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. ) 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 journalism which overlap with fiction. Again, this theme of convergence is present in her thoughts. Weiss (2004, p. 179) asks a good question: “Has the blurring of lines from non-fiction to fiction become excessive and confusing? ” Roorbach (2001, p. 7) goes some way in answering this and states that “an over-insistence on verifiable accuracy has about the same deadening effect on art as an over-insistence on conformity in style and subject. ” So it follows that the best course of action when considering the place of New Journalism is to nod towards the pieces of work that take responsibility for both fact and fiction.
Somerset Maugham (1938, p. 19) agreed that fiction and journalism are intrinsically linked and says, of news, that “it is raw material straight from the knacker’s yard and we are stupid if we turn our noses up at it because it smells of blood and sweat. ” These are the words of a literary great who feels that writers must take journalism into account in their work. Believing there was whole new genre, Capote called his book, In Cold Blood, a non-fiction novel, which is a book that employs the conventions of fiction to tell a true story. The work is about the mass murder of a Kansas farming family.
Although the book was the peak of Capote’s career as a writer, and was hailed as an international success, it – along with New Journalism as a whole – was heavily criticised, due to facts being changed, scenes being added and dialogue being made-up. This criticism can be seen as a positive thing though, in terms of defining New Journalism. By stating that aspects of his style of writing makes it neither journalism, nor literature, the criticism creates a new genre for Capote’s work to sit, comfortably, in. Interestingly, Capote, along with Mailer and many other authors, never agreed to their style’s comparisons to Wolfe’s school of narration.
Much to the contrary, many of these writers would deny that their work was generically relevant to other new Journalists at the time. In a 1966 Atlantic article, Dan Wakefield said that the non-fiction work of Capote elevated reporting to the level of literature. Although praising the work of Capote, this goes some way in saying that literature is better than journalism. This is evidence for what Capote said his critics felt: “Combining literature and journalism is little more than a literary solution for fatigued novelists. ” (Plimpton, 1967, p. 16) Newfield (1967, p. 0) said that, “This new genre defines itself by claiming many of the techniques that were once the unchallenged terrain of the novelist: tension, symbol, cadence, irony, prosody, imagination. ” Gay Talese’s 1966 article for Esquire magazine, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, was a very influential piece of New Journalism that gave a very detailed portrait of Frank Sinatra, without ever having interviewed him. Talese undertook huge amounts of research, as did many of the New journalists, including Capote with In Cold Blood. Unlike Capote, Talese did not invent facts of characters.
His article is, therefore, an example of New Journalism that falls under the category of a journalistic genre, as opposed to a distinct genre. In agreement with the methods of Talese and critical of those of Capote, writer Barry Seigel, who heads up a literature and journalism course at the University of California, says that he teaches of “nonfiction prose that transcends the limits of daily journalism. ” He nonetheless “rejects absolutely the notion of imagining or otherwise fabricating quotes, inventing characters or blurring different sources into composites. (Eisenhuth and McDonald, 2007, p. 41) If the aim of most New Journalism is to write so vividly and report in such intense bursts that a scene leaps from the page, Talese goes in the other direction. He slowly drills down through the mundane subterranean reality of human existence to its “fictional” core. He said he wanted “to evoke the fictional current that flows between the reality. ” Neither of these examples, nor any of the quotes gleaned from research, point towards New Journalism falling under the category of a literary genre.
Obviously there will be those that do not wish to have it associated with the word literature; they see it as a bastard child. Hartsock (2000, p. 7) states that New Journalism “reflects a rough, but not definite split between journalism and literature. ” He notes that some commentators, such as Lounsberry, who is affiliated with English studies, prefer to view it as a literary genre. Others, such as Connery, who is affiliated with journalism, prefer to view it as a journalistic genre. He adds that, “there long has been a bias against journalism by English studies. Eisenhuth and McDonald (2007, p. 49) say that some journalists tend to see the term as ‘bunging it on a bit,’ but the fact is that the notion of New Journalism is gaining acceptance, even in university English departments, which have traditionally disdained the reporting milieu that has nurtured so many novelists – the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Graham Green; and in more recent times, journalists turned non-fiction writers and novelists like Robert Drewe. ” Drewe was the focus of Conley’s 1998 article, Birth of a Novelist, Death of a Journalist.
