byrne, reassured him that the story was untrue. Years later, Joyce assigned Byrne’s address to Bloom: 7 Eccles Street. Joyce’s crisis of faith over Nora’s fidelity had, somewhat masochistically, inspired the central event of Ulysses. And indeed, Peter Costello’s thoughtful biography of Joyce suggests that Cosgrave’s boast was not necessarily empty.
The “plot” of Joyce’s epic is otherwise just two cartographer’s lines, the intersecting paths of Bloom and Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus. Dedalus believes himself cast out of the Martello tower by flatmate Buck Mulligan, and surrenders the key to him. Bloom forgets his key. Both are symbolically usurped; Dedalus does not know where he will spend the night.
The first six episodes of Ulysses follow firstly Dedalus’ and then Bloom’s mornings, using internal monologue to reveal the protagonists’ thoughts. In later episodes, the structure, language and logic of the writing itself undergo a dizzying series of experiments. These developments constitute Joyce’s own “Odyssey of Style”, which takes the reader on a wild ride.
The seventh, breakout chapter for instance, “Aeolus”, is centred on the offices of the Freeman’s Journal and Evening Telegraph. Aeolus is associated with the Greek god of the winds, whom Joyce mischievously associates with the art of rhetoric. This was set out in a table of correspondences for each episode that he used to explain his design to a mystified public. Aside from the preponderant gossip and banter, in this episode both great oratory and nauseatingly flowery writing receive extended attention — the latter to hilarious effect, as Simon Dedalus and other layabouts damn the purple prose splenitively before, parched by their exertions, inevitably adjourning to the pub.
A panoply of rhetorical devices is employed in the episode, which is punctuated by a series of newspaper-style captions or sub-heads, and incorporates multiple references to air flow, as various blowhards in the offices shoot the breeze or, in the case of declining lawyer J.J. O’Molloy, seek to “raise the wind”: ie, borrow some cash.
But what is most impressive in this episode is how Joyce extracts meaning through adroitly signalled chains of correspondence that, in the political climate of 1904, make pointed connections between Ireland’s history of subjection (symbolised in Nelson’s Pillar and the GPO, from which “His Majesty’s vermilion mailcars” circulate), and her nationalistic aspirations. Chillingly, the episode is set at the time (12 noon) and place of the 1916 Easter Uprising. A gloomy proclamation by editor Myles Crawford, “We’re the fat in the fire” proves prophetic. Indeed, these offices did burn in 1916. Joyce had begun planning this episode in 1917.
Following episodes include a parodic history of English literature (“Oxen of the Sun”) and a phantasmagorical absurdist drama set in seedy Night-Town (“Circe”) where even objects such as gongs, soap and gas jets get speaking parts. Impressively, Joyce even wrings poetry and beauty out of an apparently technical and scientific mock catechism (“Ithaca”), which includes an inventory of seemingly every Bloom possession.
Lastly, there is the justly famous tour de force of Molly’s unpunctuated stream of conscious monologue (“Penelope”), the subject of countless memorable rehearsed readings in Bloomsday activities. “Penelope” is an epic in its own right, in which Molly reviews her day, past lovers, Poldy himself. Molly is accorded the last word.
Ulysses by correspondence
Joyce likely derived his principle of correspondence from multiple sources, although he adapted it to his own purposes. His early interest in mystical and hermetic philosophy followed the loss of his fervent Catholic faith. Two early influences on Joyce were the poet William Blake and the Swedish philosopher and theologian Swedenborg. Both were interested in the idea of correspondence between the material and divine realms, and the spiritual principle that earthly conditions reflect higher realms.
Bloom expresses a parallel idea in a passage from the “Calypso” episode, where he visits the pork butcher to buy a kidney for breakfast.
Leaving the shop, Bloom responds to an everyday object:
Watering cart. To provoke the rain. On earth as it is in heaven.
Mysteriously, the very next line records that
A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.
