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A reporter from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette whose work has exposed judicial and higher education corruption will soon be honored by the American Journalism Historians Association. Debra Hale-Shelton, who joined the Democrat-Gazette in 2004, will receive AJHA’s 2017 Local Journalist Award at the organization’s annual convention, which will be held Oct. 12-14 in Little Rock.
“Every year AJHA honors a journalist in our convention city who has repeatedly ensured that the public interest is served by governmental, societal and corporate institutions,” Dave Vergobbi, AJHA President and a University of Utah professor. “We are indeed pleased to so honor Debra Hale-Shelton this year in Little Rock, because her career exemplifies the vital role of journalism in a democracy.”
Hale-Shelton has reported stories that led to the resignations of two University of Central Arkansas presidents, and she reported extensively on a judicial corruption probe. Hale-Shelton previously worked more than 20 years for The Associated Press. She has interviewed former Presidents Carter and Clinton, the late advice columnist Ann Landers, a young Donald Trump, death-row inmates and the suspected Tylenol killer.
"Debra Hale-Shelton is, perhaps, the best reporter in Arkansas,” said Donna Lampkin Stephens, Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Arkansas. “The epitome of journalism's watchdog role, she is a dogged, determined journalist who has uncovered a number of cases of wrongdoing and been the catalyst for correcting them. I hope my students grow up to be just like her."
Editor’s Note: University of Bamberg doctoral candidate Hendrik Michael presented his paper, “The World’s ‘True Stories of the News’ and the Commodification of Literary Journalism Before 1900,” at the recent International Association of Literary Journalism Studies conference held in Canada. The Intelligencer asked Mr. Michael to tell us more about how and why he started researching this topic, and why this research is important and interesting for himself and our field.
By Hendrik Michael
University of Bamberg
The mission statement of the International Association of Literary Journalism Studies broadly defines literary journalism to be “journalism as literature.” It is a genre of nonfiction writing that combines discursive strategies and research practices of traditional journalism with storytelling techniques more commonly associated with fiction.
Interrelations of literature and journalism are historically varied and complex. The historical roots of literary journalism have been traced back to the advent of mass media in the 16th century. Since then the genre has been adopted in different journalism cultures across the globe and has gone by various names. Its best known practitioners arguably are the so-called New Journalists of the 1960s and 1970s. But this period, which many regard as the genres most prominent phase, marks just one heyday in the genre’s checkered history. Thomas Connery, among others, argued that Pulitzer’s New Journalism of the 1880s and 1890s marked the first most prominent phase of the genre in mainstream journalism. Only recently, Robert Alexander called literary journalism “a genre whose time, once again, has come.”
The continuous re-emergence of literary journalism makes the genre an interesting subject to study changes of media, journalism and culture. My field of research focuses on the formation phase of modern journalism in the late 19th century and explores the role of literary journalism within this process.
One of the most active fields of research in the genre has been author studies. By pointing out commendable examples of literary journalism, researchers attempt to build a canon. However, with respect to the 19th century, this canon aims mainly at the upper echelons of journalism. It includes better-known journalistic and literary writers. Notably, Richard Harding Davis, Stephen Crane, Abraham Cahan, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, to name a few, are all male. Only recently research on women journalists attracted wider interest.
Through Karen Roggenkamp’s research on women journalists of the period I came across Elizabeth Jordan’s journalistic work for Pulitzer’s The World: “The True Stories of the News,” a popular reportage series that was a stepping stone for Jordan’s later career in journalism and as a novelist.
Although less recognized as part of the canon, I realized that the “True Stories of the News” could reveal important aspects of journalistic story-telling in urban mass periodicals and the significance of literary journalism in this context. Roggenkamp kindly sent me a handful of facsimiles and during a research trip to Minneapolis, I was able to get hold of the full series through the University of Minnesota Library in 2015.
Here, I want to briefly outline why I believe that The World’s “True Stories of the News” is an example for the initial commodification of literary journalism in mass periodicals. By the term commodification I mean the implementation of literary journalism as a marketable good in mass journalism. My analysis followed a heuristic approach that differentiates three dimensions: media messages, media agents and media organizations.