Drewe is Australia’s most prominent author turned journalist. His first book, The Savage Crows, was well received, although at the time with some surprise, “like here is a dog that can ride a bicycle and play a trumpet at the same time, which was sort of flattering and slightly offensive” He said his transition to fiction entailed a grudging acceptance because of Australia’s tradition that novelists either came from the School of Hard Knocks – “the realist, outback, dingo-trapping background” – or from English Departments. (Conley, 1998, p. 0) There is still, to this day, an enormous amount of debate surrounding New Journalism and its place in the world of writing. There is, and always will be, a furore amongst steadfast writers that refuse to accept it into the literary world. Connery acknowledges “the difficulty of the form’s identity,” and that our understanding of New Journalism as a genre “is still very much emerging. ” (Hartsock, 2000, p. 3) The mere fact that Connery seeks to find a justification at all highlights the critical discomfort with the form’s identity.
Weber argues that this discomfort comes because “this category of serious writing is not well defined, and the many different terms used to describe it do not help. ” (Hartsock, 2000, p. 6) Here, he is obviously referring to the terms Literary Journalism, New Journalism, and Literary Non-fiction; which vary in use, depending on the commentator. It seems that an answer will never be reached as to whether or not New Journalism is a stand-alone genre. Without taking the sceptics and critics too much to heart, New Journalism seems to be nestled, just fine, in its own world. Lounsberry (1990, p. 5) sums things up in a nutshell, despite her affiliation towards New Journalism as a literary genre. She states that, “it does not really matter what name we give to this type of discourse; it is possible to study it without actually placing it under any specific category. ” References Books Collins Concise Dictionary, 1999. New Journalism. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers. Eisenhuth, S, MacDonald, W. , 2007. The Writer’s Reader – Understanding Journalism and Nonfiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hartsock, J. C. , 2000. A history of American Literary Journalism.
The Emergence of a Modern Narrative Form. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press. Lounsberry, B. , 1990. The Art of Fact – Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction. Lincoln: Greenwood Press. Maugham, S. , 1938. The Summing Up. London: Heinemann. Roggenkamp, K. , 2005. Narrating the News: New Journalism and Literary Genre in Late Nineteenth Century Newspapers and Fiction. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press. Roorbach, B. ,2001. The Art of Truth: Contemporary Creative Nonfiction. New York: Oxford University Press. Articles Conley, D. , 1998. Birth of a Novelist, Death of a Journalist.
Australian Studies in Journalism 7, 46-73, p1. Murphy, J. E. , 1974. The New Journalism: A Critical Perspective. Journalism Monographs, 34, p15. Newfield, J. , 1967. Hooked and Dead. New York Times Book Review, May 7, p. 20. Wakefield, D. , 1966. The personal Voice and the Impersonal Eye. The Atlantic, pp. 86-89 Weiss, C. , 2004. Reviving the Elephant; Bringing Literary Journalism Back into the Classroom. Schenley High School, p173. Websites Plimpton, G. , 1967. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. Online] Available at: ;http://www. thefreelibrary. com/Truman+Capote%3A+In+Which+Various+Friends,+Enemies,+Acquaintances,+and… -a020210227; [Accessed 27 November 2010) Wikipedia, 2010. New Journalism. [Online] Available at: ;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/New_Journalism; [Accessed 27 November 2010]. Wolfe, T. , 1972. Participant Reveals Main Factors Leading to Demise of the Novel, Rise of New Style Covering Events. New York Magazine. [Online] Available at: ;http://nymag. com/news/media/47353/; [Accessed 27 November 2010].
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