Even mundane experience need not be meaningless. Take for example, the references to meat in “Calypso”. In Homer, Calypso is the goddess who detained Odysseus on her island for years for her carnal pleasure. For Bloom, the sight of sausages in the butcher’s window is answered by his desire to perv on the “hams” of the next door girl, whom he in turn associates with a tattered religious garment, a scapular, “defending her both ways”. For Joyce, church and policing are closely linked; both are in the confession business. Bloom now indulges in a memory, or fantasy, of the girl enjoying a cuddle with a policeman in Eccles Lane: “They like them sizeable. Prime sausage.” Later, his disparate musings on meat link us to universal themes of sex, death and advertising.
As a young man, Joyce had read Lamb’s The Adventures of Ulysses and was attracted to its supernatural elements. Ulysses is punctuated by curious parallels between Bloom and Dedalus, and various synchronicities: Poldy thinks about Blazes Boylan, who immediately appears; Stephen, who has complained about Ireland’s three masters, in a later scene turns his head back suddenly to see a three-master ship. These are not the contrived coincidences of Dickens but realistic experience, attended to in the spirit of wonder.
Bloom in wonderland
Ulysses is a feast of a book. The walls and the streets echo with laughter, song and banter. The life lived in the shops and pubs and workplaces, the décor, the clothes, the advertising signs and appliances, is brought back to life in these pages, filtered through the minds of artistic Stephen and scientific but “wonderstruck” Bloom. “Wonder” is one of Bloom’s favourite words; there is much to wonder at.
In the first episode, Stephen stands at the stairhead on the tower, haunted by visions of his dead mother:
Buck Mulligan’s voice sang from within the tower. It came nearer up the staircase, calling again. Stephen, still trembling at his soul’s cry, heard warm running sunlight and in the air behind him friendly words.
Is this mere hallucination, the product of a stressful night, or the continuance of unresolved grief at his mother’s death? And what can we make of Bloom’s parallel experience that same morning?
Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley road, swiftly, in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath. Runs, she runs to meet me, a girl with gold hair on the wind.
Since a cloud has just begun to cover the sun, it seems likely that Stephen’s vision occurs at a similar time to Bloom’s. Kiberd’s beautiful suggestion that this is Bloom’s “Homeric vision”, is appealing. Equally, he could be hallucinating his absent daughter Milly, but then how do we explain Stephen’s similar vision? A definitive answer is not necessarily achievable.
Whatever we make of it, Joyce’s epic resembles the “open work” spoken of by Umberto Eco: one that invites us to explore it for ourselves. The supreme virtue of Ulysses is that it so richly rewards the considerable exertions required of us.
Some relevant resources:
Which edition of Ulysses?
Choosing the preferred edition of Ulysses is not a transparent choice, given the vexed publishing history of this book, and the so-called Joyce Wars. Many critics prefer Hans Walter Gabler’s corrected text (1986). Danis Rose’s attempt to find a more definitive text has met with mixed reviews. Jeri Johnson’s introductory essay to the book in the Oxford World’s Classics series is excellent, and this edition also has some very useful notes on each chapter at the back. Take note however that this is a reprint of the original typesetting of 1922 and so is prone to some possible textual errors.
It has been said that one does not read Joyce, one studies Joyce. Certainly there is no shame in taking a guide book with one, when embarking on a reading odyssey. Bear in mind however that guides can be a mixed blessing: they can over-explain and over-interpret, or present us with an overwhelm of information.
A popular, updated guide to Ulysses:
Blamires, Harry. The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide through Ulysses 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
A reasonably demanding guide to and interpretation of Ulysses, from an influential Joyce critic:
Ellmann, Richard. Ulysses on the Liffey. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.
Non-profit investigative journalism centres have invigorated watchdog reporting in the United States over the past decade, a period commonly associated with despair over the state of serious journalism. My research attributes a sharp increase in the number of such centres in the United States directly to philanthropic funding, made more attractive by tax deductibility, and this same model could work in Australia.