As regards media organizations, I considered the newspaper’s hierarchies, its resources such as money, staff, information technology, and informal competencies, and furthermore its production routines of news-gathering and processing. With respect to media agents it proved helpful to look at journalists’ working methods and job conditions, as well as personal experience and biographies. I believe these intervening factors shaped the message level, meaning the narrative form and content of a journalistic genre. With respect to narrative form I differentiated between the components voice, character, time and space.
Let me start on the message level by outlining the form and content of the series. The “True Stories of the News” appeared regularly in The World for about half a year between November 1890 and May 1891. More than 90 articles were published in this period of time. Often the series was printed in the section “Metropolis Day by Day” on page 9. The articles ran over about a third of a newspaper page. Their layout was characteristic for the New Journalism of Pulitzer’ World with screaming headlines, bold leads and sub-headings.
Stories dealt with curious events like a freak-show, intrigues in upper-class circles, or curious events from other parts of the country. But by and large the topics focused on the life of the lower classes and immigrants. None of the articles had a byline. Only through autobiographical claims do we know that Elizabeth Jordan authored all of the articles.
Recurring topics from the lower strata of New York social life were court cases, tragic events in the life of immigrants and workers, visits to the city’s institutions, and accounts of the day-to-day chasm between cultures. Thereby “True Stories of the News” fit into the routine local reporting of the New York press. Evident is a tendency for personalization and tapping into social issues as regards housing, health-care and immigration in a rapidly changing urban environment. Interesting is the fact that the series selected events and situations that had been previously reported as small news items. The marginal thereby became relevant and received public attention.
With regard to narrative form an analysis of journalistic voice yield interesting results. My findings show that voice is quite ambiguous in the series. Less than a fifth of sampled articles feature a homodiegetic narrator (someone who is part of the story). Most articles feature a heterodiegetic narrator (someone who is not directly linked to the story). Events are often told from a limited epistemic and emotional perspective. This figural perspective is sometimes identified as a “World reporter” or a “World man,” only in three instances “a female reporter.” Another dominant feature of voice is the presence of an omniscient narrator, someone who seems to tell and comment the story from an elevated position.
In contrast, only 15 or so stories feature a homodiegetic narrator. Direct evidence for a homodiegetic narrator appears in the reportage, “Only a Case of Mumps” and “The Happiest Woman in New York.” In both texts, personal and spatial deixis can be detected, which establishes a direct reference between narrator and story. In “Only a Case of Mumps,” the narrator, although covert in most of the story, speaks up to demand better health-care: “[This] hospital is a necessity. I have advocated it for years. So has Dr. Jacobi.“
Overall, the analysis of narrative voice shows that even though most articles have a male figural focalizer or an omniscient narrator, the narratorial perspective, referring to attitudes and ideology, is still identical between a heterodiegetic and a homodiegetic narrator.
This means, Jordan, then unknown to be the author of all texts, deliberately manipulated the narrative situation. Obviously this created variation from story to story and possibly contributed to their relative longevity. On the other hand, Jordan indirectly manipulated her readers, too. By creating a narrative ambivalence she strengthened the collective public voice of The World, while also creating an overlap between this collective voice and the individual voice of the seldom present women reporter.
Overall, results of my textual analysis suggest that characteristics of literary journalism were successfully adapted to a feature series in the context of New York’s mass print market. To understand how a Elizabeth Jordan was able to establish the genre in form and practice, I want to point out some aspects about the media organization and its journalistic agents.
It must be acknowledged that publishing became less profitable at the end of the 1880s. Market competition forced papers to invest more in new technologies and expand their correspondent networks while advertising revenues stalled. This resulted in soaring news-gathering costs while the market grew more and more saturated.
To balance spending, labor costs for the city staff was cut drastically. Even the biggest papers like The World, while still expanding their staff, cut employment costs. Their local reporting still kept up in quality because editorial resources and news-gathering routines were bound to relatively flat hierarchies. The moderating influence of managing editor John A. Cockerill in the newsroom was already recognized by contemporaries. His regime still allowed for innovative practices to be realized. The innovation of stunt reporting can be considered an example of this.
