My lecturer teaching me History of the newspaper is a big fan of American journalism and this ‘new journalism’ concept that I only heard of when I came to China. The man behind this new journalism is an American Tom Wolfe of New York Times magazine and he has propagated this concept beyond America and all over Asia journalists have been following the trend, but they have mixed feelings.
In recent years since Tom Wolfe published his manifesto of the new journalism, a group of writers have been quietly securing a place at the very center of contemporary American literature for reportorially based, narrative-driven long form nonfiction. These new groups of journalists represent the continued maturation of American literary journalism.
According to my research, this new journalism explores the methods and techniques these journalists have developed, and looks backward to understand their dual heritage, their debts to their predecessors from both 1890s and 1960s.
The new concept bring a distinct set of cultural and social concerns to their work, which neither frustrated novelists nor wayward newspaper reporters who have benefited enormously from both the legitimacy of Wolfe’s legacy to non-fiction literacy.
This movement’s achievements are more reportorial than literary, which is why the focus of The New Journalism is on journalistic practice and method, as opposed to the theory or state of the genre. The days in which nonfiction writers test the limits of language and form have largely passed.
The New Journalism was a truly avant garde movement that expanded journalism’s rhetorical and literary scope by placing the author at the center of the story, channeling a character’s thoughts, using nonstandard punctuation and exploding traditional narrative forms. That freedom to experiment has had a tremendous influence on many of the New Journalists.
Story writing in this new journalism concept should be more of a novel with short paragraphs and less punctuations. When we read novels, we tend to imagine the set up explained by the writer, this is almost what the new journalism is all about. The story should be able to captivate the reader and transcends his or her imagination.
The story telling should be poetic so the readers can feel at ease to read and understand what the story is all about easily from the angle it is written from. Contrary to the traditional journalists, this new generation experiments more with the way one gets the story. To that end, they’ve developed innovative immersion strategies and extended the time they’ve spent reporting.
As some reporters now are literary stylists, their most significant innovations have involved experiments with the way they report the story, rather than the language they use to tell it. I can justifiably say that this new journalism is the literature of everyday life because it goes in the opposite direction, drilling down into the bedrock of ordinary experience.
The new journalism is turning reporting into an art as it emphasizes the importance of rigorous reporting on the events and characters of everyday life over turns of bravura or magnificent in writing style. What this new breed represents is less a school of thought, or rule-defined movement, than a shorthand way of describing the reportorial sensibility behind an increasingly significant body of work.
My lecturer in a short conversation said it isn’t important for a writer to use one particular method rather than another, what is crucial, is that every writer has a method of some kind; routines to cling to when everything goes wrong, rules to follow when you’re blocked or frustrated. After all, there are an infinite number of ways to organize one’s writing life, as he had his methods and knew other writers did, too, he said.
Perhaps the most general feature of the New Journalism is its insistence on the resemblances between fact and fiction, whereas the older journalism worked hard at playing those resemblances down. With its heavy reliance on the technical resources of novels and short stories, the New Journalism is not suggesting that its stories are not true; on the contrary, we are always told that an immense amount of research has gone into getting the facts straight.
Consequently, it is not suggesting, either, that we cannot distinguish any more between fact and fiction. What it is suggesting is that fiction is the only shape we can give to facts, that all shapes are fictions. And at this point we come so close to the universe of myth and fable that the new journalist, understandably alarmed, rushes out into the real world again, on a new assignment, to be reassured by the tangible, shapeless, incontrovertible facts of motiveless murder and random war.
New journalism wants us to tell the story using scenes rather than historical narrative as much as possible. Also we should report the dialogue in full like conventional speech rather than quotations and statements. Thirdly, the third-person point of view presents every scene through the eyes of a particular character, and we should record everyday details such as behavior, possessions, friends and families, which indicate the status life of the character.
Despite these elements, New Journalism is not fiction. It maintains elements of reporting including strict adherence to factual accuracy and the writer being the primary source. To get ‘inside the head’ of a character, the journalist asks the subject what they were thinking or how they felt.
Some American writers have linked the new journalism to the anthology of Vietnam era journalism. During the Vietnam reporting most of the American journalists writing style were contrary to the existing codes in practice at the time. These are tales of burnt draft cards, pop art, free love and drug runs to Mexico. Most importantly they’re generally told in either the first person, purely vicarious accounts for the reader to immerse themselves in, or as short stories that read as fluently as any fiction.
This new journalism is the very antithesis of the classic news reporting methodologies (who, what, where, when, why) taught in textbooks. Presently the old traditions are exhausted and no new one is yet established.
However, some journalists are opposed to the new journalism although they use the fiction techniques in their stories, but they have shifted away a little bit. Fiction techniques have not been abandoned, but they are being used sparingly and less flamboyantly to tell their stories.
Writers and editors offered several reasons for the New Journalism’s decline in a recent series of interviews. Young journalists entering the profession now are more interested in television and advocacy journalism than in stylish writing, and that both of these deemphasized the thorough reporting required by the New Journalism.
Another aspect that is affecting the new journalism is the financial concerns as readers prefer short, streamlined writing to the heavily detailed new journalism. Journalist tastes have changed over the years; it is difficult to find the space for long story. Most editors would be very angry if a reporter submits a 10,000 word story.
I think the new journalism concept fits the bill of fiction writings of novel and drama because they have the space available and there, one can give detailed explanation of an incident. But newspaper’s time and space are of essence, so publishing a full page detailed story can be substituted for a full page ad that brings in required funding.
After studying the new journalism, I told myself that if I have to practice it then I should be a novelist or playwright, but for newspaper writing there isn’t enough space for such entertainment as newspapers prefer a page of advert than a page of story. Journalism stories should be reader friendly by being short, precise, objective and truthful. So I will continue to be a traditional writer fulfilling the five Ws and H.
By Austin Thomas in China