Literary Techniques Used in New Journalism

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Is New Journalism a literary genre? Analyse with reference to the literary techniques used in two examples of New Journalism.

Word Count - 2231

I suppose the most common sense point at which to start is by defining New Journalism, or Literary Journalism, as Eisenhuth and McDonald (2007, p. 38) say it is called at the “upper end of the spectrum.”

The Collins Concise Dictionary (1999, p. 995) defines New Journalism as “a style of journalism, using techniques borrowed from fiction to portray a situation of event as vividly as possible.”

Wikipedia (2010) defines it as “a style of 1960s and 1970s news writing and journalism that used literary techniques deemed unconventional at the time.”

The meaning of New Journalism has evolved over the the past one hundred years or so and has supposedly been coined by many a person, including the so-called founding father of New Journalism, Matthew Arnold (Roggenkamp, 2005, p. xii)

The term, with relevance to the above definitions, was codified with its current meaning by Tom Wolfe in his 1973 collection of New Journalism articles, The New Journalism, which included works by – most notably - himself, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and Joan Didion.

With reference to the aforementioned New Journalists, Tom Wolfe, in a 1972 New York Magazine article, said, “I know they never dreamed that anything they were going to write for newspapers or magazines would wreak such evil havoc in the literary world; causing panic, dethroning the novel as the number one literary genre, starting the first new direction in American literature in half a century. Nevertheless, that is what has happened.”

He went on to say that, “Bellow, Barth, Updike - even the best of the lot, Philip Roth - the novelists are all out there ransacking the literary histories and sweating it out, wondering where they now stand. 'Damn it all, Saul, the Huns have arrived.'”

So, this uproar is what begs several questions that these writers felt the need to be answered. Is New Journalism a literary genre, simply because it utilises the tools of fiction to give it colour? Is it a journalistic genre? Is it a genre all by itself?

Imagine journalism and literature both being a circle side by side; they stand alone. They are pushed together when attempting to work out the place of New Journalism in the world of writing; how far do they overlap? And if, when they meet, there is an even overlap, surely that creates a distinct genre?

Some argue that, as well as not being a literary genre, New Journalism is not a stand-alone genre at all. Murphy (1974, p. 15) says that, in his eyes, the main charge levelled against New Journalism is “criticism against it as a distinct genre.”

Truman Capote seems to disagree with this and says, “It seems to me that most contemporary novelists are too subjective. I wanted to exchange it, creatively speaking, for the everyday objective world we all inhabit. Reporting can be made as interesting as fiction, and done as artistically.” (Plimpton, 1967, p. 14)

This suggests that Capote believes that New Journalism falls on neither side of the fence. Instead, New Journalism is all about taking journalism with one hand, taking literature with the other, and pulling them both together. He wanted to make literature more objective, as journalism is, and he wanted to make journalism more creative, as literature is.

Conley (1998, p. 1) notes that, “Journalism and fiction are not usually mentioned in the same sentence unless in an unflattering sense, yet they have much in common.” Again, we are directed towards the two forms as separate, but partially overlapped.

Weiss (2004, p. 177) says that, “The tugs and pulls of fact versus fiction and memory versus imagination are evident within the genre of journalism.” She goes on to say that, “Journalism splintered from early reporting and took on many of the attributes of literature. There are many attributes of literary...
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