While providing chances for women to make a career in journalism that wasn’t confined to the “Women’s Pages,” editors certainly exploited new women reporters, sending them on sometimes dangerous assignments to get a “fresh” reaction about deplorable conditions in the big city.
Informal feedback was established to keep staff motivated and channel the production process towards editorial goals. Such feedback consisted of an internal credit system, displaying specific journalists’ ‘model stories’ for a week in the newsroom.
On the agent level this fired up job competition. Bear in mind that, around 1890, about 100,000 people wanted to make a career in journalism, meaning if you underperformed you were given the boot pretty quickly. In addition the role of women journalists was constantly under attack by male colleagues. In her autobiography, Elizabeth Banks pointed out the growing competition among newspaper women as well.
To establish her position in the journalistic field, Jordan had to take a risk and escape the woman’s page duties, quitting her job at Peck’s Sun in Milwaukee and moving to New York.
She benefited from The World’s internal credit system. Her reportage “The Death of Number 9,” left a footprint and became The World’s “model story.” This emboldened Jordan to solidify her role by asking the managing editor to give her an extensive assignment just as Bly had three years earlier with her undercover reporting from Bellevue Asylum. Therefore Jordan’s “True Stories of the News” was surely a “task with entrepreneurial nature” as Alice Fahs pointed out. It competed with stunt-reporting and investigative reporting done by other women reporters.
Jordan’s job writing the series was most challenging. In order to crank out two to three pieces a week, researching, meeting sources and writing meant working up to 18 hours a day. Her task was slavishly “done on time and space specifications” as Jordan recalled in her autobiography. In addition to gathering information and writing up stories, Jordan also was responsible for editing and laying out the Sunday edition of the paper. But this meant Jordan had achieved a solid standing within the newspaper’s institutional hierarchy.
Therefore, the presence of the male reporter in many stories may indicate that she also had the authority to coordinate research. Jordan may have made use of her better editorial position and relied on organizational routines of information gathering to delegate rookie reporters to visit a scene and provide their impressions in short-hand. For Jordan, this meant filtering the information and channeling it into stories, based on the facts gathered on the scene by somebody else.
On the other hand, this freed Jordan to investigate other cases in depth and write stories about the fate of individuals such as Annie Meyer, who had been secluded to her bedroom for 18 years due to illness. Karen Roggenkamp referred to this case in particular to illustrate how Jordan later on transformed these factual stories into very popular fictional stories about the world of journalism.
In this respect, one can definitely conclude that Jordan differed from other newspaper women with her work on “True Stories of the News.” Her status was indicated by earning higher wages than some male colleagues − $30 per week. Lincoln Steffens, in contrast, paid his reporters a meager $15 a week at the Commercial Advertiser. Most female journalists earned only a “delightfully erratic income,” as a contemporary essay about women journalists made clear.
Thus Jordan also helped to create what Alice Fahs called “an important new social space within the pages of the newspaper.” On the one hand, this was meant to be an interactive, participatory space: in “True Stories of the News” readers were invited to interact with the newspaper by tipping stories, seeking advice, and using the paper as their public forum. On the other hand, the series also created a new representational space that included women as emancipated subjects of the social world, not only as women reporters but also as heroines of news stories.
Working with the resources provided by The World Jordan achieved to make “True Stories of the News” highly compatible with the general wave of human-interest that swept urban mass periodicals in reviews, urban sketches, advice columns, interviews, profiles and other features − a phenomenon that Thomas Connery coined as a “paradigm of actuality.” The “True Stories of the News” became a successful product because it complied with a double-principle of journalistic production. The stories helped reduce complexity of the urban life world and engage readers, but also save resources and make profit in a time of increased market competition and saturation.
Thereby the feature series is an interesting case for historical genre studies:
First, it shows that while media systems and societies change overtime, the content and form of literary journalism has remained relatively stable. A research focus on the first prominent phase of literary journalism in American journalism, the triumph of the popular press in the 1880s and 1890s, reveals how the genre offered journalists very effective strategies to process information efficiently.
Second, the “True Stories of the News” prove that literary journalism cannot be merely evaluated from an aesthetic perspective but research should take into account the institutional conditions that allowed fostering a “humanistic approach” to news-writing, as Norman Sims has called it repeatedly.
