Journalism and the lost art of the ‘efficient accumulation of fact’…

Cornelius Ryan was a Dublin man, educated by the Christian Brothers in Portobello. He went on to spend the war years working as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph: afterwards migrating to the US where he began work on his magnum opus, The Longest Day. Michael Shapiro recalls his relationship with the book, and gives us his reckoning of what it means to the development of modern journalism:

I had not opened the book in many years. And yet the story, or rather the many small stories that filled the narrative, had stayed with me. I had seen the movie from time to time over the years. It is a remarkably faithful adaptation—Ryan had worked on the screenplay. But was it the film or my early memories of the book that drew me back?

Or was it something else entirely: my growing realization that the qualities that made the book endure—the precise details, the way each of Ryan’s many set pieces unfolded so quickly, even as the sentences were packed with multiple facts—could come only through an approach to reporting that I had long considered secondary to the words themselves?

Here’s a great example of Ryan’s ‘efficient accumulation of fact’ from the book:

In the ground-floor room he used as an office, Rommel was alone. He sat behind a massive Renaissance desk, working by the light of a single desk lamp. The room was large and high-ceilinged. Along one wall stretched a faded Gobelin tapestry. On another the haughty face of Duke Francois de la Rochefoucauld—a seventeenth-century writer of maxims and an ancestor of the present Duke—looked down out of a heavy gold frame. There were a few chairs casually placed on the highly polished parquet floor and thick draperies at the windows, but little else.

You can pick up a copy for a few quid at the Slugger Bookshop… But don’t forget to read all of Shapiro’s homage

  • Munsterview

    had the pleasure of listening to several fine lectures by Robert Fisk on what true Journalism was and should be over the years; indeed his own articles are a prime example of this.

    In the South all the Dublin ‘Security Correspondences’ of all the media get taken out on the town once a month by the Top Brass of Garda Hq. that always includes an assistant commissioner and often the Commissioner himself.

    Behind closed doors, good food is consumed and fine wine is drank in amounts in keeping with the occasion all at taxpayers expense. In this closed circle of ‘security incest’ all have a good old natter about the problems of the streets and the crime ‘scum-bags’ etc. Is it the same in the North?

    The editor of the Sunday Tribune was apparently challenged on allowing her papers Journalists to be part of this at a recent Journalism seminar in Limerick University, she robustly defended the practice claiming that she had no other choice other than play along with the practice.

    She also admitted in response to a another question that, yes, if a ‘security correspondent’ did not write or report to the satisfaction of the Gardai in the coming month, they were not invited back and accordingly both themselves and their Newspaper or other media were ‘out of the loop’ as far as what went on in the ‘off the record’ briefings at the next dinner and remained so until invited back by the Gardai.

    Any surprise then that Donegall Garda Corruption simmered on for years, known to all in media circles, but the Scandal was never exposed. Yet Journalists from these same papers are lining up to kick soft targets like Cardinal Brady all over his altar !

    Some bloody free press and some bloody system!

  • aquifer

    Stating journalism as that is useful.

    Then we can notice that the indexing system for these facts is generally crap.

    And how is Quality Controll in the business?

    When the price of access is slant, how do we get our facts straight?

  • pinni

    Robert Fisk may write interesting and informative articles but his political slant is highly predictable and his personal views permeate almost all of his writings. Gets quite boring after a time.

  • Bulmer

    “Any surprise then that Donegall Garda Corruption simmered on for years, known to all in media circles, but the Scandal was never exposed. Yet Journalists from these same papers are lining up to kick soft targets like Cardinal Brady all over his altar !

    Some bloody free press and some bloody system!”

    For years the RC church could use the difference culture to cover up all its sins. You aren’t going to tell me that they didn’t ensure silence for years of journalists who were encouraged to turn a blind eye.

    Problem is that journalists need stories and therefore access to the roots of power. Plus their newspaper owners play another set of games.

  • Munsterview


    The Roman Catholic cover up was not just a Church cover up; it was a part of a whole wider establishment culture of cover up that is still going on, the ‘security correspondence’ is just the most blatant current example.

    There were regular inspections by Government of these industrial schools and orphanages by where most of the Child physical and sexual abuse took place, high placed civil servants including Departmental Head Secretaries and the elected Parliamentary Secretaries ( now Junior Ministers ) knew exactly what was going on as did their Ministers and the Government as a whole.

    Why do you think Woods as Minister made such a quick and favorable settlement with the church thirty odd Religious orders who had members implicated in the abuse ?, they could have exposed the Government from their own records and created an even bigger scandal with the spotlight firmly back on Government responsibility.

    They had to be bought off, they knew too much! And this has always been Fianna Failures way….. ‘ Sweet Jesus Lord, one day (or scandal) at the time’ If it cannot be buried then opt for a ten year enquiry costing millions that will see the current incompetent, incumbents out of office before the findings are in. Then we get a new Minister singing the old refrain beloved by The Lenihan dynasty and the rest of the tribe… ” That was then and this is now….”

    The Minister, his cronies and the Orders establishments all came from the same gene pool back then as they do now and that is part of the problem!

    The financial terms agreed with the Offending Religious orders to buy their silence to co-operate in scandal management have shortchanged the Southern Irish Taxpayers by Billions and even more of a shortfall will come to light. The odd indignant waspish anti-church comment by Micheal Martin Minister for Foreign Affairs of Dermot Ahern, Minister for Justice have more to do with both individuals throwing leadership shapes than any real criticism of the church; both are clerical ‘ring kissers’ and indeed prepared to be arse kissers also if the situation requires!

    Fr. Flanigan of ‘Boys Town’ fame had strong words to say in 1946, sixty-four years ago, when he returned to the U.S.A after visiting some of these religious abusive institutions including….

    ” ……What you need over there is to have someone shake you loose from your smugness and satisfaction and set an example by punishing those who are guilty of cruelty, ignorance and neglect of their duties in high places . . . I wonder what God’s judgment will be with reference to those who hold the deposit of faith and who fail in their God-given stewardship of little children……”

    However, his words fell on stony ground. He wasn’t simply ignored. He was taken to pieces by the Irish establishment. The then-Minister for Justice Gerald Boland said in the Dáil that he was “not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanigan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.”

    ( see ) Boys Town founder Fr. Flanigan warned Irish Church about abuse …

    Both Father Flanigan in 1946 and the Nuns of Mother Theresa in later decades were literally run out of the country by Church and State forces for following their Christ obligated duty, in highlighting these abuse and other poverty spawned issues.

    There is a straight line and unchanging attitude through all Fianna Failure Ministers of Justice from Gerald Boland in 1946 to Dermot Ahern in current times. I know a Mother who hand delivered a letter to Minister for Justice, Dermot constituency office concerning the Sexual Abuse of her son by a police informer with the knowledge and collaboration of some high ranking Garda officers.

    The letter was delivered in mid January, we are now in mid May and still no reply. Nothing has changed, can change or will change, that is the Fianna Failure way!

    All the media with the exception of a few in house pet ‘controversial’ columnists kept for window dressing, collude with this continuing cover up of scandal after scandal and co-operate with each and every Case management stunt pulled by the Government and Establishment.

    Will Cardinal Brady go or stay etc is but a distraction from the real scandals that should be the press focus of attention; he is but the latest scapegoat and convenient soft target. Just for the record, I am not defending the Cardinal’s stance, I personally think that he should go and that his position has been untenable for years.

  • RepublicanStones

    pinni i don’t think you could spend as long in the Levant as Robert Fisk has and not develop your own slant. The guy has a level of accessiblity and a contact list that many hacks would die for.