OTF: Why New Journalism Works

Just read Paul Jun’s guest post at Men with Pens the other day (http://menwithpens.ca/hunter-thompson/) about emulating Hunter S. Thompson. In the process of writing a reply, I realized suddenly why New Journalism works.

A bit of back story first about why this matters. For those of you new to this blog, I’ve talked extensively about how I’m using the New Journalism style in my novel. (If you’re not familiar with New Journalism, check out the Wikipedia entry here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Journalism for a brief overview…) I’m taking a non-fiction writing style that borrows fiction-writing elements, and using it for a fictional story to give it a more realistic edge (I hope). It’s less complicated than it sounds.

Anyway, the knock against New Journalism has always been that it can’t be seen as a serious journalistic approach because of the fictional elements it uses. Personally, I don’t believe this – I think in certain situations, New Journalism conveys a bigger truth than traditional journalism ever could. But I didn’t know why I believed that to be true. Or at least I wasn’t able to put it into words.

Until now.

That is this: traditional journalism cannot convey emotion. It can convey facts, and indeed those facts might trigger emotions, especially a news story about war or a particularly heinous crime. But by its very objective nature, it cannot carry feeling on its own.

New Journalism, on the other hand, can and does. It allows the writer to get at emotional truths that straight journalism cannot. Which is precisely why it works. And why it gained such widespread acceptance (note: not universal, just widespread…)

So when you read Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved (http://www.kentuckyderby.info/kentuckyderby-party.php) or Jimmy Breslin’s Diggin JFK Grave Was His Honor,  (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/digging-grave-an-honor.htm) you realize that this is not true nuts-and-bolts journalism, yet the feeling behind both gives more colour and depth and truth than any reverse pyramid piece ever could.

Apparently, Frank Mankiewicz, who was George McGovern’s campaign manager in the 1972 US presidential election, said that Thompson’s coverage on the campaign trail the “the least factual, most accurate account” of the election.

I think that says it all.


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4 Responses to OTF: Why New Journalism Works

  1. Hi Graham,

    Your name appeared in the Men With Pens comment feed. So, I wandered over.

    I’ve been integrating the elements of fiction into my writing for awhile now. It can be just as suspenseful as fiction. Makes it fun to write!


    • Graham Strong says:

      Thanks Giulietta,

      Yes, I like adding suspense in my non-fiction as well, where possible. Kind of tight for the 400-600 word articles I generally write, but when I get it to work, it works well.

      For me, it’s adding those little “extraneous” bits of information that make the story. Usually those bits not only add colour to the article, but add the emotion too…

      Welcome to the blog!


  2. Paul Jun says:

    Hey Graham,

    Wonderful post. You said it best. Traditional journalism conveys facts and a story, but the New Journalism adds that . . . emotion to it — a very powerful one at that. I also feel like it’s more “fun” to read, so to say. More interesting, more attraction towards the story. When I read a traditional news story, I jus read it, then go, Okay, done. Depending on the story, sure, I may be appalled and shocked.

    With stories like Hunter’s, it makes me laugh and sometimes get the goosebumps.

    I think you explained this absolutely clear for those who wouldn’t be able to understand. I didn’t even go to the Wikipedia page — just read your whole post and now I have a better understanding.

    Thanks and I’m glad I inspired you to write this.


    • Graham Strong says:

      Thanks Paul!

      Thompson in particular is definitely fun to read. I’m not sure how long I could keep up with that style though, if I tried to copy it. It’s a fine line between Gonzo and gibberish…

      Welcome to the blog!


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