Third, with respect to contemporary developments and challenges in journalism, an in-depth look at the commodification of literary journalism during the 1880s and 1890s may help us understand how specific genres offer the necessary stability to information processing in a time of New Obscurity, to borrow a phrase by Jürgen Habermas. Rudolf Stöber explains this necessity through biological analogy. He wrote just as “without stability in the reproduction process of genetics, the genes would go astray, without stability in communication, the same will happen to societies.”
Hendrik Michael is a doctoral candidate in the Institute of Communication Studies at the University of Bamberg (Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg), Germany.
"Media Representations of Race and Sex in the Long Civil Rights Movement"
Southern Historical Association 84th Annual Meeting
Birmingham AL; November 8-11, 2018
This panel is seeking to bring together scholars who are working on topics that explore media representations of race and sex in the Long Civil Rights Movement using social, cultural, and legal history perspectives. My paper for the panel examines newspaper coverage of a 1963 rape case involving a black teenager, a white woman, and a Japanese woman in Lynchburg, Virginia. The case garnered local and regional attention from Movement supporters who understood Lynchburg papers' coverage of the case as the reworking of the "black beast rapist" narrative, especially in the midst of local tensions between black and white city residents over civil rights campaigns.
This panel encourages paper proposals that consider how southerners – particularly black southerners – conceived of and contested raced and sexualized images, rhetoric, and ideas of difference in the Jim Crow South through the lens of media coverage. New work on cases such as the Scottsboro Nine, Martinsville Seven, and Emmett Till cases are also welcome as well as scholarship that uncovers new histories and voices relating to the panel theme.
Interested individuals should submit a brief paper description (up to 150 words) and a brief author biography to Samantha Bryant at email@example.com by September 1, 2017.
Contact Info: Samantha Bryant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The American Journalism Historians Association’s Education Committee has named Dr. Amber Roessner of the University of Tennessee as the winner of its 2017 National Award for Excellence in Teaching.
"I am truly humbled and honored to receive the American Journalism Historians Association's National Award for Excellence in Teaching," Roessner said. "To be mentioned in the same breath as Betty Winfield, David Sloan, Leonard Teel, Janice Hume, Earnest Perry and the other past recipients, whom I hold in high esteem and count as my pedagogical mentors, is a great privilege and a mark of distinction that I will always treasure. In many respects, I have developed my teaching style based upon the models of these wise pedagogues, who seek to passionately impart to every student that they encounter the influence of the histories of media, journalism, and mass communication on our ways of life."
Roessner, who joined the University of Tennessee School of Journalism & Electronic Media faculty in 2010, teaches a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate classes in the areas of mass communication history, writing and journalism. She’s even taught a seminar on hiking and the history of the Great Smoky Mountains.
"We received excellent nominations for this award, so the selection was not easy," Dr. Kaylene Armstrong, chair of the education committee, said. "However, we were pleased to select Amber Roessner for this honor. The judges noted the solid support in the letters of recommendation written on her behalf, her integration of experiential learning and her commitment to interdisciplinary work as just a few of the strengths she has as an educator that make her so deserving of this award."
Special Issue Call for Papers: Journalism History through Digital Archives
Deadline: 15 September 2017
While analytical methods have been steadily developing in relation to research on journalism in its various live digital forms (e.g. news websites, twitter, and Facebook) there has been less focus on developing research on and related methodologies for journalistic productions accumulating in digital archives. While such inventories hold great potential for researchers of journalism history they also pose a set of challenges.
The amount of material raises questions of selection, data clean-up, meta-data availability and the ensuing possibilities of search and analysis. Linked to this, the possible malleability of access, retrieval and analytical procedures is challenging, as this requires new digital skills, products and collaborations. Yet, the amount of material and avenues of access and analysis simultaneously open a range of possibilities for investigating vast amounts of data across former barriers (e.g. media platforms or archives) and this allows for re-visiting of old questions as well as developing new ones.
