New Journalism: An Unconventional Style

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  • Topic: New Journalism, Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote
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New Journalism

New Journalism was a style of 1960s and 1970s news writing and journalism which used literary techniques deemed unconventional at the time. The term was codified with its current meaning by Tom Wolfe in a 1973 collection of journalism articles he published as The New Journalism, which included works by himself, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Robert Christgau, and others.

Articles in the New Journalism style tended not to be found in newspapers, but rather in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, CoEvolution Quarterly, Esquire Magazine, New York, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and for a short while in the early 1970s, Scanlan's Monthly.


Gay Talese, in 2006, at the Strand Bookstore in New York City. Various trends and tendencies throughout the history of American Journalism have been labeled “new journalism.”Robert E. Park, for instance, in his Natural History of the Newspaper, referred to the advent of the penny press in the 1830s as “new journalism.”[1] Likewise, the appearance of theyellow press, papers such as Joseph Pulitzer's New York Worldin the 1880s, led journalists and historians to proclaim that a “New Journalism” had been created. Ault and Emery, for instance, said "Industrialization and urbanization changed the face of America during the latter half of the Nineteenth century, and its newspapers entered an era known as that of the ‘New Journalism.’ ”[2] In 1960 John Hohenberg, in The Professional Journalist, called the interpretive reporting which developed after World War II a “new journalism which not only seeks to explain as well as to inform; it even dares to teach, to measure, to evaluate.”[3]

During the sixties and seventies the term enjoyed widespread popularity, often with meanings bearing manifestly little or no connection with one another. Although James E. Murphy noted that '“...most uses of the term seem to refer to something more specific than vague new directions in journalism”[4] Curtis D. MacDougal devoted the Preface of the Sixth Edition of his Interpretative Reporting to New Journalism and cataloged many of the contemporary definitions: “Activist, advocacy, participatory, tell-it-as-you-see-it, sensitivity, investigative, saturation, humanistic, reformist and a few more.”[5]

The Magic Writing Machine—Student Probes of the New Journalism, a collection edited and introduced by Everette E. Dennis, came up with six categories, labelled new nonfiction (reportage), alternative journalism ("modern muckraking"), advocacy journalism, underground journalism and precision journalism.[6] Michael Johnson's The New Journalism addresses itself to three phenomena: the underground press, the artists of nonfiction, and changes in the established media.[7]

Journalists recognized as using the style include Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Truman Capote, P. J. O'Rourke, George Plimpton, Terry Southern, and Gay Talese. Hunter S. Thompson was a major practitioner of new journalism and gonzo journalism, his own particular style. Thompson's first book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, is a more conventional piece, and shows the beginnings of a more memoir-based approach to reportage. Gay Talese's 1966 article for Esquire, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, was an influential piece of new journalism that gave a detailed portrait of Frank Sinatra without ever interviewing him.

Norman Mailer at the Miami Book Fair International of 1988 New journalism writers brought new approaches to areas already covered by the mainstream press. The psychedelic movement was something that many of the writers of the period covered, such as in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The Vietnam War was another common topic, as was the political turmoil on the homefront. Terry Southern's Grooving in Chi documented the 1968 Chicago National Democratic Convention for Esquire...
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