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New Journalism was a literary movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Combining the techniques of fiction writing with the fact-based approach of reporting, the writing that sprang from this movement demonstrated an aspiration to literary excellence in journalism. The term was crystallized by Tom Wolfe in his 1973 book, The New Journalism, a collection of essays and excerpts describing and demonstrating the new style.
Writers commonly cited as exemplifying the New Journalism movement have included Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer. Not all of these authors embraced the New Journalism designation; notably, Capote resisted being labeled a journalist and preferred to call his book In Cold Blood a nonfiction novel. Rather than publishing their work in newspapers, pieces by these writers often appeared in magazines. Some of the publications at the vanguard of New Journalism were The New Yorker, New York, Harper’s, Esquire and Rolling Stone.
According to Wolfe, the literary techniques that defined New Journalism included a narrative that unfolds in “scenes” rather than the historical explanations; extensive use of dialog; a strong point of view within the story, either that of the author or that of another person involved in the events being reported, assembled from diaries, interviews or other forms of research; and the use of illustrative, revealing details that ordinarily would not be included in traditional reporting. These techniques had previously been used almost exclusively in novels and short stories. Traditional news writing, by contrast, focused on the hard facts without interpreting or personalizing the data, simply reporting what happened, when it happened and who was involved.
In addition to the shared formal characteristics of the new style, the movement’s writers shared a common approach to the process of reporting. Embedding himself or herself in the subject matter — a practice known as “saturation reporting” — allowed the writer to observe the scenes, conversations and details in the piece firsthand. Critics of the style argue that immersion in the subject matter made it impossible for the writer to report objectively on events.
Unlike traditional journalism, which aims for objectivity and reporting the facts without subjective interpretations, New Journalism was characterized by its subjectivity. This prompted criticism that the new approach to reporting blended fact with the author’s interpretations of events, making it difficult for the reader to know what to believe. According to proponents of the movement, however, it was just this combination of a strong point of view with scrupulously researched facts that gave this form of journalism its power.
In Cold Blood is probably my favorite example of new journalism not so much for what it achieves stylistically but just because it is such an amazingly readable book. I picked it up and could barely put it down to eat or sleep.
Truman Capote deserves all the credit in the world for what he accomplished in that book. Not many authors could pull off a feat of both reporting and imagining as deep as Capote did.
One of my favorite pieces of new journalism is one that never gets talked abut by an author that has been tragically overlooked. It is "Anyone's Daughter" by Shana Alexander. It is about the trial of Patty Hearst but in true new journalistic fashion Alexander talks about herself a lot and her own relationship with her daughter.
So many of the most famous examples of new journalism strike me as purely narcissistic. There is nothing gained by the addition of the author into the story, they are just so vain they cannot help talking about themselves. but Alexanders discussion of her own relationship with her daughter juxtaposed against all the issues of femininity and family and responsibility that the Patty Hearst trial raised was really interesting and effective. I highly recommend it.
Plus, it is a great discussion of the trial which was fascinating for those who do not know much about it.
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