Against the background of such wider issues this special issue elicits papers that do journalism history through digital archives in various geographical, cultural and temporal contexts. While such ventures necessarily raise theoretical and methodological questions the call is for contextual reflections rather than generic discussions of the potential and problems of digital archives. Following this, submissions can — but do not have to — engage with journalism history projects
In relation to the journalism history projects papers may in various degrees reflect on
Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to guest editor Henrik Bødker (email@example.com) no later than September 15, 2017. Selected authors will be invited to contribute by January 15 (2018). A maximum 8,000-word paper (including references, tables, etc.) will be considered for publication, subject to double blind peer-review.
Abstracts to guest editor: September 15, 2017
Authors notified: October 1, 2017
Full papers for peer review: January 15, 2018
Reviews to authors: March 15, 2018
Revised full papers: April 15, 2018
Guest Editor: Henrik Bødker, Aarhus University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society and the American Printing History Association are hosting a joint conference on October 6-7, 2017 at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. Registration is now open for "Good, Fast, Cheap: Printed Words & Images in America Before 1900."
This conference will explore the production, distribution, reception, and survival of printed words and images in America to 1900. In an era in which the process of design had not been separated from production, the purpose of the conference is to explore the inter-relation between composition, design, and printing processes. In the face of the familiar constraints of deadline and budget, early American printers used the materials and equipment at their disposal to design and produce necessary items in the service of democracy, education, science, commerce, entertainment, and the arts.
Their inventiveness and problem solving often resulted in work ranging from the pedestrian to the sublime, and that might, when considered carefully, offer lessons for today's communications environment. How can the past inform the present and the future? How can the study of continuity and change through printing history inform contemporary design?
Curator of Children's Literature
American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury St.
Worcester, MA 01609
The American Journalism Historians Association is seeking nominations for three board positions and the office of second vice president.
Board members serve for three years and are expected to attend board meetings at the annual convention.
The 2nd VP, under normal circumstances, rises to the presidency in two years, then serves on the board for an additional two years. A nominee to the Board of Directors or to any of the other Officer positions must have been a member of the AJHA for at least one calendar year immediately preceding the date of the election. No more than one person from an institution can serve on the board at one time.
To make nominations and to vote in an election, an individual must be a member of AJHA. Those who wish to nominate candidates may do so by sending an email with the nominee's name, contact information and affiliation to election and nominations committee chair Amber Roessner, University of Tennessee, email@example.com.
Please confirm the candidate's willingness to serve before sending the nomination to Amber, and if possible, you should send a brief bio of the candidate.
Deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. Sept. 1. Nominations may also be made from the floor during the 2017 conference in Little Rock, Ark.
The American Journalism Historians Association has selected Thomas J. Hrach as the winner of its 2017 Book of the Year Award for his 2016 work, “The Riot Report and the News: How the Kerner Commission Changed Media Coverage of Black America.”
Hrach will receive his award and discuss his research during a special session at the 36th annual AJHA Convention, to be held Oct. 12-14 in Little Rock, Ark.
“I am honored and grateful that my colleagues who study journalism history have chosen to recognize my work,” Hrach said. “I have enjoyed being a member of the AJHA and the support I have received from the members is appreciated.” Hrach is associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Memphis.
In researching this book, Hrach relied upon original documents from the 1968 Kerner Commission at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, documents about Otto Kerner from the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill., and interviews with people willing to share their memories of the commission’s work. Citing his concerns about “the future of journalism as a profession in our current economic and political climate,” Hrach said he hoped his book will show the importance of professional journalism.
“Journalism is as important as ever,” Hrach said, adding he hoped his book would show “the power of good, quality journalism to improve the lives of people in a democratic nation.”
Editor’s Note: Ohio University Prof. Ellen Gerl presented her research-in-progress, “Operation Eggnog: Collier's 1951 Narrative Issue Takes on the Cold War,” at the recent International Association of Literary Journalism Studies conference held in Canada. The Intelligencer asked Prof. Gerl to tell us more about how and why she started researching this topic, and why this research is important and interesting for herself and our field.
