Tomorrow will be my first day participating in a journalism workshop aimed at producing narrative, enterprise pieces. To prepare our adviser had us read Tom Wolfe’s “The New Journalism,” and I have to say, it was a good read. But it did bring up some questions and concerns.

In his piece, Wolfe expressed the idea that this new form of journalism that was growing in the early 1960s, where reporters were turning out more narrative, novel-like pieces, was becoming a new contender to slip from the choke-hold novelists had the literary world in for nearly 90 years. Also, they were usually longer than your standard article, with Wolfe saying most of his pieces ended up being 2,000+ words long, sometimes growing to closer to 7,000 words.

“The New Journalism” paints a scene where reporting will go from the stale, objective, straight-forward medium it currently is to something more inviting and creative, something that toes the line between fiction and non-fiction, reality and impressionism.

My concern is that it took me until my third year at a private communications school to realize this is possible outside the publishing world. Everything I’ve ever been taught about journalism has been for short-ness — be concise, get to the point, readers’ don’t want a novel. But Wolfe’s success shows that the opposite is just as true, or that it can be. But the more important question I have is: How can you decide what’s descriptive and what’s fabrication? How much of yourself should be put into an article and how deep should a reporter go to get good emotional quips to use in his or her work?

The New York Times recently brought up an incident in January where a reporter was trying to write a long-form work on the inventor of a new putter. The praise for the article, called ‘Dr. V’s Magical Putter,’ soon gave way to criticisms as people began blaming his prodding and questioning for her eventual suicide. I’ve also had incident in my own writing where editors wanted me to credit all descriptive scenes to a certain time/place/person/etc. instead of being based on a general scene I’d witnessed a million times. Wolfe seemed to take many liberties in his writing with such things — especially with his point-of-view changes, which I’m sure would be much harder to get published now. At my current publication, we have to attribute every emotion or feeling. There is no room for it to be unclear, indirect or otherwise potentially misinterpreted.

Maybe I just need to read more modern, long-form works. If anyone has any the particularly like, feel free to point me in that direction!


One thought on “The Death of New Journalism: A Reflection on Tom Wolfe

  1. Reading your words in this article took me to the year of 2006, when I decided that it was time to go to college and follow my passion for the world of words. It was strangely conflicting: teachers asking me to be “direct, straight forward” when writing an article and at same time introducing Wolfe and Talese. Well, that was my first and last year in that particular educational institution and the sour taste of discontentment is what remains. Just keep writing: you are your own style (by the way, my apologies for some mistakes since English is not my primary language).

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