This rescue mission of quality journalism has seen philanthropically funded news centres winning the most prestigious awards in journalism including several Pulitzer Prizes. Millions of Americans access stories written by non-profit investigative journalists, either on non-profit websites or published in mainstream media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS and other outlets.
Three key ways exist to fund the labour intensive and time consuming work of investigative journalism. The traditional media model, which today is characterised by market failure. Funding by government such as the ABC’s Four Corners program – a model that has worked well in Australia but that elsewhere raises questions of independence and funding security.
And there’s funding by foundations, wealthy benefactors and individuals. That’s different from crowd sourcing which may finance a specific story project but does not fund the necessary infrastructure (office, computers, rent, salaries etc.) or build the journalistic capacity required for a sustainable model.
In the United States, there are about 150 independent non-profit centres doing investigative and public interest journalism. The budgets of the biggest centres such as ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal at the Center for Investigative Reporting are about US$10 million a year; smaller centres less than US$100,000.
Non-profit status enables these organisations to avoid federal and some state taxes and donations to them can be tax deductible. The IRS does not have a distinct category for media organisations. Instead, investigative and public interest news organisations attract non-profit status under a broad education category.
There has been a profound cultural transformation in the way mainstream media organisations regard non-profit centre stories. Collaborations between legacy and non-profit media are commonplace in the United States because non-profit journalists have the same ethics, news values and editorial practices as journalists in the commercial and public media.
Foundation-funded journalism does not come close to replacing what has been lost due to staff and other cuts by mainstream media since the financial crisis. But it has been embraced by key media outlets as a means of boosting the quality of their stories. Non-profit centres do not compete with mainstream media; they complement it.
How this could work in Australia
A recent study found only a handful of Australian not-for-profit news organisations have been granted deductible gift recipient status by the Australian Tax Office and that news organisations face seemingly challenging obstacles in gaining such status. This may well discourage the creation of news organisations.
Given the diminished resources of Australian media to hold power to account, other measures to bolster democratic processes should be considered. Investigative journalism cannot readily be monetised.
It is expensive to do, takes a long time, sparks legal action and upsets powerful interests. It takes a big commitment by media organisations.
But the societal benefits can be huge: lives saved, corruption exposed, environments improved, governments and corporate interests held accountable. A recent book by a media economist found that for each US$1 spent on a specified investigative story, US$287 in policy benefits resulted.
Tax deductibility for independent journalism centres would provide incentives for individuals and philanthropic organisations to donate to producers of quality journalism.
The availability of tax deductions has the potential to increase the sum of quality journalism in Australia, enhance our democratic processes and better serve the community. I believe legacy and digital media in future would enter collaborative partnerships with non-profit investigative and public interest centres, ensuring a wider distribution and impact of their stories.
The Public Interest Journalism Foundation has some recommendations for the Australian Tax Office to consider when it comes to determining who should be granted deductible gift recipient status.
First is the history and background of the journalist who is applying, particularly their adherence to professional and ethical standards and whether the organisation they work for has conventional editorial practices. The organisation should create stories that are in the public interest and educate audiences rather than covering news of popular interest.
Another is introducing a commitment that the media nonprofit lists funding sources, including publication of the identities of donations of more than A$1,000, on its website. It also says anonymous grants, or funding from political and other entities where the source of the funding is not transparent, should be banned.
The foundation emphasises that individuals and organisations that advocate particular causes, should not be granted non-profit status under any media category.
No-one knows how sustainable the non-profit model will prove over time. However since 2007, I estimate that more than US$350 million has been donated to US non-profit investigative news centres; others have said closer to US$500 million.
We are in the midst of financial and technological disruption of traditional media models. No-one has yet worked out how to bolster accountability journalism that is essential to healthy democracies. The United States’ experience to date offers a potential solution that we should not ignore.