By Prof. Ellen Gerl
I came across Collier’s special October 27, 1951, issue, “Preview of the War We Do Not Want,” while looking for examples of nuclear doomsday narratives. I planned to expand some previous research on the St. Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information, a group whose newsletter story about their city post nuclear bombing was picked up in the Saturday Review and other national media. But I dropped that research idea. The Collier’s issue was just too interesting: three hundred pages of fact-filled reportage about a hypothetical World War III; bylines of Edward R. Murrow, Red Smith, Marguerite Higgins and others; and the in-house codename Operation Eggnog. Although a secret code name was reason enough to investigate, I also noticed that the issue’s editor was Cornelius Ryan, who would go on to write the non-fiction bestseller The Longest Day and whose papers happened to be located at Ohio University, my academic home.
Unfortunately, my elation over visiting an archive that didn’t require travel funds was short-lived. The collection lacked material from Ryan’s tenure at Collier’s. But Crowell-Collier Publishing Company correspondence held at the New York Public Library’s archives showed how editorial staff shaped the issue. Over ten months, Ryan traveled to Europe and across the United States to cajole writers to participate. At their New York offices, editors debated how the fake war would start, who should write about women, and whether they might convince Winston Churchill to pen a story. In all, the magazine spent an extra $40,000 on articles, sold double a normal issue’s advertising and printed an extra half million copies.
Historian Frank Luther Mott wrote that the magazine’s “motives were patriotic,” and letters I read indicated that the U. S. State Department unofficially supported the project. It also seems some Collier’s editors disliked the U. S. policy of containment, favoring a conquer communism head-on strategy. The editors’ note in the front of the issue described their big, and not-very humble, goals: “(1) to warn the evil masters of the Russian people that their vast conspiracy to enslave humanity is the dark downhill road to WW III; (2) to sound a powerful call for reason and understanding between the peoples of the West and East--before it’s too late; (3) to demonstrate that if The War We Do Not Want is forced upon us, we will win.”
Robert E. Sherwood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former director of the Office of War Information, wrote the issue’s introductory article. When he turned in his manuscript, he commented to editors that he thought his piece should be “coldly factual as possible,” not sensational, so that the reader would think: “God this is it! This is precisely what can happen.”
My IALJS presentation focused on the markers of literary journalism within the issue such as concrete details, cinematic scenes and emotional appeals. The issue also raised the question of what role truthiness plays in “hybrid” texts that mix facts and fiction. Scholar Annjeanette Wiese’s work was helpful here. I also discussed the mechanism of transportation in literary narratives, that is, the extent to which readers’ beliefs are affected when they become lost in a text. I found recent work on transportation and persuasion by researchers Timothy C. Brock, Melanie Green and Karen Dill fascinating on this subject.
Overall, I suspect that readers did not suspend belief as much as they wanted to believe that democracy would always prevail.
I am uncertain where to take this research next, but there’s much here to mine: Cold War propaganda, ethical issues, 1950s-style fake news. I’d be interested to hear from AJHA members who are Cold War media historians, which I am not.
The only disappointing research finding? The codename Operation Eggnog, the editors noted, was just a meaningless moniker for “easy office identification.”
Prof. Gerl is Associate Professor, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University.
Editor’s Note: University of Arizona Prof. Susan E. Swanberg, J.D., Ph.D., presented her paper, “Writing While Under the Influence: John Hersey and the Writings of Hiroshima Eyewitness John A. Siemes, S.J.,” at the recent International Association of Literary Journalism Studies conference held in Canada. The Intelligencer asked Dr. Swanberg to tell us more about how and why she started researching this topic, and why this research is important and interesting for herself and our field.
By Prof. Susan E. Swanberg
University of Arizona
"If ever there was a subject calculated to make a writer overwrought and a piece overwritten, it was the bombing of Hiroshima; yet Hersey's reporting was so meticulous, his sentences and paragraphs were so clear, calm, and restrained, that the horror of the story he had to tell came through all the more chillingly." ‘John Hersey’ (obituary) The New Yorker (1993)(1)
John Hersey’s Hiroshima is a compelling masterpiece, a tour de force no less terrifying and moving than the day it was published in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker magazine.(2)
The lore associated with the writing of Hiroshima is fascinating. New Yorker editor, William Shawn, apparently suggested that Hersey write about Hiroshima and Hersey modeled the book’s outline on the structure of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey – which Hersey read while in sick bay in the belly of a boat on its way to the vanquished city.(3)
The provenance of Hiroshima tempts a curious reader to reconstruct Hersey’s creative path from journalist, to fiction author (A Bell for Adano), to author of Hiroshima. Hersey’s New Yorker obituary described him as a novelist and a teacher but “above all a reporter.”(4)
How did Hersey move with such fluidity between fiction and nonfiction? The evolution of an author’s voice is at the crux of the creative process.
Voices of the Atomic Age
I became fascinated with Hersey’s best-known work as I researched another important voice of the Atomic Age – William Leonard Laurence, the New York Times science journalist who was embedded for four months with the War Department, ostensibly as the Manhattan Project’s “historian.”(5)
After reading Laurence’s Pulitzer Prize-winning accounts of the development and use of the atomic bomb, I picked up Hiroshima, which I reluctantly admit I’d given only a desultory reading when in high school.
I read Hiroshima, read several of Laurence’s books, then read Hiroshima again. I realized that both Laurence and Hersey mentioned a Jesuit mission within Hiroshima proper and a Jesuit novitiate at Nagatsuka, several miles outside the Hiroshima city limits. Names of Jesuits associated with the mission and the novitiate were mentioned in the works of both authors. It didn’t take long for me to identify and locate the writings of Father John A. Siemes, S.J. – pivotal influence on both Laurence and Hersey.(6)
Father John A. Siemes was a German Jesuit priest, born in Cologne in 1907 and ordained in 1937. A professor at Tokyo’s Catholic University, now known as Sophia University, Siemes taught philosophy and published a number of scholarly works. After the bombing of Tokyo Siemes moved, along with a number of his students, to the novitiate at Nagatsuka.(7,8)
On August 6, 1945, when the bomb struck, Siemes was at the novitiate on the outskirts of Hiroshima. After the bombing, Siemes filed an eyewitness report with the Vatican. A version of Siemes’ report was reprinted, with the permission of the Vatican magazine, Jesuit Mission, in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Siemes’ report began as follows:
Up to August 6th, occasional bombs, which did no great damage, had fallen on Hiroshima. Many cities roundabout, one after the other, were destroyed, but Hiroshima itself remained protected. There were almost daily observation planes over the city but none of them dropped a bomb. The citizens wondered why they alone had remained undisturbed for so long a time. There were fantastic rumors that the enemy had something special in mind for this city, but no one dreamed that the end would come in such a fashion as on the morning of August 6th.(9)
"August 6th began in a bright, clear, summer morning. About seven o'clock, there was an air raid alarm which we had heard almost every day and a few planes appeared over the city. No one paid any attention and at about eight o'clock, the all-clear was sounded."(10)
"Suddenly-the time is approximately 8: 14-the whole valley is filled by a garish light which resembles the magnesium light used in photography, and I am conscious of a wave of heat. I jump to the window to find out the cause of this remarkable phenomenon, but I see nothing more than that brilliant yellow light. As I make for the door, it doesn't occur to me that the light might have something to do with enemy planes…. I am sprayed by fragments of glass. The entire window frame has been forced into the room. I realize now that a bomb has burst and I am under the impression that it exploded directly over our house or in the immediate vicinity."(11)
Siemes’ report continued in the same dry, clinical tone. He recounted a procession of injured people from Hiroshima up the valley to Nagatsuka, the gathering of survivors in Asano Park in Hiroshima, the recovery of frail Father Kleinsorge from the ruins of the Jesuit mission in Hiroshima and the journey of Kleinsorge and his Jesuit colleagues back to the novitiate.
Although Hersey’s account focuses on six hibakusha (bombing survivors), only one of whom, Father Kleinsorge, is a colleague of Siemes, Hersey’s account reflects the somber but chilling tone of Siemes’ report. Many whispers of Siemes’ report appear in Hiroshima, including the following items:
"A rumor was going around that the Americans were saving something 'special' for the city of Hiroshima."(12)
"The flash produced by the bomb was like a giant photographic flash."(13)
"Mr. Fukai, secretary of the diocese, fled in despair back to the burning city and was never seen again."(14)
"A group of sick, burned horses stand and wait on the Misasa Bridge with their heads hanging."(15)
"Father Kleinsorge encountered 22 victims whose eyes had melted from the blast."(16)
Stronger than a whisper is the material Hersey quoted from Siemes’ report at pages 89-90 of the first Vintage Books paperback edition of Hiroshima:
"Father Kleinsorge and the other German Jesuit priests, who, as foreigners, could be expected to take a relatively detached view, often discussed the ethics of using the bomb. One of them, Father Siemes, who was out at Nagatsuka at the time of the attack, wrote in a report to the Holy See in Rome: 'Some of us consider the bomb in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civilian population. Others were of the opinion that in total war, as carried on in japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction. It seems logical that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?'”(17)
The Crux of the Matter
The tone and tenor of Hiroshima resemble the tone and tenor of Siemes’ report. Horrifying and noteworthy vignettes recounted by Siemes are put to stunning use in Hiroshima. Although it is true that many of the Jesuits must have observed the same events as Father Siemes, and that Hersey undoubtedly interviewed more than one of the priests, the impact of Siemes’ report on Hersey’s Hiroshima is apparent.
Soon I plan to visit Yale University’s Benecke library where I will peruse the Hersey archives and, hopefully, gain a better understanding of the process Hersey used to identify his Hiroshima interviewees. There are secrets I would like to unravel.
At this point, I can add two stories to the Hiroshima lore. First, Hersey was so impressed by Siemes’ words that the author adapted and used some of the priest’s language when he gave out autographs.(18,19) An exemplar of one of these autographs appears in Figure 1. [Figure 1 to be posted soon--DSC]
The second bit of lore is this: in trying to uncover what happened to Father Siemes in his later years, I found a newspaper article that mentioned the date of the priest’s death. I was so stunned that I had to do some fact checking, so I contacted Father Francis Britto, S.J., a younger colleague of Siemes, who verified that Father Siemes died on August 6, 1977 – Hiroshima Day.(21)
(1) “John Hersey,” Obituary. New Yorker, April 5, 1993, 111. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1993/04/05/john-hersey
(2) John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” New Yorker, August 31, 1946, 15.
(3) Ben Yagoda, About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made (New York: Scribner, 2000), 185-186.
(4) “John Hersey,” Obituary. New Yorker, April 5, 1993, 111.
(5) Susan E. Swanberg, “Half Life: Examining the Nuclear Narrative of William L. “Atomic Bill” Laurence, New York Times Science Journalist and Propagandist for the Atomic Age,” (unpublished manuscript, August 1, 2017), Microsoft Word File.
(6) Father John A. Siemes S.J., “An Eye-Witness Account of Hiroshima,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1, no.11, (1946): 2-6. There are a number of versions of Siemes’ report. While the Bulletin indicates that this version was “reprinted by permission of The Jesuit Mission,” there are slight variations between the Bulletin and Mission versions.
(7) William L. Laurence, Dawn Over Zero (New York: Knopf, 1946), 245.
(8) Francis Britto, S.J., e-mail message to author, January 21, 2017.
(9) Siemes, “Eye-Witness Account of Hiroshima,” p.1.
(13) Hersey, “Hiroshima,” p.3
(14) Ibid., 14.
(15) Ibid., 29.
(16) Ibid., 43.
(17) Ibid., 51.
(18) Ibid., 89-90.
(19) Interestingly, Father Siemes appears in an American propaganda film made after the bombing of Hiroshima. “The Atom Strikes!” features a cameo appearance of Father Siemes about 16 minutes into the film. “The Atom Strikes!” can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpZBSXuJ5yc
(20) I presented some of the information in this essay at the IALJS meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia in May of 2017. Upon discussing my presentation with a female colleague sitting next to me in one of the sessions, she happened to mention that Father Siemes’ “crux of the matter” quotation sounded like words Hersey used in his autographs. I regret to say that I do not know the name of this colleague, but would like to acknowledge the role she played in my discovery that Hersey adopted Siemes’ language and used it in his autographs. If you read this and identify yourself, kind colleague, I will acknowledge you properly. Thank you!
(21) Francis Britto, S.J., e-mail message to author, January 21, 2017.
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